Beef cattle feedlots are a major source of ammonia (NH3) emissions from livestock industries. We investigated the effects of lignite surface applications on NH3 and nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions from beef cattle feedlot pens. Two rates of lignite, 3 and 6 kg m− 2, were tested in the treatment pen. No lignite was applied in the control pen. Twenty-four Black Angus steers were fed identical commercial rations in each pen. We measured NH3 and N2O concentrations continuously from 4th Sep to 13th Nov 2014 using Quantum Cascade Laser (QCL) NH3 analysers and a closed-path Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy analyser (CP-FTIR) in conjunction with the integrated horizontal flux method to calculate NH3 and N2O fluxes. During the feeding period, 16 and 26% of the excreted nitrogen (N) (240 g N head− 1 day− 1) was lost via NH3 volatilization from the control pen, while lignite application decreased NH3 volatilization to 12 and 18% of the excreted N, for Phase 1 and Phase 2, respectively. Compared to the control pen, lignite application decreased NH3 emissions by approximately 30%. Nitrous oxide emissions from the cattle pens were small, 0.10 and 0.14 g N2O-N head− 1 day− 1 (< 0.1% of excreted N) for the control pen, for Phase 1 and Phase 2, respectively. Lignite application increased direct N2O emissions by 40 and 57%, to 0.14 and 0.22 g N2O-N head− 1 day− 1, for Phase 1 and Phase 2, respectively. The increase in N2O emissions resulting from lignite application was counteracted by the lower indirect N2O emission due to decreased NH3 volatilization. Using 1% as a default emission factor of deposited NH3 for indirect N2O emissions, the application of lignite decreased total N2O emissions.