If you raise animals, no matter how large or small your farm or homestead, there’s one thing that you must deal with, manure. Different animals produce varying amounts of waste, anywhere from 50 lbs a day per horse to about 11 lbs per day for pigs and just under 5 lbs a day for chickens.
No matter how you shovel it, that adds up to quite a bit of the brown stuff over time. So what do you do with all that crap? Manure management is any system or practice of collecting, storing, and then utilizing or discarding of animal manure in a sustainable manner.
Manure can be managed commercially or on a much smaller scale, like your homestead. For the purposes of this introductory article we will focus primarily on small scale on farm manure management.
Manure Management Basics
There are three basic forms of manure:
No matter what form it’s in, manure can build up fast without a proper manure management plan. In addition, failure to manage manure properly can cause a host of problems with soil, crops, and potentially water sources.
Anyone with livestock, whether just a few or an entire herd, needs to have a manure management plan. For most small scale farms and homesteads with gardens, this includes composting manure on some level so it can be used as fertilizer for gardens and crops.
Before using manure as fertilizer for your garden or soil, make sure you’ve done an analysis of your soil nutrients so you know which nutrients need to be added.
Options for on-farm manure management include:
- Turns waste into useful fertilizer to provide plant nutrients
- Safer for soil than raw manure
- Usually pH-neutral, low chance of nutrient imbalances
- Can be applied directly to plants after composting
- Minimal equipment needed; can be done manually
- Must be managed and turned to ensure balance and proper temperature (130 to 150 degrees Fahrenheit internal temperature)
- Kills weeds seeds and parasites, eggs, and larvae
There are several different types of composting bins you can use for your compost depending on your needs.
The videos below include details for making different types of composting bins:
Wire Mesh or Snow Fence Composting Bins are typically used when a more portable or less permanent option is needed. These can be moved around if needed and work great for those with smaller spaces or limited budgets:
Composting Bin from Wood Pallets is simple to make with a little effort. This system works great for those with a larger volume of manure and the space for a longer term setup:
Wood & Wire 3-Bin Turning Unit is designed to provide three separate areas for composting so you can have compost in varying stages of the process:
Composting Tumbler Unit is a more portable unit and works well for those with a smaller gardens or areas in need of fertilizer. It takes up very little space and is extremely suitable for urban and suburban areas:
Composting Using Piles works best for farms or homesteads with a large volume of manure. When composting using piles, make sure to keep piles securely covered and let piles compost for up to 6 months or longer:
On-Pasture Manure Management
- Minimal maintenance
- Provides for greater surface area for grazing when manure piles are eliminated.
- Rotate animals using temporary fencing for grazing
- Reduces likelihood of manure run off when it rains
- Decreases sight, smell, flies, and parasites in the pasture which keeps horses cleaner and makes you a better neighbor.
- Most effective if dragged during 85 degree weather (summer) with animals removed for at least one week or longer to ensure parasites are killed.
Stockpiling for Later Use
- Must be stored in sealed and compacted area
- Long term storage may require reinforced walls for containment
- Requires “roof” covering and proper slope to prevent runoff and direct leaching
- Typically spread on fields (as shown in the video below) in fall to allow manure to degrade:
- Must include period where livestock are kept off pasture for parasites to die off
Storing for Removal
- Used when manure volume is more than needed
- Requires storage facility and hauling equipment
- Can be packaged for sale or bartered to others
- May need filter strips or buffer strips to manage runoff
- One of the more costly options
There is no hard and fast rule for which manure management plan you must use. In fact, many smaller farms and homesteads customize their manure management plan by using a combination of the four options.
The important thing is to get a system that works for your needs and is safe for the environment. The video below contains more details about the pros and cons of each of these manure management options:
Is All Manure the Same?
For those who are new to raising livestock or for those with only a few animals, it may seem like all manure is the same. But in reality, all manure is not the same. Manure from different animals varies in content, based on not only the type of animal, but also on the diet of the animal and even the age.
- Most balanced nutrients for soil
- Compost with high carbon materials minimum 6 weeks, turning weekly.
- Use on flower, vegetable, root crops, blueberries (acid loving)
- Contains spores and fungi
- Great for vermiposting bins
- May contain undigested hay or grain seeds
- Also most balanced nutrients for soil
- More pungent, long lasting odor than horse manure
- Acid-loving plants, vegetable and root crops, flower beds
- Low nitrogen content, won’t “burn” plants
- Can apply directly to garden but may get more weeds and grass than if composted
- High nitrogen content
- High ammonia content
- Considered “hot” manure, should not be applied to garden or crops while fresh
- Best used as an addition to other soil, not alone as plant medium
- Vegetable and root crops
- Good for corn crops and other heavy nitrogen feeders
- Low nitrogen content
- Cool manure
- Not as safe as other manures-can contain parasites that may survive composting
- Contains some of all 13 plant nutrients
- Good for root crops
- Easier to compost and spread due to pellet shape
- “Hot” manure
- 2nd to chicken manure for nitrogen content and potassium
- Higher in potash than cow or horse manure
- Cool Manure
- Rich in potassium and nitrogen
- Plant based diet means slow nutrient release
- Good for improving water retention in sandy soil
- Increases drainage in clay soil
- Good for worm beds
- Easy to spread pellet shape
- Cool Manure
- Some use directly on plants but 90 days composting is suggested
- Size increases aeration of other other compost materials
- Cool Manure
- No need for composting, breaks down quickly
- Easier to spread, dries quickly
- Fantastic for worm beds
- Great booster for flower beds or any crops
Why Does Manure Need to Compost?
The minimum recommended composting time is 15 days at a consistent 131 degrees Fahrenheit, turning every few days. The reason manure needs to compost is to reduce the ammonia and nitrogen levels that can “burn” plants.
Composting also is a very important method for breaking down any weed seeds that went undigested by the animal. One of the most important reasons to compost manure is to kill off any pathogens such as E. Coli and parasites which can be harmful.
Composting is also a great way to reduce the natural odor associated with animal manure, very important for anyone with neighbors or sensitive noses. So even though some cool manures can be applied directly to your garden, it’s safer to compost it, especially for food crops and gardens.
Even the most diligent of farmers and homesteaders can make mistakes when it comes to manure management. Some new homesteaders or farmers may not have even thought much about how to manage manure yet. We’ve listed some of the common manure mistakes to avoid below:
- Improper manure storage in uncovered piles or unsealed areas that allows leaching
- Using raw manure (uncomposted) on new or established plants.
- Manure storage or composting piles too close to water sources
- Using manure to “fill in” low spots or swales
- Spreading raw manure at the wrong time.
- Incorrect nitrogen to carbon ratio
- Buying “unknown” manure which may be contaminated
Where and How You Can Buy Manure
If you have access to manure from your own animals, this is the best option because you know for sure what your animals are eating and what, if any, potential there is for contamination.
But if you must buy manure because you don’t have livestock or to supplement your own manure, there are a number of different places and methods for buying it.
- Local Farmers will often sell to you by the truckload
- Farm and Garden Supply Stores sell composted manure by the bag
- Home Improvement Stores like Home Depot sell composted manure in bulk bags
- You can even order manure online and have it shipped to your home
Do you own livestock? Tell us about your manure management system and what results you’ve observed for your farm or homestead.
If you’re new to manure management, share other questions you have that weren’t covered here in the comments below.