Frequency of Germinable Weed Seeds in Poultry Litters of North Carolina


With high input costs in 2022, many farmers are looking for affordable sources of nutrients.  Poultry litter is in high abundance in areas of intense poultry production, such as North Carolina. However, a common concern for farmers is whether poultry litter will carry weed seed onto their farms. With the need to better distribute nutrients throughout these areas, the transport of poultry litter is necessary.    Overcoming the concern about weed seeds is critical to improve these nutrient imbalances. Therefore, a germination study was conducted on 61 random poultry litters collected across North Carolina to determine the presence of viable weed seeds.

What Did We Do?

A series of 61 poultry litters were submitted to NC State University for testing, collected from industry representatives and Extension Agents across the state. Poultry litters were diluted with potting media to allow for germination of any existing weed seeds at a 9:1 (potting media:litter) ratio on a dry weight basis. Germination studies were then conducted using 20 g of the potting media-litter mix, replicated 5 times. Positive controls included potting media alone, and potting media mixed with poultry litter to verify there was no inhibitory effect of the poultry litter on germination. Both positive controls were spiked with one of three weed species at varying rates: 50 mustard, 50 rye, or 30 sicklepod. Additionally, three subsamples (20 g) of 10 of the poultry litters were wet sieved using three sieves with 2.8-, 1.0-, and 0.4-mm mesh sizes and dried at 35 °C. Seeds were counted under a dissecting microscope, and when located, seeds were removed and tested for viability using the imbibed seed crush test as described by Borza et al. (2007).

What Have We Learned?

Germination studies suggest small numbers of viable weed seeds, as only one seed germinated from unspiked samples. However, total weed counts suggest there can be high total seed numbers in the litters, with an average seed content of 1.17 seeds/100-g. Additionally, approximately 15% of the seeds collected were viable.

Future Plans

We intend to continue researching this topic and hope to further understand the impact of stockpiling, litter management, and handling on viable weed seeds in litter sources.


Stephanie B. Kulesza, Nutrient Management and Animal Waste Specialist, NC State University

Corresponding author email address

Additional authors

Ramon Leon, Weed Biology and Ecology Specialist, NC State University

Miguel Castillo, Forage Specialist, NC State University

Stephanie Sosinski, Forage Lab Technician, NC State University


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