The Incas dominated much of South America for centuries, building a vast empire that stretched high into the Andes where the terraced city of Machu Picchu still inspires wonder. Now scientists in France and Peru, reporting in the journal Antiquity, reveal what made it all possible: llama dung.
The researchers analyzed mud cores from the bottom of a lake near the Incan town of Ollantaytambo in Peru. These sediment samples contain a record of past environmental conditions in the area. (In some places, scientists have found cores that give records stretching back tens of thousands of years). In the Peruvian sample, the researchers found a sudden increase in maize (corn) pollen starting around 2,700 years ago. Unlike the wild-grown quinoa that the Incas had previously relied upon to survive, cultivated maize provided more energy and could be stored or transported long distances, perfect for fueling a growing empire. But how were they able to grow maize high up in the mountains?
The mud samples also provide that answer. About the same time that there was an increase in maize pollen, there was an increase in oribatid mites, tiny insects that live in soil and feed on feces. The researchers conclude that dung from llamas—which the Incas had domesticated hundreds of years previously—provided food for all those mites. Llamas “defecate communally so is easily gathered,” Alex Chepstow-Lusty of the French Institute of Andean Studies explained to the Guardian. The Incans could then use the poop as fertilizer for their maize fields, which reached elevations up to 11,000 feet above sea level. “This widespread shift to agriculture and societal development was only possible with an extra ingredient—organic fertilizers on a vast scale,” Chepstow-Lusty says.
What is manure?
Broadly speaking, manure is organic matter. Animal manure is the feces of animals—primarily of livestock like horses, cows, and chickens. It may be “pure,” but it often includes bedding or litter materials like straw or sawdust, in which case it will also contain animal urine. Facts about manure. Depending on the source, manure is very high in organic matter as well as nutrients essential to plant growth. As animals digest the plants and other food they eat, they are broken down by anaerobic bacterial action in their stomachs. Manure is, in some ways, like compost that has been broken down at high speed by the animals that have produced it. Let’s look at the rest of the poop on manure here.
Why use it?
Farmers and gardeners have been using manure for centuries to add organic matter to their soil. Over time, as organic matter breaks down in soil, it becomes depleted. The mineral soil that is left over becomes less able to support abundant microbial life, so by “manuring” such a field, the farmer is able to integrate organic matter into the soil and re-start or feed that microbial life. The microorganisms and invertebrates that live in soil break down minerals and organic matter into forms that are accessible to plants. So if you have a healthy soil biomass, you can grow healthy crops without the use of chemicals.
Animal manure is a bi-product of farming, and there’s quite a lot of it about. Cattle in the US alone produce an estimated two billion tons of manure each year. In some traditional farming systems, livestock are kept primarily because they produce manure. Depending on where you live, you may be able to find farms or horse stables that are anxious to give the stuff away because their animals produce so much of it. But as we shall see, not all manures are created equally.
Fresh vs. “Mature” – how to store it
Using manure that has been freshly dug from the barn, coop, or paddock poses problems. Depending on the kind, it may be very high in ammonia, or contain so much nitrogen that it will burn the roots and stems of any plant it comes in contact with. It might also be full of weed seeds. Fresh manure may also contain pathogens from the animal’s gut. Storing manure allows it to mature in the same way that compost does—bacterial action causes a buildup of heat that will, ideally, kill weed seeds and other pathogens.
If you order a delivery of manure and it smells upon arrival, it is unfinished, and needs to be stored (composted) before use.
Stored manure is often referred to as “rotted manure.” It has no unpleasant smell, and its texture has changed since it was produced. Rotted manure is a fantastic soil amendment. Ideally it will retain some of its natural nitrogen, but not to the extent that it causes burning or excessive foliar growth in your crops. In some farming systems manure is stored for a year in a pile with steep, compacted sides. This helps to retain some of its inherent nitrogen (as does covering the pile with tarps), because rain is prevented from leaching out the nitrogen. But some moisture is needed in the pile to encourage microbial action, so you don’t want it do dry out entirely. If it does, you’ll want to give it a good soaking before use.
