Put the Right Biology in Charge for Better Lagoons

Every concentrated animal operation deals with animal waste. Manure pits and lagoons collect the waste and supposedly convert it into something that can be reused on fields. Many livestock operations actually sell their manure to local farmers. The price of the manure is based solely on the soluble N, P, and K values. But minerals are only part of the equation.

The Biology of Manure Handling Systems

The misunderstood, and often ignored aspect of our animal waste is the biology or microorganisms. These tiny microorganisms are less obvious, and the labs don’t test for them, so they have no monetary measure. However, the biology controls nearly all the worthwhile properties and potential of the manure itself.

The real key to manure-based nutrition is, which set of biology is in charge, the pathogens (bad guys) or the beneficials (good guys).

The standard unmanaged manure lagoon or pit is controlled by pathogenic microbes. Pathogenic microorganisms produce toxins, poisons, alcohols, formaldehydes, all of which kill beneficial microbes and kill plant tissues when moved into soil environments. Pathogens destroy life.

Bio Minerals Technologies changes the balance by flooding the lagoons and pits with specific classes of Beneficial microorganisms. With the food sources available to them in the lagoon or pit environment, these beneficial microorganisms reproduce rapidly, controlling and greatly reducing the pathogenic populations.

In an unmanaged lagoon system, undigested feed solids build up in the bottom because the right microorganisms are not present in the lagoons to digest these compounds and liquefy them. Pathogens do not digest these solids but allow them to build up and putrefy, metabolizing the noxious elements into toxic compounds.

Pathogenic microorganisms oxidize minerals, which renders them unavailable and unusable to the plants. Pathogenic microbes also convert minerals to noxious gases (ammonia, phosphine gas, hydrogen sulfide). Not only are these gasses toxic, but they stink! So your manure lagoon smells bad and the stink represents valuable minerals being lost from your nutrient reserves.
Beneficial microorganisms produce life sustaining compounds (metabolites) that incorporate the minerals into nutrients that nourish and protect the plants. These compounds include enzymes, vitamins, amino acids, proteins, carbohydrates, lipids, antioxidants, even antibiotics, growth stimulators and regulators, hormones, and so much more. These microorganisms promote and sustain all higher life forms.

The beneficial microorganisms restructure minerals into ‘reduced’ forms so they are available and usable by the plant. Beneficial microbes retain many minerals like N, P, K, C, H, O Ca, Mg, S, Fe, Mn, Zn, Cu, Ni, Na, Co, B, Mo, Si, Se, and many more trace minerals. These retained minerals are all in usable forms such as soluble, stable, organic forms, in both solids and gases. These microbes also incorporate a great many different minerals into their bodies which give them the ability to multiply rapidly and retain minerals in an organic, non-leachable, stable form that can be made soluble for plant use and uptake.

Our microbes quickly begin the aggressive breakdown of manure solids (anything heavy enough to settle to the bottom) and convert the solids into soluble organic form which is then converted into more microorganism bodies and held as “nutrient potential,” without the unpleasant odors. The manure solids are liquefied as they are digested by the microbes, thus eliminating the sediments in the lagoon and restoring the lagoon’s full capacity. You will notice a significant decline in odors around a properly biologically managed lagoon or manure system.

Soluble mineral nutrients vs insoluble mineral nutrients

The digestive systems of all livestock produce levels of soluble minerals, including salts. These forms of minerals are plant available, but they are also leachable, meaning water will easily transport these minerals out of the root systems of the plant and beyond use, into other areas of the environment which are now becoming more and more regulated.

Too much mineral solubility isn’t always better, because excess soluble nutrients when applied to the soil, frequently leach out before the plants have a chance to use them. In the long run, biologically held nutrients are better than soluble nutrients because microorganisms do not leach. They remain in the soils, holding the nutrients for a more gradual release and keeping more nutrients available to the plants that need them. If you wish to learn more about how microbes cycle nutrients in the soil, you can read our Understanding Soil Biology article or view the video at The Biology and Benefits of Compost.

Lab testing shows levels of soluble, leachable minerals, but those tests rarely indicate the minerals held in organic compounds within the bodies of the microorganisms themselves. So, which form do you want your mineral reserves to be held in? The answer is INSOLUBLE but AVAILABLE! 

The table below shows the numbers from two different manure pit samples taken three years apart on the same pit. We have been treating this pit for about 4 years with our beneficial anaerobic microbes.

 Hog Manure Pit Comparison 2015 2018 % Reduction
  % % %
Moisture 99.46 99.60  
Solids 0.54 0.40 26%
Volatile Solids 0.22 0.19 13%
Ash 0.33 0.20 39%
pH 7.9 7.8  
Total N - % 0.151 0.051 66%
Phosphorus (P2O5) - % 0.009 0.010  
Potassium (K2O) - % 0.137 0.067 51%
   mg/kg mg/kg % Reduction
Total N - mg/kg 1514 507 66%
Ammonia - mg/kg 947 209 78%
Phosphorus as P - mg/kg 40 42  
Potassium as K - mg/kg 1164 566 51%
Sodium - mg/kg 345 195 43%
Sulfur - mg/kg 60 38 37%
Carbon/Nitrogen Ratio 0.72 1.92  


Solids will always be present in manure systems because there is always new manure coming into them. However, you do not want those solids being undigested and building up. Our biology is reducing the solids in this lagoon, not allowing them to build up.

What do the lower numbers really mean?

In the 2018 test, it shows significantly lower levels of soluble nutrients. What does that really mean to the farmer? It means there is a 66% conversion, NOT a loss, in N. The N did not just go away, it was converted into organic proteins which are stable and not leachable but still present in the manure.

Phosphorus remained very much the same.

Potassium also saw a 51% conversion into more organic and stable compounds within the microorganisms themselves.

Ammonia levels were reduced by 78%. That means our biology increased nitrogen retention by nearly 450% more; 4.5 times more than was occurring earlier.

Sodium, which causes major problems with our soils and plants from raw and untreated manure, has been converted by 43%. That’s a huge reduction. Again, because you always have a continuous flow of new manure into the system, it’s impossible to eliminate, but the reduction greatly reduces stress in the soils and plants that get the biologically stable manure.

Sulfur lost was also noticeably lowered by 37% so the retention of usable Sulfur went up by 63%.

The nutrients have been converted from soluble minerals into microbial bodies. They are still there, just in a different form. These nutrient-dense microbes will go into the soil and colonize in the plant root zone.

All of this can happen only if the proper biology is present in the applied manure or compost. If the pathogens are in control of the manure, it is actually toxic to the plants rather than beneficial. If, on the other hand, the good bacteria are in control, the manure nourishes the plants through the biologically stored nutrients.

The anaerobic biology we use in lagoons and pits has approximately half of the population that is facultative in nature. That means the microbes can function as both anaerobes (without oxygen) and aerobes (with oxygen). So, in the lagoons and pits, these microbes function anaerobically, but when they are applied to the soils, they convert to aerobic operations and assist the beneficial soil microbe populations. The remaining anaerobes simply go dormant in the soil and wait until they are needed again for the next round of decomposition. Or, they are consumed by soil predators and their nutrients are released for the plants to use.

Would you like to recover the capacity and reduce the odors of your manure processing, while producing a valuable secondary fertilizer product? Call us today and we can show you how. You can also read about some of our successes here.

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