Manure

Manure makes a great soil conditioner and compost ingredient.

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Manure makes an excellent soil conditionerIn the days when most families kept a milk cow or small chicken flock, manure was a standard garden fertilizer. But with the advent of chemical fertilizers, many gardeners stopped using manure. Organic gardeners have rediscovered the benefits of manure as a soil conditioner and compost ingredient.
 
Most garden centers sell bagged composted manure, and while it costs more, bagged manure saves you the time and effort of locating, hauling, and composting fresh manure.
 
If you want to try composting fresh manure, seek out local farms—ideally, a local organic farm. While many farmers spread manure on their fields, or use it for making their own compost, they may be willing to give—or sell—you some, provided you do the hauling. Other good sources are local stables or feedlots. Urban gardeners can contact the city zoo or visit a fairground or circus after the animals have left town. Don’t use manure from dogs or cats—it may carry disease organisms that can be particularly dangerous to children.
 
Using Manure
Don’t put raw manure in or on garden soils. Raw manure generally releases highly soluble nitrogen compounds and ammonia, which can burn plant roots and interfere with seed germination. Also, don’t incorporate raw manure into unplanted garden beds. Raw manure often is filled with weed seeds, so spreading it on soil can create serious weed problems.
 
The best way to use manure as a fertilizer is to compost it. Manure is a prime source of nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus, and is rich in bacteria. Manure is important in a rapid composting method that requires a high-nitrogen, high-bacteria heat-up material. 
 
Manure and pesticides
Manure from non-organic farms may contain pesticides or pesticide residues. Some farmers spray manure piles with pesticides to kill fly larvae. Manure may also contain residues from antibiotics or other livestock medications. These chemicals can suppress microbial populations in compost. It’s best to ask the farmer whether the manure or the animals that produced it have been treated with medications or pesticides. 
 
Manure and pathogens
All manure contains some bacteria—even manure from animals treated with antibiotics. Some of those bacteria could be a form of E. coli or other pathogens that can cause serious illness, or even death. To be safe, always wear gloves when you handle manure, and always wash your hands thoroughly afterward. The best footgear to wear is a pair of rubber boots that you can scrub and hose off afterward. And for safety reasons, don’t use manure-based compost for making compost tea
 
Nutrients in Manures
While all animal manures are good sources of organic matter and nutrients, specific sources vary in nutrient content. It’s useful to know whether the manure you’re using is rich or poor in a particular nutrient such as nitrogen. NPK analysis refers to percentages of nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K). 
 
KIND OF MANURE   
NPK ANALYSIS   
 
Chicken  
1.1–0.8–0.5  
 
Cow  
0.6–0.2–0.5  
 
Duck  
0.6–1.4–0.5  
 
Horse  
0.7–0.3–0.6  
 
Pig  
0.5–0.3– .5  
 
Rabbit  
2.4–1.4–0.6  
 
Sheep  
0.7–0.3–0.9  
 
Steer  
0.7–0.3–0.4
 
 

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