Best manure for gardens


Before you “poop your plants” LOL, learn these key handling and processing techniques to keep you and your plants free from contamination and sickness.

Here’s the scoop on the poop:

1. Fresh Ain’t Best! Never Use New Manure Near Your Edibles

Manure is a prime source of nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus. It’s also rich in bacteria. For us home gardeners, applying fresh manure to an edible garden is not the wisest choice. The high probability that it will burn and dehydrate your plants becomes second fiddle to a bigger concern – nasty illnesses caused by pathogens like E. coli and salmonella.


Poop “fresh off the press” should not be worked into the soil during the growing season.

You’ve probably seen farmers applying it like there’s no tomorrow and wondered, “if they can do it, why not me?”. Most likely, farms spread it in the fall or use it to condition a field well before planting an edible crop.


One university study illustrated it with a simple drop of water. Imagine yourself watering your plants after working fresh manure into the soil. Picture a contaminated water droplet splashing up onto your vegetables. Now you’re playing Russian roulette with your health. Of course, washing your veggies will help.


The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published an article in 2005 that estimated the total number of E. coli illnesses in the United States annually. Can you guess the number? 5,000? 10,000? How about 73,000! And that is what is reported by medical facilities. There could be hundreds or even thousands more cases that were never treated officially. The same study broke down the causes of the outbreaks, and produce contamination was reported to be on the rise – more than 30% of all E. coli cases. Half of that was from cross contamination in restaurants. The other half was from produce already contaminated with E. coli. Lettuce, cabbage and sprouts are the most common carriers. It can happen at home too. Sadly, I read about a 2 year old boy in Maine who died from E. coli as a result of fresh manure added to the garden improperly.


There are several ways your food can get a “touch of the squirts”. Manure can contaminate irrigation and wash water as well as processing and storage equipment. Poor handling and shipping practices can also wreak havoc. The report from the CDC also warned that chlorine washes don’t reliably reduce E. coli counts. Gee. If this hasn’t convinced you not to put the stinky stuff next to your edibles, then I don’t know what will!

2. Know What’s In It! Pesticides, Antibiotics and Medications?


Fly larvae are a big problem at some farms and so they spray pesticides on manure piles to kill the larvae. Another worry is that grass sprayed with herbicides can survive inside the animal’s body and eventually its manure. Chemicals can stick around in the manure and kill beneficial microbes.


Do you know if the cows or horses were treated with drugs? Those drugs don’t kill all bacteria found in animal manure. Medications can also be present in manures.

Now don’t get bummed out that your dreams of doo doo may be crushed. There’s hope for those of us that want all of the benefits of manure without the threat of catching something horrible and even life threatening. Here’s how to make manure work for you:

3. Age Matters! Let Manure Sit Around and Act Lazy for a While.

Fresh manure has a high level of acidity that can burn plants. Aging it properly not only reduces the inevitable shock factor to your plants but should kill the bad stuff that can make you sick. There are no guarantees. I cannot check your aged manure for pathogens. It is a fact that aging can reduce the risks.


Aged manure is powdery stuff that has been heat dried using temperatures at least 160°F for several hours at a minimum. The water content has been significantly reduced, e.g., 90% and it’s been exposed to air and the elements for at least 6 months (better if a year of more). After undergoing all that heat stress, the manure will remain nutrient-rich and won’t smell. Harmful pathogens should be killed off naturally although some experts contend that disease organisms could remain over time if not composted.


You can let the manure sit alone in a safe place (away from water runoff or human and pet interaction), or pair it with carbon-rich materials like straw, shredded paper or leaves. The sun’s heat and the manure’s high nitrogen content will “toast” the poop well. Leave it to roast for at least 6 months and make sure it’s no longer stinky or moist.

4. Compost in a Pile and Go the Extra Mile!

Fresh manure breaks down well in a compost heap. If you want a good amount of composted manure and don’t have the land for a compost heap, you can purchase aged and composted manure. If you compost it yourself, once the compost is finished, let it cure for 2-4 months before using it in your garden – the longer the better (6 months or more).


Compost experts give the “o.k.” that adding a little bit of manure to your well-balanced compost tumbler will help heat up the material and speed the composting process. But the best method for composting manure is in a outdoor pile. In other words, unless you know your composter or tumbler can turn poop over properly, don’t add more than a cup of it to a small, enclosed space.


Composting and aging are similar. They both heat up the poop to kill bacteria, reduce density and eliminate stench. Aging can be done without composting. The manure doesn’t need to be mixed with carbon-rich items to age (but most likely is mixed with bedding like straw or other materials used to absorb odors or cover up the muck). Many folks do add straw, leaves or the like to manure to age it and these same combinations work well to compost. Both methods make it easier to handle and apply uniformly.

5. Apply it Like a Pro! Dilute it, don’t pollute It. Work it in way before harvest. Keep it clean.


Apply aged or composted manure to your edible garden 90 days prior to harvest if the produce will not come in contact with the soil. Apply 120 days in advance of planting root crops. Never sprinkle it on top of plants, especially lettuce and other leafy greens.


It’s NOT recommended to apply aged or composted manure near the roots of tender plants, at the beginning of the planting season and especially not to edibles at planting time. Use it as a side dressing? Not so much.


Water manure in thoroughly versus throwing it on top of the soil. A more effective way to apply manure, once aged or composted, is to mix it with a good quality compost. Make your own manure tea or buy muslin bags of aged manure developed for manure tea. Manure tea has been shown to aid the growth of vegetables, fruit, flowers and ornamental plants, trees and shrubs. See the next paragraph for more information on how to make manure tea.


Many folks soak their bare root roses in a diluted manure tea solution made with aged/composted manure and water. Place some aged or composted tea in a nylon stocking and tie the end. Stick it in a 5 gallon bucket and fill with water. Soak your bare root plant in it for a day. Soaking seeds in a highly diluted manure tea prior to planting has also become popular. There’s an ongoing debate in the gardening world about whether non-aerated compost teas are safe. If the manure compost is considered safe, then compost tea made simply with water and left to sit for several hours to a couple of days should not develop new, harmful bacteria. The topic of aerated vs. non-aerated compost tea brews is too much to tackle in this post. To be safe, keep fruit and veggies up off the ground in soil that has been amended with aged or composted manure.


Non-woven, rubber/vinyl gloves and boots are probably the best defense to preventing sickness from E. coli contamination. But make sure to wash these items thoroughly and clean your hands well after you’re done handling it. Always wash veggies and fruit before serving.

How do the various manures stack up?

Once composted or aged, manures lose some of their nitrogen content. Before they are composted, they are considered “HOT”. This means they contain loads of urea nitrogen that can burn plants’ roots. Some manures are hotter than others. This would make a funny cartoon, don’t you think? Knowing the nutrient strength of a particular manure can help you match it to the plants you’re growing.

WARNING: Never use human, cat or dog manure or any manure from a meat eater. If your local zoo offers up some lion poop for free, kindly pass. Lions may be kings of the jungle but not the home garden.

The Hottest of the Hot


Fresh chicken manure packs a powerful nitrogen punch, almost twice that of horse manure. One aged and/or composted, use it sparingly in areas where you’ll be growing crops that flower because loads of nitrogen may produce loads of leaves and you’ll be left wondering why you didn’t get any blooms or fruit. Corn craves nitrogen and is a good match for poultry poo. An average-size hen makes 1 cubic foot of manure every six months. Wow!

The Coldest of the Cold


Cow manure has the least amount of nitrogen but my preferred manure because it’s easy to find and the least likely to burn plants or over fertilize and stunt flower or fruit development.


Rabbit manure is less smelly as other manures. It’s higher in nitrogen than sheep, horse, chicken and cow manure. Its phosphorus content is wonderful and this type of manure suits flowering and fruiting plants.

Horse manure is rich in nitrogen but lacks phosphorus and potassium so it’s not the best choice for flowering plants, tomatoes or peppers. Use it instead on leafy plants, ornamental plants and lawns. But remember that it should be aged or composted for use with edibles. Corn, potatoes, garlic and lettuce would benefit from soil amended properly with well-aged or composted horse manure.

Sheep manure is probably a better manure compared to horse manure because it contains potassium. People comment that it smells less than cow or chicken manure but it takes longer to dry out.

Pig manure is a non-starter. It’s problematic. Although it has loads of nitrogen, it contains awful strains of bacteria and the nitrogen it does have releases so slowly, it’s not worth the risk or trouble.

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The Benefits Of Manure Compost In Your Garden

Using manure compost in the garden has numerous benefits. Manure is packed with nutrients that plants need, like nitrogen. Using manure as fertilizer keeps plants healthy and green.

How Manure Effects the Soil

In order to maximize the benefits of manure compost in the garden, proper application is vital. One of the best ways to use manure as plant fertilizer is by mixing it in with compost. Composting manure eliminates the possibility of burning the plants.

Another option is to till it into the soil prior to spring planting, such as during fall or winter. Generally, fall is the best time to use manure in the garden. This allows plenty of time for the manure to break down, eliminating the threat of burning plants in the garden. Well-aged manure on its own also makes a great fertilizer for garden plants.

Nearly any kind of manure can be used, depending on where you live, as some manure is more readily available than others. However, it is not recommended that anyone use cat or dog manure. These types of manures are unsuitable for the garden or the compost pile, as these are likely to carry parasites.

Generally, horse, cow, and chicken manure are the most commonly used for manure fertilizer. Some people also use sheep and rabbit manure. While most types of manure can be purchased from garden centers, oftentimes, you can find farmers or horse owners that are more than happy to give it away.

The Effects of Manure on the Soil

The effects of manure on the soil are beneficial as well. As the soil absorbs manure, nutrients are released. This enriches the soil, which in turn helps the plants. The most important benefit of using manure in the garden is its ability to condition the soil For instance, mixing manure with sandy soils helps to retain moisture levels. Adding manure to compacted soil helps loosen the soil. Manure produces increased soil carbon, which is an important source of energy that makes nutrients available to plants. Other benefits of manure include reduced runoff and leaching of nitrates in the soil.

Using Composted Manure as Mulch

Did you know that using composted manure as mulch is also beneficial? Because manure is considered a slow-release plant fertilizer, it provides small amounts of nutrients over an extended period. This makes it an acceptable form of mulch for plants. However, make certain it is not fresh manure. Fresh manure is too strong for plants, as it contains excessive amounts of nitrogen, which can burn the plants. In addition, some manure fertilizer consists of urine as well, which is also high in nitrogen. Too much nitrogen on plants can be detrimental for them.

The benefits of manure as plant fertilizer and the effects of manure on the soil makes its use in the garden worth consideration.

Which animal poo is the best fertilizer for your garden?

Which animal poo is the best fertilizer for your organic vegetable garden? In this post we’ll uncover just that!

If you keep an eye on my Instagram and Facebook feeds, you’ll probably already know that my family has been eagerly digging into our veggie garden these last few weeks.

We live in outback South Australia so as soon as the weather “cooled down” (which really has been only to the mid-high 20’s!) a month or so ago, we were super-keen to get back into the veggie patch and get it ready for our winter crop.

But it’s not as easy as just throwing some seeds or seedlings in and hoping for the best – soil preparation is incredibly important in making sure your veggie garden is going to thrive rather than struggle. Adding in a good-quality fertilizer, namely one from animal poo (!) plays a big part in how well your garden will grow.

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Why You Should Choose an Animal Poo Over Synthetic Fertilizer

There are loads of options out there when considering a fertilizer but animal manure (we call it poo at our place!) is my number one go-to. Like most things, there are commercially-produced fertilisers available but these are usually mass-produced, often include lots of chemicals and additives, and can be very expensive.

By comparison, animal poo is a much more natural option that is better for your soil and the environment and in most cases, just as easily available as its commercial counterparts.

