Skip to main content Accessibility help

The spatial coverage of dairy cattle urine patches in an intensively grazed pasture system

  • J. L. MOIR (a1), K. C. CAMERON (a1), H. J. DI (a1) and U. FERTSAK (a2)


Accurate field data on the paddock area affected by cow urine depositions are critical to the estimation and modelling of nitrogen (N) losses and N management in grazed pasture systems. A new technique using survey-grade global positioning system (GPS) technology was developed to precisely measure the paddock spatial area coverage, diversity and distribution of dairy cattle urine patches in grazed paddocks over time. A 4-year study was conducted on the Lincoln University Dairy Farm (LUDF), Canterbury, New Zealand, from 2003 to 2007. Twelve field plots, each 100 m2 in area, were established on typical grazing areas of the farm. All urine and dung deposits within the plots were visually identified, the pasture response area (radius) measured and position marked with survey-grade GPS. The plots were grazed as part of the normal grazing rotation of the farm and urine and dung deposits measured at 12-week intervals. The data were collated using spatial (GIS) software and an assessment of annual urine patch coverage and spatial distribution was made. Grazing intensities ranged from 17 645 to 30 295 cow grazing h/ha/yr. Mean annual areas of urine patches ranged from 0·34 to 0·40 m2 (4-year mean 0·37±0·009 m2), with small but significant variation between years and seasons. Mean annual urine patch numbers were 6240±124 patches/ha/yr. The mean proportional area coverage for a single sampling event or season was 0·058 and the mean proportional annual urine patch coverage was 0·232±0·0071. There was a strong linear relationship between annual cow grazing h/ha and urine patch numbers/ha (R2=0·69) and also annual urine patch area coverage (R2=0·77). Within the stocking densities observed in this study, an annual increase of 10 000 cow grazing h/ha increased urine patch numbers by 1800 urine patches/ha/yr and annual urine patch area coverage by 0·07. This study presents new quantitative data on urine patch size, numbers and the spatial coverage of patches on a temporal basis.


Corresponding author

*To whom all correspondence should be addressed. Email:


