Using Manure to Fertilize Your Garden

comments (9) July 30th, 2008

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Manure from barnyard animals can do wonders for your vegetable crops. Once youve found a source for animal manure, collect it, compost it, and spread it on your garden.
Manure from barnyard animals can do wonders for your vegetable crops. Once youve found a source for animal manure, collect it, compost it, and spread it on your garden.Click To Enlarge

Manure from barnyard animals can do wonders for your vegetable crops. Once you've found a source for animal manure, collect it, compost it, and spread it on your garden.

Photo: Ronald Lipking

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Do not use manure from household animals
All animals produce manure, but only livestock produce it in sufficient quantity and in a limited enough location to be of use to gardeners. And in case you’re wondering, it’s not a good idea to use manure from household animals like dogs and cats. Their feces are more likely to contain pathogens harmful to humans. Stick with the droppings from barnyard animals. One note of caution: Individuals with compromised immune systems, such as those with the HIV infection, should talk with their doctors about eating food from gardens fertilized with manure.

Horse and cow manure is humus-rich
Because cows and horses are grazers, most of what they consume is in the form of roughage like grass or hay, which produces a bulky, humus-rich manure, but one with relatively low levels of the three essential elements. Cow manure, depending on bedding amounts, weighs in at a dismal 0.5% nitrogen, 0.5% phosphorus, and 0.5% potassium, low in all three elements. Be sure to cure cow manure by giving it plenty of time in your compost pile.

Horse manure usually scores slightly better in all categories with a 1.5–1.0–1.5 N-P-K rating and a shorter composting time. However, unlike cow manure, you can’t buy it bagged. Although horse manure breaks down faster than cow manure, it still should be well composted before using it on a garden during the growing season.

Manure from sheep and goats is easy to handle
Sheep and goats produce better manure than cows and horses. For one thing, they’re neater, producing pelletized droppings that are easily gathered and distributed. And in the case of milk goats, which are often kept in stalls with bedding, the urine is captured along with the droppings, thus greatly increasing the value of the manure by retaining more nitrogen. Both animals produce around a 1.5–1.0–1.8 rating on the nutrient chart. An added advantage is quick composting because the pelletized form of the droppings allows more air into the compost pile and makes for greater surface area and quicker drying. Also, goats and sheep produce a manure that is virtually odorless if gathered in cool weather. And, since it comes in pellets, it is simple to spread and till into the garden.

When I gather the manure from my sheep, I actually use a broom and flat shovel to sweep it up and then dump it into a wheelbarrow. The whole process takes just a few minutes and is not backbreaking work like mucking out cow or horse stalls. I even put small amounts of the manure directly into my garden in the early spring. It breaks down so quickly that it doesn’t hurt the young plants that go out just a few weeks later. However, never apply any fresh manure directly to the roots or stems of plants.

Rabbit manure scores high in nitrogen
Resembling the droppings of goats and sheep, only smaller, rabbit manure looks like it was made for gardeners. But the big bonus from bunnies comes in the nutrient level, which rates an impressive 3.5% in nitrogen. The other elements are also slightly higher than in manure from goats and sheep. The difference, of course, is quantity. Rabbits, like all herbivores, eat a tremendous amount of food for their size, but for an average rabbit, that might mean 100 lb. of feed a year. You could expect somewhat less than that weight to be returned as manure. But because it is twice as nutritious as the other manures mentioned thus far, you get more for your money.

Bird manure is premium stuff

Of all the animals on my farm, birds produce the most valuable manure of all. Pigeon guano, for instance, has been prized in Europe as a super-manure since the Middle Ages when folks kept dovecotes and pigeon lofts atop their houses, growing the squabs for food and using the manure to fertilize gardens and fields. Pigeon manure rates higher than other fowl at 4.2% nitrogen, 3% phosphorus, and 1.4% potassium. It is harder to find and gather than other manures, and is best if composted thoroughly before using.

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posted in: organic, fertilizer, animals

Comments (9)

Rettaewart writes: You're the genius!
Posted: 2:26 am on September 17th
Blaizesampson writes: That's great buddy!it's incredible you think effectively
Posted: 3:19 am on July 30th
JardaeKeeley writes: That's really great info for gardeners!!!
Posted: 12:16 am on May 14th
Melanie1026 writes: Hello, I was wondering how often do I need to put manure in my vegetable garden? Every year? Every other year? My husband and I used a good amount last year and our garden was amazing. So now I'm wondering if we need to do that every year or is it good for a few years. Thank you!
Posted: 3:12 am on May 9th
shawnwagner writes: Great Man, you're really genius. It's a good sense you have made here. Instead of using chemical fertilizers, manure is a good replacement and also it's free from any chemical composition and it's also freely available for you. The new fertilizers introduced these days are just a mixture of chemicals with different ratio hence people are more interested for using organic fertilizers. Apart from using animal dung, you can also go organic.
It is what I prefer but I also try using manure for my farm. Thank you.
Posted: 1:19 am on September 1st
iceni writes: I am about to make large raised beds and I can get as much rotted manure I want from the farm next door. (the manure is years old and looks like soil) How much of this should I put into 20 inch high beds before adding top soil?
Thank you so much. I am so glad I discovered this site.
Posted: 5:07 pm on April 13th
JennyRF writes: I have a question about the safety of manure... We just built our raised beds at the beginning of April 2014. Once built we picked up a load of manure from my father-in-laws manure pile out in his field. We did take off a foot or two of the top layer of manure and get the stuff at the bottom of the pile. We then put a pile of it into each bed at the very bottom layer of the beds... Once the manure was put into the beds we then layered a 3-way compost/soil mix into the beds filling up the remaining space in the beds. I began reading about horse manure because I was struck with the thoughts of what if the manure was not all aged manure and some was fresh? What if it contains pathogens? What if we can get sick from it? Are these concerns something to continue to ponder about or do you think we are fine? I really would love some advice on this. This is our first gardening adventure and I was planning on putting in my seeds and some starts today...but thought I would think twice, before planting. We spent so many hours of work on those beds, but in the end as an afterthought I want to play it safe. Hope to hear from you soon. thank you.
Posted: 2:57 pm on April 21st
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Posted: 2:07 pm on December 14th
SMbalian writes: I live ins a big city in Bolivia. I have a roof terrace for doing laundry. I have gotten 5 gal. water bottles for free and have been using them as self watering pots. yesterday at market I found bags of sheep manure. remembering from my youthful days about how good that is I bought it. but I'm curious about how much to stick in a pot. Any ideas? and major Kudos to the artist on this page. the illustrations are delightful! I want to make some prints here for my office where I tutor little kids. I know this particular page was made 4 yrs ago now.....but to whomever...I enjoyed your way of writing also. 'gonna go browse some more to see what else I can learn in a up-beat way. Thanks, Sally
Posted: 3:57 pm on November 21st
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