Ammonia and Nitrous Oxide Model for Open Lot Cattle Production Systems


Air emissions, such as ammonia (NH3) and nitrous oxide (N2O), vary considerably among beef and dairy open lot operations as influenced by the climate and manure pack conditions. Because of the challenges with direct measurements, process-based modeling is a recommended approach for estimating air emissions from animal feeding operations. The Integrated Farm Systems Model (IFSM; USDA-ARS, 2014), a whole-farm simulation model for crop, dairy and beef operations, was previously expanded (version 4.0) to simulate NH3 emissions from open lots. The model performed well in representing emissions for two beef cattle feedyards in Texas (Waldrip et al., 2014) but performed poorly in predicting NH3 emissions measured at an open lot dairy in Idaho.

What did we do? 

The open lot nitrogen routine of IFSM was revised to better represent the effects of climate on lot and manure pack conditions. Processes affecting the formation and emission of NH3 and N2O from open lots were revised and better integrated. These processes included urea hydrolysis, surface infiltration, ammonium-ammonia association/dissociation, ammonium sorption, NH3 volatilization, nitrification, denitrification, and nitrate leaching (Figure 1). The soil water model in IFSM was also modified and used to represent an open lot. The accuracy of the revised model (version 4.1) was evaluated using measurements from two beef cattle feedyards in Texas (Todd et al., 2011; Waldrip et al., 2014) and an open lot dairy in Idaho (Leytem et al., 2011). Comparing the two regions, Idaho typically has much drier conditions in summer and wetter conditions in winter.

Lot model

Figure 1. The revised Integrated Farm Systems Model (IFSM)

What have we learned? 

The revised model predicted NH3 emissions for the Texas beef cattle feedyards similar to the previous version with model predictions having 59 to 81% agreement with measured daily emissions. Simulated NH3 emissions for the Idaho open lot dairy improved substantially with 56% agreement between predicted and measured daily NH3 emissions. For the Idaho open lot dairy, IFSM also predicted daily N2O emissions with 80% agreement to those measured. These results support that IFSM can predict NH3 and N2O emissions from open lots as influenced by climate and lot conditions. Therefore, IFSM provides a useful tool for estimating open lot emissions of NH3 and N2O along with other aspects of performance, environmental impact and economics of cattle feeding operations in different climate regions, and for evaluating management strategies to mitigate emissions.

Future Plans    

The revised IFSM is being used to study nitrogen losses and whole farm nutrient balances of open lot feed yards and dairies. The environmental benefits and economic costs of mitigation strategies will be evaluated to determine best management practices for these production systems.


C. Alan Rotz, Agricultural Engineer, USDA-ARS

Henry F. Bonifacio, April B. Leytem, Heidi M. Waldrip, Richard W. Todd

Additional information 

Leytem, A.B., R.S. Dungan, D.L. Bjorneberg, and A.C. Koehn. 2011. Emissions of ammonia, methane, carbon dioxide, and nitrous oxide from dairy cattle housing and manure management systems. J. Environ. Qual. 40:1383-1394.

Todd, R.W., N.A. Cole, M.B. Rhoades, D.B. Parker, and K.D. Casey. 2011. Daily, monthly, seasonal and annual ammonia emissions from Southern High Plains cattle feedyards. J. Environ. Qual. 40:1-6.

USDA-ARS. 2014. Integrated Farm System Model. Pasture Systems and Watershed Mgt. Res. Unit, University Park, PA. Available at: Accessed 5 January, 2015.

Waldrip, H.M., C.A. Rotz, S.D. Hafner, R.W. Todd, and N.A. Cole. 2014. Process-based modeling of ammonia emissions from beef cattle feedyards with the Integrated Farm System Model. J. Environ. Qual. 43:1159-1168.


This research was funded in part by the United Dairymen of Idaho. Cooperation of the dairy and beef producers is also acknowledged and appreciated.

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