The objectives of the present study were to quantify the effects of contrasting methods for storing solid cattle manure on: (i) total carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) balances during storage, and (ii) crop apparent N recovery (ANR) following manure application to arable land, with maize as a test crop. Portions of 10 t of fresh solid cattle manure were stored for 5 months during 2009/10 in three replicates as: (i) stockpiled heaps, (ii) roofed heaps, (iii) covered heaps and (iv) turned heaps at Wageningen University, the Netherlands. Surface emissions of ammonia (NH3), nitrous oxide (N2O), carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4) were measured regularly using a static flux chamber connected to a photo-acoustic gas monitor. Total C and N losses during storage were determined through the mass balance method. After storage, the manures were surface-applied and incorporated into a sandy soil, and maize ANR was measured as a proportion of both N applied to the field (ANRF) and N collected from the barn (ANRB).
During the storage period, the average losses of initial total N (Ntotal) were 6% from the covered, 12% from the roofed, 21% from the stockpiled and 33% from the turned heaps. Of the total N losses, 2–9% was lost as NH3-N, 1–4% as N2O-N and 16–32% through leaching. However, the greatest part of the total N loss from the four storage methods was unaccounted for and constituted in all probability of harmless dinitrogen gas. Of the initial C content, c. 13, 14, 17 and 22% was lost from the covered, stockpiled, roofed and turned heaps, respectively. Maize ANRF was highest from covered (39% of the applied N) followed by roofed (31%), stockpiled (29%) and turned manure (20%). The respective values in case of maize ANRB were 37, 27, 23 and 13%. It is concluded that from a viewpoint of on-farm N recycling the storage of solid cattle manure under an impermeable plastic cover is much better than traditional stockpiling or turning heaps in the open air.