Calibration of Manure Equipment

Manure application equipment as well as irrigation equipment should be calibrated on a regular basis to determine accurate application rates. You should be able to accurately determine how many gallons, tons, cubic yards, or inches of manure or irrigation water you apply to a field.

Follow manufactures recommendation for calibration and/or refer to information on calibration of equipment given below and in the Publications and Articles. Calibration worksheets are located in there and can be used to calibrate various manure application and irrigation equipment.

For an additional guidance, including video tutorials, on calibration of liquid and solid manure spreading equipment, click HERE.

Calibration of Manure Applicator/Spreader

An "application rate" - whether it is manure, fertilizer, or herbicide - is defined as the amount of material applied per unit area of land. For manure, it is usually expressed in tons per acre (solid or semi-solid) or gallons per acre (liquid, or slurry), as follows:

Application Rate = Amount Applied (tons, gallons) / Area covered (acres)

So, to calibrate a manure spreader, you need to have reliable estimates of both amount applied and area covered. There are a number of different ways to estimate each parameter. Each of four methods is presented below.

  • Method 1 - Based on Single Spreader Load: Solid, Semi-solid, or Liquid
  • Method 2 - Application Rate Based on Spreader Loads applied to a Field: Solid, Semi-solid, or Liquid
  • Method 3 - Application Rate Based on Plastic Sheet Subsample: Solid or Semi-solid
  • Method 4 - Average Application Rate Based on Storage Volume Applied to Fields
  • Adjustment to Obtain Desired Rate

Method 1. Based on Single Spreader Load: Solid, Semi-solid, or Liquid

1. Estimate amount applied, or spreader capacity, based on one of following:

  • Manufacturer's rated spreader capacity - For full liquid spreaders use rated capacity directly. Adjust to account for less than full capacity, for example, because of foaming or non-level surface. Actual load may typically be 90% of rated capacity. For box type solid or semi-solid spreader, adjust rated capacity according to fullness of load. Be sure to note if rated capacity is "heaped" or "struck (level) load". (Some equipment specifications include both.) If there is any uncertainty about the rated capacity, a more accurate method is to measure actual volume, as described below.
  • Measured volume of spreader - Measure and calculate volume of spreader in cubic feet. Convert cubic feet to pounds, and then to tons or gallons, based on manure density. (See Manure Conversions)

Note: Manure density (weight per cubic foot) varies with moisture content, primarily depending on amount of bedding. For a more accurate estimate, weigh a five-gallon pail of manure, then multiply the weight by 1.5 to get the density in pounds per cubic foot.

Weigh spread load directly - If you have access to scales, weigh spreader full, then subtract spreader weight empty to get weight of manure. Convert to tons or gallons.

2. Estimate area covered by one spreader load by doing the following:

  • Measure width of one spreader pass, allowing for any overlap with adjacent passes.
  • Measure distance traveled to empty spreader (adjusting for distance at beginning and end when spreading a partial rate) by one of the following:
    • Use measuring wheel or long tape measure
    • Measure number of tractor tire revolutions:
      • Tie cord around rear tire at top.
      • Measure distance traveled in exactly one revolution.
      • Count number of tire revolutions to empty spreader.
      • Distance = Number of revolutions x distance per revolution
  • Calculate area covered by one spreader load:

Spreader width (ft) x Distance (ft)/43,560 sq ft = Area (acres)

3. Calculate manure application rate by dividing amount applied by area covered:

Application Rate = Amount Applied (tons, gallons) / Area covered (acres)

Manure Conversions:

1 ton = 2000 pounds

1 cubic foot = 7.5 gallons

1 bushel = 1.25 cubic feet

1 gallon = 8.3 pounds

1 cubic foot = 62 pounds (wet) to 55 pounds (dry)

Method 2. Application Rate Based on Spreader Loads Applied to a Field: Solid, Semi solid, or Liquid

  1. Determine amount of manure per spreader load by a method in 1 above.
  2. Count number of loads applied to field in a uniform application.
  3. Determine accurate acreage of field.
  4. Calculate manure application rate for field:

Application Rate = (No. loads x tons or gallons per load) / Field acreage

Method 3. Application Rate Based on Plastic Sheet Subsample: Solid or Semi-solid

This method involves measuring the amount of manure spread on a plastic sheet of known area (20 to 40 sq ft is a reasonable size). It is most useful where making an accurate estimate of spreader capacity is difficult, e.g. a heaped box spreader.

  1. Cut three plastic sheets of similar size, e.g. 4 ft x 7 ft; 6 ft x 6 ft; 4 ft 8 in x 4 ft 8 in
  2. Weigh large bucket (e.g. five gallon) and one plastic sheet on scale.
  3. Lay sheets flat in the field some distance apart in the intended path of the manure spreader and hold down with stones or small stakes in the corners. Allow enough distance before the first sheet so that spreader is applying at full rate.
  4. Drive tractor and spreader directly over plastic sheets at normal speed, being sure to begin spreading well ahead of first sheet.
  5. Check manure-covered sheet to be sure wheel traffic did not shift position of plastic. If plastic has moved, remeasure area covered by plastic (and now manure).
  6. Carefully fold manure-covered plastic and place in large bucket.
  7. Weigh bucket, plastic, and manure and subtract weight of empty bucket and plastic to obtain weight of manure.
  8. Repeat steps for other plastic sheets.
  9. Calculate manure application rate for each plastic sheet using the following formula:
    • Application Rate (tons/acre) = (lbs. of manure on sheet x 21.8)/size of sheet (in sq ft)
    • Size of sheet (sq ft) = length (ft) x width (ft)
    • Note: If the sheet size is 21.8 sq ft, e.g. 4 ft 8 in x 4 ft 8 in (56 inches square or about 4 ft x f ft 6 in), then weight in lbs equals application rate in tons/acre.
  10. Average the calculated rates from at least three plastic sheets. If two or more values are similar but one is unusually high or low, average only the similar ones.

Method 4. Average Application Rate Based on Storage Volume Applied to Fields

This is not a calibration method in the same way as the others described here, but it is a way of estimating the average rate of manure applied to fields after emptying your manure storage. You need to know the capacity of your manure storage or an estimate of the portion applied on a given acreage.

Application Rate = Manure storage emptied (tons or gallons)/Area covered (acres)

If you know storage capacity only in volume (cubic feet), convert to gallons or tons using the conversion factors given earlier.

Adjustment to Obtain Desired Rate

Whichever calibration method is used, you will probably need to adjust the application rate to obtain the rate, or different rates, desired. Do this by changing a combination of tractor speed and spreader control. Then recalibrate the spreader by the same method. When the desired application rate is obtained, record the tractor and spreader settings for future reference. You may need to establish two or more rates for different crop types or varying nutrient needs.


Jokela, B. 2004. Manure Spreader Calibration. University of Vermont Extension Publication.