Disentangling the effect of sheep urine patch size and nitrogen loading rate on cumulative N2O emissions

Karina A. Marsden, Davey L. Jones, David R. Chadwick

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Citations (Scopus)


Ruminant urine nitrogen (N) concentration and volume are important parameters influencing the size and N loading rate of urine patches deposited to soil. Such parameters can influence N cycling and emissions of the greenhouse gas, nitrous oxide (N2O) from grazed grassland, yet, there is limited information on the effect of these parameters within typical ranges reported for sheep. We used an automated, high-frequency gas monitoring system to investigate N2O emissions from varying urine N application rates and patch sizes under field conditions. Using artificial sheep urine, we manipulated urine N concentration to provide two urine N application rates (4 and 16 g N/L; equivalent to 200 and 800 kg N/ha). We investigated the effect of urine patch size with equal N application rates (4 × 125 cm2 vs 500 cm2, at 200 and 800 kg N/ha) and the effect of patch size with unequal N application rates, but the same total amount of N applied (62.5 mL over 125 cm2 at 800 kg N/ha and 250 mL over 500 cm2 at 200 kg N/ha). Cumulative emissions of N2O generally increased with N loading rate, whether applied as one large urine patch or four smaller ones. Cumulative N2O emissions increased when the N was applied in four smaller urine patches compared with one large patch; this difference was significant at 800 kg N/ha, but not at 200 kg N/ha. When the total amount of N applied was held constant (1 g of N), the amount of N2O released was similar when urine was applied as a high N concentration small patch (800 kg N/ha) compared with a low N concentration large patch (200 kg N/ha). Urine N2O emission factors in this study were, on average, 10 times lower than the IPCC default of 1% for sheep excreta. This research clearly demonstrates that the chemical and physical nature of the urine patch influences N2O emissions, yet further research is required to gather more data on typical sheep urine volumes (individual and daily), urination frequency, urine N concentrations and the typical volumes of soil influenced by urine deposition, to provide more accurate estimates of emissions from sheep grazed pastures.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)265-275
Number of pages11
JournalAnimal Production Science
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2016
Externally publishedYes


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