Hide All
Aland, A., Lidfors, L. & Ekesbo, I. (2002). Diurnal distribution of dairy cow defecation and urination. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 78, 4354.
Assefa, B. & Chen, Y. (2008). Simulation of the lateral movement of NO3-N in soils following liquid manure injection. Canadian Biosystems Engineering 50, 1726.
Ball, P. R., Keeney, D. R., Theobald, P. W. & Nes, P. (1979). Nitrogen balance in urine-affected areas of a New Zealand pasture. Agronomy Journal 71, 309314.
Ball, P. R. & Ryden, J. C. (1984). Nitrogen relationships in intensively managed temperate grasslands. Plant and Soil 76, 2333.
Di, H. J. & Cameron, K. C. (2000). Calculating nitrogen leaching losses and critical nitrogen application rates in dairy pasture systems using a semi-empirical model. New Zealand Journal of Agricultural Research 43, 139147.
Di, H. J. & Cameron, K. C. (2002 a). Nitrate leaching in temperate agroecosystems: sources, factors and mitigating strategies. Nutrient Cycling in Agroecosystems 64, 237256.
Di, H. J. & Cameron, K. C. (2002 b). The use of a nitrification inhibitor, dicyandiamide (DCD), to decrease nitrate leaching and nitrous oxide emissions in a simulated grazed and irrigated grassland. Soil Use and Management 18, 395403.
Di, H. J. & Cameron, K. C. (2003). Mitigation of nitrous oxide emissions in spray-irrigated grazed grassland by treating the soil with dicyandiamide, a nitrification inhibitor. Soil Use and Management 19, 284290.
Di, H. J. & Cameron, K. C. (2004). Treating grazed pasture soil with a nitrification inhibitor, eco-nTM, to decrease nitrate leaching in a deep sandy soil under spray irrigation – a lysimeter study. New Zealand Journal of Agricultural Research 47, 351361.
Di, H. J. & Cameron, K. C. (2005). Reducing environmental impacts of agriculture by using a fine particle suspension nitrification inhibitor to decrease nitrate leaching from grazed pastures. Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment 109, 202212.
Di, H. J. & Cameron, K. C. (2007). Nitrate leaching losses and pasture yields as affected by different rates of animal urine nitrogen returns and application of a nitrification inhibitor – a lysimeter study. Nutrient Cycling in Agroecosystems 79, 281290.
Di, H. J. & Cameron, K. C. (2008). Sources of nitrous oxide from 15N-labelled animal urine and urea fertiliser with and without a nitrification inhibitor, dicyandiamide (DCD). Australian Journal of Soil Research 46, 7682.
Di, H. J., Cameron, K. C., Moore, S. & Smith, N. P. (1998). Nitrate leaching from dairy shed effluent and ammonium fertiliser applied to a free-draining pasture soil under spray or flood irrigation. New Zealand Journal of Agricultural Research 41, 263270.
Doak, B. W. (1952). Some chemical changes in the nitrogenous constituents of urine when voided on pasture. Journal of Agricultural Science, Cambridge 42, 162171.
During, C. & McNaught, K. J. (1961). Effects of cow urine on growth of pasture and uptake of nutrients. New Zealand Journal of Agricultural Research 4, 591605.
ESRI (1996). Arc View GIS (Version 3.2a). Redlands, CA: Environmental System Research Institute, Inc.
ESRI (2002). ArcGIS (Version 8.0). Redlands, CA: Environmental Systems Research Institute, Inc.
Frame, J. (1971). Fundamentals of grassland management. 10. The grazing animal. Scottish Agriculture 50, 2844.
Fraser, P. M., Cameron, K. C. & Sherlock, R. R. (1994). Lysimeter study of the fate of nitrogen in animal urine returns to irrigated pasture. European Journal of Soil Science 45, 439447.
Haynes, R. J. & Williams, P. H. (1992). Changes in soil solution composition and pH in urine-affected areas of pasture. Journal of Soil Science 43, 323334.
Haynes, R. J. & Williams, P. H. (1993). Nutrient cycling and soil fertility in the grazed pasture ecosystem. Advances in Agronomy 49, 120199.
Jarvis, S. C., Scholefield, D. & Pain, B. (1995). Nitrogen cycling in grazing systems. In Nitrogen Fertilization in the Environment (Ed. Bacon, P. E.), pp. 381420. New York: Marcel Dekker.
Jenness, J. (2004). Nearest Features (nearfeat.avx) Extension for ArcView 3.x, v. 3.7a. Flagstaff, AZ: Jenness Enterprises.
Keuning, J. A. (1980). Urine scorch in grassland. In The Role of Nitrogen in Intensive Grassland Productivity. Proceedings of an International Symposium of the European Grassland Federation (Eds Prins, W. H. & Arnold, G. H.), p. 163. The Netherlands: Wageningen University.
Ledgard, S. F. (2001). Nitrogen cycling in low input legume-based agriculture, with emphasis on legume/grass pastures. Plant and Soil 228, 4359.
Ledgard, S. F., Penno, J. W. & Sprosen, M. S. (1999). Nitrogen inputs and losses from clover/grass pastures grazed by dairy cows, as affected by nitrogen fertilizer application. Journal of Agricultural Science, Cambridge 132, 215225.
