How to turn Manure into Soil
Manure gives me bushels and bushels of food every year. Your garden is truly only as good as your soil.
If you have high quality soil your garden will enjoy:
- Fewer Pest problems
- Fewer Disease problems
- Higher Fruit & Vegetable Yields
- More abundant Flavor in your foods
- The ability to grow a greater number of plants
- Plant Longevity – your plants will continue to fruit and produce for a longer period of time
- Increase moisture holding capacity
All this and more can be impacted by the quality of your soil.
One of the best ways to keep your soil in top-notch shape is to add some good old fashioned manure.
I know that not everyone has the space, ability and desire to keep livestock (especially large livestock, like cows). If this is you, don’t loose heart. You can create wonderful manure supplements for your garden by keeping backyard rabbits or chickens.
Rabbits are especially treasured because they can be kept just about anywhere on any amount of space and their manure is excellent and never hot. It can go straight from the rabbit hutch to the tomato plants.
Anyone with cattle will tell you that it is quite remarkable, even shocking to see how much manure comes out of one cow. Really, it seems like it should be impossible that an animal can make that much waste in a day. When it is winter and we are feeding our cows hay, we know exactly how much they are eating. The amount of poop that comes out the other end simply does not match the serving going in.
It’s astounding and wonderful.
All that waste is not a waste at all if you are up to the task.
It all starts with the animals. We compost the bedding from the chicken coop. We compost the litter from the run-ins. We compost anything organic from our home and kitchen (veggie scraps, coffee grinds, egg shells, dryer vent stuff, even the bones left from making bone broth)… And we compost our manure, of course.
Our cows are a treasure. They eat green grass and turn it into creamy milk and rich manure. It is hard to beat properly composted cow manure for garden fuel. It can be mixed in to your soil for a boost or used as a top dressing. Oh I love my cows.
In addition to our 2 jersey milk cows we have several beef cows. All of them spend their days making manure.
Although our free-range chickens are happy to assist with the manure problem, we prefer to scoop it out of the fields ourselves and load it into that little black wagon.
Chickens love manure. They scratch it. They peck it. They eat any bits of undigested grain or seed. They eat any bugs or worms who have decided to call the cow pies home. AND they scratch those pies into oblivion. If we wanted to leave all the manure in the field, our chickens would keep the fields groomed, clean and parasite free.
Free-range chickens are fabulous… most of the time. Go here to read about when they are not.
If you have free-range chickens and don’t want to scoop the manure out of your fields, you don’t have to. Heck, even if you don’t have free-range chickens you really don’t HAVE to scoop the manure out of your fields. You can just let it go back to the earth. Let it complete it’s life cycle. Let it go from manure to compost to fertilizer right where it lands.
We do scoop the manure out of our pastures the old fashioned way (with pitchforks) on a fairly regular basis.
Because I LOVE manure. My tomatoes love manure. My cucumbers love manure. My squash love manure. My peppers love manure. You get the picture…. I have friends who have cows and they just leave the manure in the fields. They never “collect” the manure. When they need fertilizer or soil for their garden they go buy it or get it from another farm.
This seems a bit on the insane radar to me. We have cows. They make us manure. I have a perfectly sustainable resource right here on my property. Why would I go get fertilizer or soil from another place?
In order to get that manure out of the fields, coop or hutch and into the garden to grow your food, it must first be collected.
Collecting manure from the chicken coop or the rabbit hutch is pretty straightforward. Load it up in the wheel barrow and go.
Getting the cow pies out of a 2 acre pasture is a bit more of a job.
When you have pastured, grass-fed cows, they don’t have bathrooms, litter boxes or designated pooping areas. The poop is pretty much everywhere. In order to benefit from this treasure, we first need to get it out of the field and all in one place.
We have 4-wheelers, wagons with handy dumping abilities and super cute kids that are really good at scooping manure.
Once the wagon is full, we take it to the “compost” pile. This pile is much more than a heap of cow manure. It is the “catch-all” for all things compostable.
Some things that get tossed in our compost pile:
- our kitchen scraps
- garden trash
- chicken coop debris (feathers and all!)
- moldy hay
- run-in flooring
- lint from my dryers
- anything else that will break down and become soil
- oh, and manure from our cows, of course
The word “manure” actually means number one, number two and the material used to absorb the waste. True manure will contain materials rich in carbon (the bedding) and materials rich in nitrogen (number one and two). These 2 components are what you need to achieve compost excellence. – Source
My oldest son is backing the wagon into the compost area so we can just release the dump lever & the manure will fall out.
Like this. We have a couple of compost bins. Having 2 bins is nice because you can keep things orderly and timed right.
- Bin #1 – this is last years compost (or older). It is mostly composted and ready to use. If I need a scoop of good rich soil for a pot or the garden or a flower bed this is where I go.
- Bin #2 – this is this years compost. It is hot, moist and fresh.
We let our pile of manure and assorted organic material “compost” or break down for a year or more before using it.
If the manure (from cows) is to fresh (or hot) it will burn up your plants. I don’t think there is any such thing as letting manure compost too long – it’s just going to break down and get better with age. We just make sure the manure and it’s composting companions are over a year old before moving it to the garden. This seems to work well for us. I know folks who allow their compost to break down longer than 1 year.
I also know folks who compost their manure faster than 1 year.
With expert ratios, the right amount of heat and plenty of turning the composting process can happen quicker. I am not a compost expert, have no idea how hot my pile is and let my chickens do all the “turning.” I have other things to do.
Composting can be as complicated as you want it to be. Good grief. Leaves %, legume %, hay %, non-legume %, sawdust %, Bedding/litter %, moisture content, temperature, etc, etc, etc. Then there’s the ratios, the nitrogen, the carbon. Oh and did I mention you are supposed to water it? Water…… the stinkin compost pile. I have a hard enough time remembering to water my tomato plants; there is not an earth where I will ever consider watering a pile of poop. Nope. Not me.
I’m not even finished yet…… in addition to the perfect contents in the right ratios with the right amount of moisture and heat…… you are also supposed to “turn” it. Yup. That 15 foot pile of cow manure is supposed to be stirred. With a garden fork. Who wants to die?
Not me. Good feeling gone. No thank you for all this complicated composting business. So guess what I do? I leave it in a pile for a year and guess what happens? It turns into soil.
I will say that cow manure composts REALLY easily. It doesn’t take too much effort or fussing to turn it into perfect, crumbly, odor-free soil-enhancer. You won’t even need a container or box to hold it. The best way to compost manure is in a big pile out in the open.
Once the compost is ready – it’s time to get it in the garden so it can grow food.
I grab my wagon and load the beautiful compost out of the compost bin and take it to the garden. Sometimes I use a wheel barrow. Today I already had the wagon hooked up – so I am using it.
As I mentioned earlier, you can do this 2 ways:
- Mix the compost in to your current soil for a boost
- Use it for top dressing
I prefer top dressing. This way I don’t mess with the layers of my soil too much. I just add a coat of manure to the top of my beds.
There is always a notable color difference between the soil already in my garden and the composted manure. This is why it is sometimes called, “Black Gold.”
Whether you have chickens, rabbits, goats, sheep, cows or other manure-producing-critter, you can make your own soil. It just takes a little elbow grease and determination.
Time to plant something!