Sheep urination frequency, volume, N excretion and chemical composition: Implications for subsequent agricultural N losses

Karina A. Marsden, Lucy Lush, Jon A. Holmberg, Mick J. Whelan, Andrew J. King, Rory P. Wilson, Alice F. Charteris, Laura M. Cardenas, Davey L. Jones, David R. Chadwick

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Ruminant urine patches are potential sites of reactive nitrogen (N) loss to the environment. Quantification of N losses from grazed grasslands requires measurement of the frequency of urine deposition, as well as its volume and chemical composition. However, studies to date are typically restricted to analyses of few replicate animals and urination events, especially for sheep. Here, we present data on urine frequency, volume, chemical composition (n = 193 events from n = 6 sheep) and metabolomic profile (n = 4–5 events from n = 4–5 sheep) from penned sheep. Differences in urine parameters and chemical composition data were compared seasonally and between two sites (improved and semi-improved pasture). Sheep urinated 8–11 times d−1, assuming time within pens represented a 24 h period. The mean urine event volume recorded was 289 ± 14 mL, from which we estimated a daily urine production value of 2.77 ± 0.15 L urine sheep−1 d−1. Daily urine N excretion and individual urine N concentrations were greater from sheep in improved pasture (26.7 ± 2.3 g N sheep−1 d−1; 7.0 ± 0.2 g N L−1) compared to those in semi-improved pasture (16.7 ± 1.2 g N sheep−1 d−1; 5.5 ± 0.4 g N L−1), but this did not equate to greater individual urine patch N loadings due to site differences in the urine-to-soil surface area influenced (17.5 L m-2 at the semi-improved site and 8.9 L m-2 at the improved site). Urine chemical composition varied seasonally and by site. Site- and season-specific urine should, therefore, be used in studies assessing N losses from urine patches. Based on the urine chemical composition data, we provide an updated artificial sheep urine ‘recipe’ which could be utilised to replicate natural sheep urine. The urine metabolomic profile clustered according to pasture quality, while clustering according to season was less evident. Our results provide important information for experimental and modelling studies assessing the scale and nature of N pollution arising from sheep-grazed pastures.

Original languageEnglish
Article number107073
JournalAgriculture, Ecosystems and Environment
Publication statusPublished - 15 Oct 2020

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