Fresh manure can be spread over a growing area in the fall, and incorporated into the soil in the late winter prior to planting. By the time you are planting, it should have no unpleasant odour. Certified organic farmers are prohibited from spreading fresh manure for at least 90 days before harvesting crops intended for human consumption. For crops that come in direct contact with the soil, the minimum time period is 120 days. These regulations are useful to the home gardener, to indicate how seriously this is taken.
How to use it
Rotted manure can be spread on the surface of the soil or tilled into the soil. Many organic growers prefer a “no-dig” method in which manure and other soil amendments are added to the soil in layers, always on the surface. This encourages sub-soil microbes and creatures like earthworms to feed on the material at the surface, and drag it down into the sub-soil. Tilling works, too, but may be disruptive to sub-soil life. Because the texture of rotted manure is relatively fluffy, compared to soil minerals, most of it is going to remain near the surface, even when tilled.
The amount that you choose to incorporate should be relative to the area in question, and the existing fertility and structure of your soil. A farmer with depleted, dusty soil, for instance, might want to apply manure at a rate of 40 tons per acre. She might apply half that amount if the existing soil is thought to moderately fertile. In subsequent years, 10-20 tons applied every other year would maintain adequate fertility.
Remember that it is possible to over-apply organic matter of any kind. Soil wants to maintain an ideal balance (loam) of soil particles (sand, silt, and clay) with organic matter. And while there are a few types of hardy plants that will thrive in pure manure, it’s more useful to think of manure as organic matter—as a general soil amendment to promote microbial action.
Types of manure
Animals digest their food in different ways. And different animals eat different sorts of food, so it’s no surprise that the end product will vary from creature to creature. So after your manure’s “maturity,” it’s type is a critical consideration.
All birds have relatively high metabolisms and body temperatures. One of the best qualities of chicken manure is that few, if any, weed seeds can survive passing through the gut of a chicken. The manure of all poultry (turkeys, pigeons…) is a combination of feces and urine, and it’s extremely high in nitrogen. Fresh chicken manure is far too strong for direct application, so it should be fully composted. In small quantities, it makes a good additive to your compost pile, combining well with high carbon matter like lawn clippings and leaves. As a fertilizer, mature chicken manure has an NPK rating of 1/1.5/0.5.
This may be the most balanced of all manures for organic growing because of the nature of cows’ stomachs. Cows can digest the cellulose that makes up so much of the bulk of the plants they eat, so their manure breaks down very easily. It also tends to be moist, which helps in the composting stage, and it’s not strong in terms of nutrients. Composted steer manure typically has an NPK rating of 0.8/0.5/0.5.
Horse manure is abundantly available and well balanced. Horses digest their food less thoroughly than cows, so their manure is richer in organic matter. It is, however, more likely to contain viable weed seeds. Horse manure often contains bedding and straw soaked with nitrogen-rich urine, which is of particular value to growers. Expect an NPK rating of 0.5/0.3/0.4.
Pig manure should be composted to the point that it has little or no smell before use in the home garden. It is noxious as a fresh product. Be cautious of manure produced from intensive meat production facilities, as it may be high in copper. Organically farmed pig manure is an excellent amendment with an NPK averaging 0.6/0.4/0.3.
Sheep & Llama
These animals spend a great deal of time outdoors leaving their droppings in the field. But any that can be collected is very valuable as garden manure. Like cows, these animals digest their food well. Their potassium rich fertilizer has an NPK rating of 0.4/0.3/0.8.
Rabbit pellets are high in nitrogen and phosphorus. Some of the literature suggests that if the pellets are kept dry, they can be used fresh, simply scattered around plants like pelleted plant food. This should be done with some degree of caution, as the pellets can be soaked with ammonia-rich urine. In a food growing system, it’s probably safer to compost rabbit pellets before use. Its NPK rating is 2/1.4/0.6.