Ledgard, S. F., Steele, K. W. & Saunders, W. M. H. (1982). Effects of cow urine and its major constituents on pasture properties. New Zealand Journal of Agricultural Research 25, 6168.
Lotero, J., Woodhouse, W. W. & Petersen, R. G. (1966). Local effect on fertility of urine voided by grazing cattle. Agronomy Journal 58, 262265.
MacLusky, D. S. (1960). Some estimates of the areas of pasture fouled by the excreta of dairy cows. Journal of the British Grassland Society 15, 181188.
Moir, J. L., Cameron, K. C. & Di, H. J. (2007). Effects of the nitrification inhibitor dicyandiamide on soil mineral N, pasture yield, nutrient uptake and pasture quality in a grazed pasture system. Soil Use and Management 23, 111120.
Moir, J. L., Fertsak, U., Cameron, K. C. & Di, H. J. (2006). The spatial distribution and area coverage of urine depositions in grazed dairy or sheep and beef pastures in New Zealand. In Proceedings of the 18th World Congress of Soil Science: Frontiers of Soil Science. Technology and the Information Age, pp. 260263 (CD-ROM), Session 160, Commission 3.5. Philadelphia, PA: International Union of Soil Sciences.
Norman, M. J. T. & Green, J. O. (1958). The local influence of cattle dung and urine upon the yield and botanical composition of permanent pasture. Journal of the British Grassland Society 13, 3945.
Oudshoorn, F. W., Kristensen, T. & Nadimi, E. S. (2008). Dairy cow defecation and urination frequency and spatial distribution in relation to time-limited grazing. Livestock Science 113, 6273.
Pakrou, N. & Dillon, P. J. (2004). Leaching losses of N under grazed irrigated and non-irrigated pastures. Journal of Agricultural Science, Cambridge 142, 503516.
Petersen, R. G., Lucas, H. L. & Woodhouse, W. W. (1956). The distribution of excreta by freely grazing cattle and its effect on pasture fertility: I. Excretal distribution. Agronomy Journal 48, 440444.
Pleasants, A. B., Shorten, P. R. & Wake, G. C. (2007). The distribution of urine deposited on a pasture from grazing animals. Journal of Agricultural Science, Cambridge 145, 8186.
Richards, I. R. & Wolton, K. M. (1975). A note on urine scorch caused by grazing animals. Journal of the British Grassland Society 30, 187188.
Richards, I. R. & Wolton, K. M. (1976). The spatial distribution of excreta under intensive cattle grazing. Journal of the British Grassland Society 31, 8992.
Robertson, B. T. (1972). Potash – a nutrient of growing importance. New Zealand Fertilizer Journal 40, 1618.
Saarijärvi, K. & Virkajärvi, P. (2009). Nitrogen dynamics of cattle dung and urine patches on intensively managed boreal pasture. Journal of Agricultural Science, Cambridge 147, 479491.
Silva, R. G., Cameron, K. C., Di, H. J. & Hendry, T. (1999). A lysimeter study of the impact of cow urine, dairy shed effluent, and nitrogen fertiliser on nitrate leaching. Australian Journal of Soil Research 37, 357369.
Steele, K. W. (1982). Nitrogen in grassland soils. In Nitrogen Fertilisers in New Zealand Agriculture (Ed. Lynch, P. B.), pp. 2944. Auckland: Ray Richards Publisher.
Tinker, P. B. & Nye, P. H. (2000). Solute Movement in the Rhizosphere. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Trimble (2003). Trimble Geomatics Office (Version 1.62). Sunnyvale, CA: Trimble Navigation Limited.
Van Bysterveldt, A., Moir, J. L. & Metherell, A. (2006). Nutrient management on the Lincoln University dairy farm. Primary Industry Management 9, 1722.
White, S. L., Sheffield, R. E., Washburn, S. P., King, L. D. & Green, J. T. (2001). Spatial and time distribution of dairy cattle excreta in an intensive pasture system. Journal of Environmental Quality 30, 21802187.
Whitehead, D. C. (1970). The Role of Nitrogen in Grassland Productivity: A Review of Information from Temperate Regions. Commonwealth Bureaux of Pastures and Field Crops: Bulletin 48. Farnham: Commonwealth Agricultural Bureaux.
Whitehead, D. C. (2000). Nutrient Elements in Grassland –Soil–Plant–Animal Relationships. Wallingford, Oxon: CABI Publishing.
Wilkinson, S. R. & Lowrey, R. W. (1973). Cycling of mineral nutrients in pasture ecosystems. In Chemistry and Biochemistry of Herbage (Eds Butler, G. W. & Bailey, R. W.), pp. 247315. New York: Academic Press.
Williams, P. H. (1988). The fate of potassium in grazed dairy pastures. Ph.D. Thesis, Massey University.
Williams, P. H., Gregg, P. E. & Hedley, M. J. (1990). Use of potassium bromide solutions to simulate dairy cow urine flow and retention in pasture soils. New Zealand Journal of Agricultural Research 33, 489495.
Williams, P. H. & Haynes, R. J. (1994). Comparison of initial wetting pattern, nutrient concentrations in soil solution and the fate of 15N-labelled urine in sheep and cattle urine patch areas of pasture soil. Plant and Soil 162, 4959.

The spatial coverage of dairy cattle urine patches in an intensively grazed pasture system

  • J. L. MOIR (a1), K. C. CAMERON (a1), H. J. DI (a1) and U. FERTSAK (a2)


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed