Obviously, we raise turkeys for their meat.  But did you know that their manure is valuable, too?Ellsworth turkey Aaron Putze   

What is turkey manure?

Turkey manure is not a waste product, but a highly valuable natural fertilizer.  The “manure” is actually a mixture of the turkey droppings and bedding (oat hulls and wood shavings) and contains nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium necessary for optimal plant growth. Removed litter from the turkey barn

How is it stored?

The manure, which is a dry product, is kept in storage until fall, when it is spread on the fields.  Iowa Department of Natural Resources regulates where and how manure can be stored.  Animal confinements built after January 1, 2006 are required to keep manure in a covered area.

How is turkey manure used on fields?

Before applying manure to fields, farmers test the soil to determine its nutrient needs and also test the manure.  Soil testing is done every 3-5 years, and the rate of manure application depends on the conditions of the soil and crop to be grown.  For example, some farmers only spread the manure on fields that will be planted with corn, because corn requires more nitrogen to grow well.

Most Iowa turkey farmers attend annual classes to become certified to apply manure.  Some sell the valuable manure, which is then applied by a commercial manure applicator.  Records are kept of the manure applications.Manure, Tractor spreading(1)

What are the benefits of using turkey manure as a fertilizer?

  • It’s natural.
  • It’s cost effective.
  • It is a valuable soil amendment, adding organic matter to the soil, which helps hold water and nutrients.
  • It turns a waste product into a valuable resource.
  • It reduces the use of chemical fertilizers.
  • It is a sustainable practice.

How is turkey manure regulated?

Most turkey farmers are required to complete a Manure Management Plan, which is reviewed and approved by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources inspects farmers’ records and Manure Management Plans randomly.

There are also two other laws in place governing turkey manure:

  1. In 1998 House File 2494 passed, requiring more manure management plans; adding separation distances between land application of manure and certain buildings, public use areas and protected waters such as wellheads; and requiring manure applicators to be certified to land apply manure.
  2. In April 2002, Senate File 2293 was enacted. This 69-page bill added some additional separation distances between land application of manure and protected areas, and increased some separation distances.

Farmers who violate the laws face up to $10,000 per incident in fines and costs to replace wildlife and repair any damage caused by their practices.

strip tilling
Strip Tilling: Picture courtesy Life on an Iowa Farm

How do turkey farmers keep manure from entering waterways?

Farmers follow many guidelines designed to keep our waterways clean. 

  • No-till, low-till and strip-till practices reduce erosion and keep soil (and nutrients) from running into waterways. (Strip tilling shown above.)
  • Some farmers plant cover crops to reduce erosion.
  • Buffer strips are grassy areas surrounding fields, which help filter water near waterways. 
  • “Separation distances” are the minimum distances between manure application and certain buildings, public use areas and protected waters.


Have another question about turkey manure or how it’s used? Let us know, we’ll try out best to answer it!