This product can be purchased in bags, or is sometimes available in bulk amounts. It is the residual waste of the mushroom growing industry, and is usually comprised of a mix of straw, horse manure, dried blood, chalk, and other ingredients that have been thoroughly composted. If you can find organic mushroom manure, it’s an outstanding soil amendment with an NPK of 0.7/0.3/0.3. Mushroom manure that is not specifically listed as organic may contain traces of pesticide residues used to control fungus gnats.
Not all manure exits the gut of an animal, of course. Green manure is a general name for cover crops that are grown with the intent of tilling under. They may add carbon, or other nutrients to the soil, and improve structure and drainage. Legumes are planted to fix nitrogen in the soil through a symbiotic relationship with bacteria. The uses of green manure are broad enough to justify their own article.
Slurry & Tea
In some larger farm systems, fresh dairy cow manure (and other types) is collected in concrete basins, and mixed with water to form “slurry,” which is then machine spread on fields prior to tilling or planting. On a much smaller scale, compost and manure tea can be made for the home garden or small farm. This involves steeping organic matter in water, straining it, and using the resulting tea as a foliar or crop fertilizer. Because the decomposition of the organic matter is anaerobic, it can result in a seriously stinky final product. But it is cheap to produce, and very effective.
Try filling a bucket 1/3 full of aged manure (or ½ full of finished compost), and top it up with water and a tight fitting lid. Let this steep for about one week, and then strain the tea into another container. The tea should be diluted one part tea to two parts water before use.
While the thought of using human waste in food production may be offensively unpalatable to Western growers, it’s worth considering that such waste is far too valuable in some parts of the world to waste by simply polluting rivers. Human manure can, indeed, be composted and spread for crop production. Human urine is extremely high in nitrogen, and has its uses in the garden as well. If you are compelled to experiment with human manure, it’s probably worth doing some thorough research beforehand. Many websites and several books have been dedicated to the subject. The use of human manure is banned under organic certification for farms producing food for human consumption.
Problems with manure
Some organic food proponents are vehemently opposed to using animal manures of any kind. Scientific evidence appears to show that it is possible for some plants to accumulate antibiotics from soil amended with animal manures that contain these drugs.¹ It should be pointed out that manure might be available from organic farms where no antibiotics are used, or that keeping your own chickens organically is one way to address this concern.
Pathogens such as E. coli and salmonella can exist in manure, and have been known to cause outbreaks in human populations due to improper use. By composting manure, its interior temperature can be raised to 55-60°C (130-149°F) for two weeks or longer, thus killing these pathogens and rendering the manure safe to use. Properly composted manure is considered safe for use in organic farming systems, and by the regulatory bodies of the CFIA and USDA.
The other major issue is with the introduction of weed seeds, but as we’ve seen above, some manures are less likely than others to contain them. And if correctly composted, many of these seeds can be sterilized by achieving high temperatures through bacteriological action.
There will be some growers who simply can’t be sold on the concept of using manure to grow food, and fair enough. By using cover crops to create green manure, nearly all the benefits of using manure can be achieved—namely the introduction of nitrogen and organic matter into your soil to improve soil fertility and structure.
Using Composted Alpaca Manure In The Garden
Although lower in organic matter than other traditional manures, alpaca manure has a lot of value in the garden. In fact, many gardeners find this type of manure to be an excellent source of nutrients for optimal soil and plant health. Let’s look at, “How do I use alpaca manure as fertilizer” and if alpaca manure is a good fertilizer.
Is Alpaca Manure Good Fertilizer?
Using alpaca manure as fertilizer is beneficial. Even with its lower organic content, alpaca manure is considered a rich soil conditioner. Alpaca fertilizer improves the soil quality and its ability to retain water. It is also good for plants, providing a fair amount of nitrogen and potassium and about average levels of phosphorus.
Since alpaca manure is mostly found in pellet form and doesn’t have the same components as other livestock feeders, like cows and horses, it does not need to be aged or composted before use. You can spread it directly onto garden plants without burning them. Best of all, it does not contain any weed seeds so there’s no worry about plucking sprouts from the garden following application, as with some types of manure.
How Do I Use Alpaca Manure as Fertilizer?
