Calibrating Solid Manure Application Equipment

Why should you calibrate solid manure spreaders? Simple, because you should know how much manure was applied to your fields. Combined with a manure testing program, you can calculate the amount of manure nutrients that were applied. This can save money on commercial fertilizer purchases AND improve water quality. Related: Calibrating liquid manure spreaders and irrigation equipment.

What Can Cause Manure Application Rates to Change?

Solid spreaders can have poor uniformity if operated improperly, so proper operation and calibration of these types of systems are critical. The system needs to be recalibrated if any of the following are changed:

  • Tractor speed
  • Gate opening (and spinner settings for spinner spreaders)
  • RPM
  • Width of spread
  • Manure characteristics
  • Wind
  • Slope
  • Operator (experience and consistency)

It is helpful to know the capacity and setting ranges available with solid spreaders. Solid spreader capacity is noted in the manufacturer’s specifications and may be listed in tons, cubic feet or cubic yards. Capacity is normally listed in struck level (flush with top of unit) height but may also be rated in “heaped” load.

This video shows how tarps that are laid out and manure spread on them can be collected and weighed. it was produced with smaller farms in mind, but the concepts and procedures apply to equipment of all sizes. Produced by: Rutgers University Cooperative Extension.

What Are the Steps in Calibrating Solid Manure Spreaders?

This video shows a process for weighing the  manure spreader and measuring the area over which manure was applied. The worksheet referenced is Know How Much You Haul Produced by the University of Wisconsin Cooperative Extension.

Tarp Method

Normally calibration of solid spreaders will involve collecting the discharged manure in a tarp to determine application rate and collecting manure in a series of pans laid across the travel path to assess spread pattern, uniformity and to adjust pass width. Click on the following link for an illustration of the procedure for this method. (Source: Rick Koeslch, University of Nebraska). Manure density is normally determined to allow conversion from volume to weight (e.g. tons) applied.

Weighing the Spreader

If manure spreader capacity can be weighed, then the only field measurements required are distance traveled to empty the spreader and width of spread pattern (or distance you move laterally with each pass through the field). From that information, a fairly simple estimate of application rate can be made.

Moisture content of manure has a large impact on manure density and actual spreader capacity. When calibrating, it is important to correctly interpret the nutrient analysis reports provided by the analytical lab. Some analyses report manure nutrient concentration at the moisture content submitted. Other analysis reports may give the nutrient analysis at a moisture content that is different than either the sampled material or the material to be applied. For accurate calibration, match moisture content of manure samples with moisture content of the manure being spread.

Adjustments to achieve the proper application rate and uniformity include adjusting travel speed, gate openings and hammer clearance, and adjusting spinners for spinner spreaders. Narrowing the effective width (pass distance) generally increases application uniformity but also increases application rate.

Types of Solid Manure Application Equipment

Manure is generally handled as a solid at a solids content of 20% or more. Solid manure spreaders come in various types. Spinner spreaders use spinning disks at the rear of the unit to propel the manure, box spreaders use a paddle and/or auger to discharge manure from the rear of the unit, and side discharge spreaders typically use augers and flailing hammers to “throw” the manure out the side of the unit. Spinner spreaders are used to apply poultry litter and are widely used as commercial fertilizer applicators. Side discharge units can handle materials with a wide range of moisture contents. Rear discharge spreaders are commonly used with scraped manure solids from open lots and manures with significant bedding.

Recommended Educational Resources

Author: Garry Grabow, North Carolina State University
Reviewers: Marsha Mathews, University of California-Davis, Rick Koelsch, University of Nebraska, Doug Beegle, Pennsylvania State University

Calibrating Irrigation Equipment for Manure Application

Irrigation equipment can be used to land apply manure with a solids content of up to 2-3 percent depending upon the type of equipment used and nozzle size. The types of systems typically used are stationary (also called solid-set), traveling guns, and center pivots. Irrigation equipment is typically used to land apply liquid manure from anaerobic lagoons and runoff holding ponds. If applied manure is undiluted, calibration requirements may differ slightly from those systems using diluted manure. If manure is diluted with freshwater, nutrient concentration must be adjusted by the dilution ratio when calculating nutrient rates. Always check with your state regulatory agency for calibration and reporting requirements.

Related: Calibrating solid manure spreaders and irrigation equipment.

As with the other types of equipment used for land applying manure, calibration consists of verifying application rates and application uniformity. Application rate and uniformity is measured by collecting applied manure in rain gages that are placed in a line for traveling gun and center pivot systems or in a grid for stationary systems. Systems using undiluted manure may require measurement and reporting of application rate from the gun or nozzle and not what is collected in a rain gage if plant available nutrients are calculated to include evaporative losses and volatilization.