Adding a good dose of animal poo to your veggie garden gives it a vital nutrient boost, with the poo of animals fed on grass and veggie scraps containing high levels of nitrogen which your veggie garden will love. Animal manure also increases microbial activity in the soil and improves drainage and moisture retention in sandy soils.

How to Apply Animal Poo to Your Garden

Animal manure that is semi-dried can be dug straight into your garden when preparing the soil prior to planting,=. You can also dig it in and around your crops once semi-established. Just be careful with the really fresh stuff as this can burn plants – it’s best to leave it to mature in a pile for a few weeks or so (turn it occasionally) before adding to your garden.

Another way to apply animal poo to your garden is to make a liquid tonic by soaking manure in a bucket of water for a couple of weeks and diluting the liquid before applying it directly to your garden.

Which Animal Poo is Best to Use as Garden Fertilizer?

It really depends on what you can get easily – after all, if you have to travel hundreds of kilometres to get a particular type then the time, fuel cost and vehicle emissions probably outweighs the environmental benefits (rather than ‘food miles’, I guess this is called ‘poo miles’?!)

Chicken, horse and cow poo is readily available in lots of country areas (often by the bag for a few dollars, or by the trailer load if you have one).

You can even use poos from animals like rabbits, alpacas and llamas or if you live near a zoo, you may be able to buy some elephant or rhino poo from them and have your spare cash directed to conservation projects!

Just note that not all poo is created equal.

Horse manure can contain weed seeds because horses only digest one quarter of the grass and seeds they eat. Some bird poo, like chicken, although very high in nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorous, can “burn” plants when used fresh. Sheep poo is richer in nutrients than cow or horse manure, is drier so is easily to apply, however can also contain weed seeds.

At the moment I’m a big fan of worm castings. We started our own worm farm at home just a couple of months ago, feeding our 1,000-odd new pets with all our fruit and veggie scraps.

Not only is this a good way to keep our kitchen scraps out of landfill (feeding them to our chooks or putting into the compost are other options) but the worm farm rewards us with a nutrient-rich worm ‘tea’ which we collect from the base of the farm for use on our garden.

We just dilute the tea and pour it straight on to our veggie seedlings at planting and every few weeks or so after that. We also dig in some of our homemade compost as it becomes available, which gives the soil an additional boost.

Can You Use Dog or Cat Poo To Fertilize Your Garden?

Just in case you’re contemplating using dog or cat droppings for fertilizer, it’s not recommended due to the levels of bacteria and other nasties that can be present.

For your pet waste, I recommend the EnsoPet Pet Waste Composting Unit.

The EnsoPet Pet Waste Composting Unit takes all pet waste including dog, cat, rabbit and guinea pig. It keeps your yard free of pet poo, preventing it ending up in land fill and returns carbon to the soil, rebuilding the soil on a microbial level.

Simply partially bury the EnsoPet unit into the ground, place your pet poo inside the unit (using the tongs provided), sprinkle the EnsoPet Microbial Starter Mix on top and away you go! Within a few weeks your pet poo will be returned as compost to your soil.

EnsoPet Pet Waste Composting Unit

And it’s that easy! Animal poo is a great way to keep your veggie garden happy without resorting to commercial fertilizers. Give it a go today!

Over to You!

Do you have a favourite poo that you use in your garden? Tell us why and how you use it below!!

Like this post? You’ll also love:

How To Grow Your Own Food in Small Spaces

How To Set Up a Worm Farm

Five Things to Consider When Planning Your Organic Vegetable Garden

7 Reasons to Keep Backyard Chickens

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Laura Trotta is one of Australia’s leading home sustainability experts. Fusing her professional expertise as an environmental engineer with the down-to-earth pragmatism that comes from being a busy mum, Laura is an eco thought leader who’s not afraid to challenge the status quo.