Generally, you can find bags of alpaca manure available from online retailers or alpaca farmers. Those raising alpacas can even obtain it straight from the source. When using alpaca fertilizer, you can put it on top of the garden soil and then water it or wait and let the rain help soak it in.
For those in colder climates, you can also spread the manure over snow-filled garden beds and allow it to soak into the soil as the snow melts. Either way, alpaca manure breaks down rather quickly.
Alpaca Fertilizer Tea
Alpaca manure tea is another option for fertilizing garden plants. This is especially helpful for giving seedlings a jump start. Simply mix about a third cup (79 mL) of alpaca manure to every two-thirds cup (158 mL) of water and let it sit overnight. Then, use the manure tea to water your plants.
Alpaca Manure Compost
Although composting alpaca manure is not necessary, doing so is easy. Composted alpaca manure can offer additional benefits as well. One of the easiest ways to create alpaca manure compost is to simply mix it in with other organic materials. As with any compost pile, this is best accomplished by alternating layers of browns and greens—browns being woody materials like small garden debris and leaves, and greens being kitchen scraps like fruit peels, eggshells, etc. This should be kept moist but not wet and turned occasionally.
Depending on the amount of compost, it should take anywhere from a few weeks or months to a year before it’s ready for use. Adding worms to the pile will help break everything down quicker in addition to lending their own nutritional value.
The finished compost should have a pleasant odor and a nice dark brown to black color. Once added to the soil, composted alpaca manure can help increase crop yields and promote healthy, vigorous plant growth.
Whether you add alpaca manure directly to the garden, make manure tea, or use alpaca manure compost, your plants will thrive. In addition, the nearly odorless alpaca fertilizer may even help deter deer pests, as they find its aroma offensive.
Is alpaca manure acceptable for vegetable gardening? If so what does it…
Fresh and non composted manure is not acceptable for growing vegetables when applied just before or during the growing season.
It IS acceptable if it is composted for use during the rowing season. A guide with some basic information is located at: https://extension.unh.edu/resource/guidelines-using-animal-manures-and-manure-based-composts-garden-…
A guideline for using composted manures is located at:
Another one that will help is specific to horse manure, but will work for alpaca manure as well: https://go.osu.edu/compostmanure
You can apply fresh manure in the fall. It is suggested that you till it into the soil. For alpaca specifically – this is necessary to break down the fresh manure. Applying at this time will allow it to break down during the rest of the fall, through the winter and spring in time for the next season.
Alpaca manure will enrich the soil with organic matter. That is the biggest benefit. Some general information relating to alpaca manures can be found here:
You should use a soil test to determine the nutrient needs of the soil and to get an idea of the organic matter content. We offer soil testing locally. Detailed information is at http://go.osu.edu/soiltesting
Alpaca manure naturally contains the perfect balance of nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and micro-nutrients.
It is lower in organic matter content than the manure from other farmyard livestock (cows, horses, goats and sheep etc) creating a higher concentration of nutrients as well as improving soil texture and its water-holding capacity. This lower organic content allows alpaca manure to be spread directly onto plants without burning them.
Alpaca manure is NOT A HOT MANURE unlike others and therefore does not need to be rotted before use. It is the decomposition of organic matter that indicates the efficiency of the alpacas complex digestive system.
The nitrogen and potassium content of alpaca manure is comparatively high, an indication of good fertilizer value. Alpaca manure has the highest nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium of any natural fertilizer.
Natural alpaca compost may be added to the soil at any time during the year and at any stage of growth and development. The use of alpaca compost as a fertilizer contributes to healthier and stronger development of stems, leaves and seeds in just about any plant and produces beautiful buds and flowers.
There are several ways to use the alpaca manure. You can dig it straight into the soil or you can place some manure into a bucket for a few days, stir occasionally and pour onto the plants or vegetables to see a rapid growth.
Try it yourself, it really does work.
We sell bags of fresh alpaca manure for £1.00. Collection only.
Due to high demand, we currently have a waiting list and recommend that you place your order in plenty of time.
To place an order please email [email protected] or telephone 01206 738741.