If measuring application rate from the gun, a flow meter or pressure measurement at the nozzle and a manufacturer’s performance chart for the gun/sprinkler and nozzle will be required. Collected depths are used to calculate commonly-used measures of irrigation equipment uniformity such as the Christiansen uniformity coefficient (CU or Uc) or distribution uniformity (DU). Details of how to setup uniformity evaluations and calculate measures of uniformity and application rates are given in the links in a paragraph at the end of this document.

Uniformity of irrigation-type equipment can be affected by:

  • Operating pressure
  • Nozzle condition
  • Pump impeller condition
  • Wind
Center pivot irrigation

It is important that these types of systems be operated as designed. Normally this means that pressure and flow rate should be field-verified in the calibration procedure and compared to the design values or the ranges recommended by the manufacturer. Pressure should always be measured at the nozzle, not at the pump or other location. Pressure can be measured either with a pressure gauge mounted on the sprinkler riser or mounted on the gun body (for big guns) or measured using a pitot tube placed directly in the nozzle stream. For center pivots with drop nozzles, pre-set pressure regulators are normally located on the drop tubing, so nozzle pressure is known. In addition to pressure and flow rate measurement, the wetted diameter of the sprinkler or gun (for solid set and traveling gun systems respectively) should be measured.

It is generally recommended that flow rates be within 10 percent of the design rate, and that wetted diameter be within 15 percent of that specified in the manufacturer’s chart at the measured nozzle pressure. Flow rates may be obtained either by using a flow meter or by using values obtained from the manufacturer’s chart at the measured pressure. For animal waste systems, flow meters are normally temporarily placed in the main irrigation line either in-line or temporarily strapped on depending upon the type of flow meter used.

Adjustments to achieve the proper application rate and uniformity include adjusting operating pressure, travel speed (for traveling gun or pivot systems), replacing worn nozzles, and operating systems when there is little wind. Changes in equipment (e.g. nozzle size) should not be done without consultation with an irrigation specialist.

Recommended Educational Resources

Author: Garry Grabow, North Carolina State University Reviewers: Marsha Mathews, University of California-Davis, Rick Koelsch, University of Nebraska

Photo: CC 2.5 Charles Fulhage or Joe Harner

Calibrating Liquid Manure Application Equipment

Types of Liquid Manure Application Equipment

Liquid manure application equipment includes tankers (sometimes called honey-wagons) and hose-drag (also referred to as drag-hose) systems. Depending upon the type of liquid application system being calibrated, calibration may require weighing the tanker, recording the time to empty a load, measuring application spread width and length and/or recording equipment speed. Also, with some calibration methods, determination of manure density is required.

Related: Calibrating solid manure spreaders and irrigation equipment.

Important Factors For Making Calibration Calculations

Normally calibration requirements are specific to the equipment, i.e. one piece of equipment needs only to be calibrated once during the calibration interval, often annually. However, it is a good idea to calibrate equipment that may be used under different conditions. For instance, adding more hose to a hose-drag system when moving from one field to the next can increase friction loss and alter manure flow rates though the applicator. It may also be valuable to calibrate for multiple travel speeds, each representing a different application rate. This allows one to select an application rate that most closely matches the nutrient requirements of individual fields or crops.

It is important to select the calibration procedure that is consistent with your manure analysis. For instance some analysis reports nutrients in a weight per volume measure (e.g. pounds per thousand gallons) while some analysis is provided on a weight per weight basis (e.g. pounds per ton). Calibration of liquid tanker spreaders can be done by weighing a load or knowing the capacity (volume) of the spreader as specified by the manufacturer. Conversion between volume and weight may be done by determining the manure density.

By knowing the spreader capacity, distance traveled to empty the spreader, and width of spread pattern (or distance you move laterally with each pass through the field), a fairly simple estimate of application rate can be made. This should be repeated several times to determine an average application rate each manure source. The speed of the tractor can be varied to adjust the application rate to achieve the planned application rate(s). The general procedure for calibrating a liquid manure tanker spreader is illustrated in the following file Liquid Spreader Calibration.

Hose drag type systems are calibrated by measuring tractor speed, flow rate of the manure through the system and effective width (distance between passes). These factors allow conversion to volume of manure over area applied, e.g. gallons per acre.

Calibration of hose-drag (drag-hose) equipment requires measurement of (a.) tractor speed, (b.) spread width (We in illustration) and (c.) flow through the hose. Photo: Garry Grabow, All Rights Reserved.

Recommended Educational Resources

Author: Garry Grabow, North Carolina State University Reviewers: Marsha Mathews, University of California-Davis, Rick Koelsch, University of Nebraska, Doug Beegle, Pennsylvania State University