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Turn manure into compost for your garden

A simple way to start is by building two bins out of pallets or boards. The first bin is for making the compost and the second is for the final stage of decomposition, also known as curing. Curing stabilizes the compost and can take several months. Make the bins big enough to hold a pile that could get 4-6 feet high and 3-5 feet wide.

Mix or layer raw animal manure with brown leaves, straw, spoiled hay or shredded paper in the first bin. If using manure that is mixed with bedding, it will have a good carbon-to-nitrogen ratio and you don’t need to add anything else, Andrews said. Thick layers of one material might not decompose quickly if you don’t have a balanced carbon-to-nitrogen ratio, he added.

It’s important for the pile to have sufficient moisture, Andrews said. Wearing gloves, squeeze the organic matter firmly in your hand. You should be able to squeeze a few drops out of it. If you can’t, add water to the pile. If you can easily squeeze out a stream of water, mix in some dry organic matter. Turn the pile in the first bin with a pitchfork a few times during the first month as it heats up. The pile should heat to 130-140 degrees. When conditions are ideal, compost can heat up within one day, Andrews said.

After the pile cools down to an ambient temperature, transfer it to the second bin. It usually takes another two to six months to decompose or cure. Horse manure may take longer to break down if combined with sawdust or straw bedding used in the animal’s stall. Wear gloves when touching compost and wash your hands afterward.

Spread composted manure in your garden in small amounts, about one-fourth to one-half inches deep. Thicker applications up to 1 inch deep might be justified in poor soil with low organic matter. To prevent pollution, store compost away from water sources and cover the pile with plastic when you expect heavy rain. Don’t keep applying excessive amounts of compost year after year, Fery said.

Contact Master Gardeners at the Extension office in your county if you have composting questions. Find your local office.

The OSU Extension Service offers the following guides on composting in its online catalog:

  • Backyard Composting
  • Gardening With Composts, Mulches and Row Covers
  • Improving Garden Soils With Organic Matter

Choosing the right manure to add to your Tasmanian garden soils will keep your plants happy and healthy.

Adding manure to your ornamental beds or vegetable garden is a great thing to do to increase the fertility of your soil and add some macro and micronutrients. However, not all manures are the same and sometimes adding the wrong type or age of manure can end up causing you more work.

Which one of these animals will give you the best manure for your garden?

Which manure to choose?

Every garden centre, nursery and hardware store sells bags of manure for your garden and there are heaps of roadside and farm gate sellers as well. So how do you know which is the good poo and which to stay away from?

Aged manure is important.

Well, the golden word here is composted! You want to be buying a composted or aged manure. Fresh sheep, cow and chicken manures can be too high in salt content and may burn your plants. Fresh manures will also bring with them lots of viable seed from whichever crop the sheep or cows have been grazing on prior to them…um…”producing”. Stinging nettles, grass seed and other weeds will thank you for the new home and the pellet of nice fertile manure you have provided to make sure they get a good start in your beds!

So composted manure is a must. If you are unsure, leave it in the bags for a few weeks in a relatively sunny spot. Let them get nice and warm and break down a bit before you spread the manure over your garden.

The nutrient content of manures.

What about the make up of manures? Which one do you choose? Well a basic break up of the macronutrients of different manures looks something like this:

This graph shows the quantity of Nitrogen, Phosphorous and Potassium as a % of total weight of each manure.

You can see that Chicken manure has a relatively high nutrient content compared to cow. That is because the chickens often get fed supplements and concentrated feeds, where as cows generally graze on grasses, which have a lower nutrient content.

It’s the balance of nutrients that you are looking for. Chicken poo is good for a hit of nitrogen to get those leafy vegies up and producing. Sheep poo is a good all round soil conditioner and is also easy to work with and spread. Cow manure has a relatively low nutrient content which can be great for native plants, which are sensitive to phosphorous.

How to use manure in your garden.

As a general rule, dig your manures into your beds. It will help them break down and make them available to soil biota which are essential in delivering the nutrients in a usable form to your plants via their roots. Throw some in with your composting garden waste and your soils will thank you.

