Soil nitrogen distribution and deposition on shortgrass prairie adjacent to a beef cattle feedyard

Richard W. Todd, N. Andy Cole, R. Nolan Clark, William C. Rice, Wen Xuan Guo

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4 Scopus citations


Cattle feedyards can impact local environments through emission of ammonia and dust deposited on nearby land. Impacts range from beneficial fertilization of cropland to detrimental effects on sensitive ecosystems. Shortgrass prairie downwind from an adjacent feedyard on the southern High Plains of Texas, USA changed from perennial grasses to annual weeds. It was hypothesized that N enrichment from the feedyard initiated the cascade of negative ecological change. Objectives were to determine the distribution of soil nitrogen and estimate N loading to the pasture. Soil samples were collected from 119 locations across the pasture and soil total N (TN), nitrate-N and ammonium-N (AN) determined in the top 30 cm. Soil TN concentration decreased with distance downwind from the feedyard from 1.6±0.2 g kg-1 at 75 m to 1.2±0.05 g kg-1 at 582 m. Nitrate-N concentration decreased within 200 m of the feedyard and changed little at greater distances. Ammonium-N concentration decreased linearly (P<0.001) with increasing distance from the feedyard from 7.9±1.7 mg kg-1 within 75 m from the feedyard to 5.8±1.5 mg kg-1 at more than 550 m from the feedyard; however, distance only explained 12% of the variability in AN concentration. Maximum nitrogen loading, from 75 to 106 m from the feedyard, was 49 kg ha -1 year-1 over 34 years and decreased with distance from the feedyard. An estimate of net dry deposition of ammonia indicated that it contributed negligibly to N loading to the pasture. Nitrogen enrichment that potentially shifted vegetation from perennial grasses to annual weeds affected soil N up to 500 m from the feedyard; however, measured organic and inorganic N beyond that returned to typical and expected levels for undisturbed shortgrass prairie.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1099-1102
Number of pages4
JournalBiology and Fertility of Soils
Issue number8
StatePublished - Sep 2008


  • Beef cattle
  • Feedyard
  • Nitrogen loading
  • Soil fertility change


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