Agronomy and Horticulture Department


Date of this Version



Published in Nutrient Cycling in Agroecosystems 124 (2022), pp 407–422



Copyright © by the authors, under exclusive license to Springer Nature B.V. Used by permission.


Dung excreted by cattle composes a significant portion of the nutrient inputs in a grazed ecosystem and can have wide-ranging effects on soil properties and vegetation. However, little research has been conducted on the nutrient dynamics of excreted dung in situ that has not been disturbed prior to field sampling. In this study, we analyzed 294 dung pats (1–24 days old) collected from a Nebraska Sandhills meadow to determine water-extractable organic carbon (WEOC), water-extractable nitrogen (WEN), water-extractable phosphorus (WEP), and percent dry matter (DM) changes over time. In addition, we investigated if sample handling - frozen storage – and the formation of surface crust during dung field drying affect dung nutrient concentrations. Dung WEOC and WEN both followed exponential decay curves of nutrient loss over time and were modeled as a function of age. In contrast, WEP was poorly correlated with age. The percent dry matter in conjunction with sample WEOC concentration were stronger determinants of WEP than age alone. Freezing samples prior to analysis increased WEOC (37–98%) and WEN (37–123%), but lowered WEP (0.8–65%) compared to the samples from the same dung pat analyzed fresh. The dry surface crusts of dung pats had higher WEOC (98–112%) and WEN (112%) compared to moist interiors (on average, 3 cm from surface). This research provides evidence that dung nutrient concentrations decreased by 73% (WEOC) and 76% (WEN) over 24 days and shows that frozen storage and subsequent thawing for analysis, as well as crust formation during field drying, can significantly affect dung nutrient concentrations and spatial partitioning of dung nutrients.