Remember, as well as adding nutrients, we add manure to a soil to introduce organic matter. It will improve soil structure, help retain moisture in the soil and provide a home for beneficial microorganisms.

Let us know how you use manure in your garden and where you source it from!

Horse or Cow Manure – Which is Better, Horse Manure or Cow Manure?

One question that seems to crop up frequently between gardeners and allotment holders is which manure is better to use, horse manure or cow manure?

Cow manure is generally more liquid, hence cow pats rather than the distinct lumps that a horse produces but otherwise there is very little difference between them in terms of fertiliser nutritional value.

Nutritional Value (NPK) of Horse & Cow Manure

Horse Manure Cow Manure

Nitrogen Content

0.7% 0.6%

Phosphorus Content

0.3% 0.4%

Potassium (Potash) Content

0.6% 0.5%

Cow Manure

Cow manure tends to be used by wise farmers on their land and the contents of slurry tanks (basically a tank to hold the cow manure and water until ready for disposal) are applied by spray from tankers as a liquid feed.

Because cow manure is more wet than horse, it’s often said that horse manure is better for wet soils, like heavy clays. It seems logical enough but when you think it through, the amount of liquid in the manure isn’t really going to effect the soil.

It really makes no difference whether you use horse or cow manure to add fertility and humus to your soil whatever the soil type so long as it is well aged or composted first.

Sometimes you can find a farmer willing to sell a load of cow manure from a barn mixed with straw. If offered this, then by all means accept as it can be used as the basis of a hot compost heap, a hot bed or just covered over to rot down for a few months before applying directly to the field.

Horse Manure

Horses however, are kept more as pets and in smaller numbers than cows. The average size of a dairy herd now being around 120. So whilst there is less horse manure about, the fact is that the average horse will produce between 8 and 9 tons of manure a year.

A livery stable with just 6 horses will be producing be generating around 50 tons a year of waste. That’s a lot of horse manure! Now if those horses were in the wild, roaming across many acres of land, the droppings would just rot down and become incorporated into the soil, returning fertility to pasture. However, our livery stable has but a few exercise paddocks and the stable itself.

Nitrogen Deficiency in Fresh Manure

The manure and urine is mixed with either wood shavings or straw and cleaned out into a pile, often along with neat droppings collected from the field. While the horse manure itself is a good fertilizer, the sawdust and wood shavings are not crop friendly. That’s because when wood breaks down in the soil, it requires nitrogen and a nitrogen deficiency occurs, which stunts the growth of crops.

To combat this problem, a nitrogen fertilizer could be added to the soil after horse manure is spread on it; or a nitrogen fertilizer could be added to the horse manure and sawdust or wood shavings mixture before being added to the soil.

Adding inorganic fertiliser to manure is really wasteful since the answer is to compost the manure pile. Often in just a few months but certainly less than a year, the bedding materials have broken down and the manure compost will add net nutrients as well as valuable humus to the soil.

The bedding present in the manure is a good “brown” component to compost and along with any other materials added to the compost pile, completely break down and become what many people call “black gold.”

Obtaining Horse Manure

Often stables are on the edge of towns or even within cities, so their waste problem can become your resource. Some canny stables will sell bags of rotted manure, some for a nominal price and some for as much as they can get but many if not most will be glad to let you have as much as you can cart away for free. I’ve even come across stables happy to deliver (locally) a trailer load.

Once you have the manure, if it is old and well rotted, feel free to spread it as a mulch onto the soil at any time, mixing it into the top six inches of soil prior to planting. But if you can still see bits of bedding or some of the droppings retain their integrity, then it needs to be composted further prior to use.

Using Large Amount of Manure

If you are lucky to have an awful lot of manure, feel free to add any volume to your soil as long as it is well rotted.

If, however, it still hasn’t finished and has some heat in it when piled do not spread it over the soil. Leave it under a tarpaulin until rotted or mix it into your compost bins to rot it down.

Using Fresh Manure

If you have a source of fairly fresh manure in volume, consider using it as a hot bed as an alternative, making use of the warmth whilst rotting down.

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