How long does it take cow manure to compost?

In working through the Mymer manuscripts, I have been struck on more than one occasion by their repeated references to dung. While calculating his expenses, for instance, Georg Mymer lists horse manure and coal alongside the various flasks he needs for his tinctures.

Like coal, dried horse manure was used for heating. Maintaining constant heat at fixed temperature was exceedingly difficult in Georg’s day as people lacked the help of modern furnaces. With practice, alchemists like Georg became adept at controlling temperature by manipulating the flow of air into their fires and furnaces and by changing the material being burned. As Georg notes in his inventory, dung had the added benefit of being cheaper than coal.

Fresh manure was also a useful, if fragrant, heat source. The alchemist would bury his flask in manure. As the manure decomposed, it gave off a mild, but steady heat, which triggered a reaction with the flask, known as digestion. When the manure began to cool, the alchemist could simply replace it with a fresh supply. This setup came to be known as a venter equinus (the horse’s bowels).

While Georg’s interests in manure – at least as far as I have so far found – were limited to its use as a heat source, alchemy and dung had much a richer relationship. In closing this post, let me point out two additional uses of manure: (1) as an ingredient and (2) as criticism.

Dung was mixed with crushed clay to make lute (lutum sapientiae), the putty used to seal alchemical vessels. It was also used as an ingredient in medicines. In an earlier post on this blog, Jonathan Cey discussed how Paracelsus developed fecal medicines in the early modern period. Although he had a new take on the medicinal uses of poo, Paracelsus was preceded by a medieval tradition of fecal alchemy. Centuries earlier, the philosopher Morienus described the starting material of the Philosophers’ Stone as “of cheap price and found everywhere” and “trodden underfoot.” Medieval alchemists took that description literally and used the manure found all over their streets. As early as the fourteenth century, John of Rupescissa criticized this interpretation, but the practice persisted all the same.

At the same time, alchemists were warned about searching for gold in poo. Pseudo-Arnald of Villanova quipped in a rhyming couplet:

Qui quaerit in merdis secreta philosophorum
expensis perdit proprias, tempusque laborum

He who seeks the philosophers’ secret in shit
will waste his money, time, and labor on it.

Another couplet gets right to the point:

Qui merdam seminat, merdam et metet

He who sows shit, also reaps shit.

In order to reinforce this message, in the manuscript original, this line is written across the backside of an alchemist sitting on a toilet (garderobe). Some alchemists, as we have seen, really did use dung in their recipes, but for others these poems served as a vivid warning not to use subpar ingredients.

Perhaps the best application of manure to the alchemists’ art was suggested by one of its 16th-century German critics. In 1586, Johannes Clajus published Altkumistica; or The art of making gold out of dung: Against the fraudulent alchemists and unskilled Theophrastians (Altkumistica, das ist: Die Kunst aus Mist durch seine Wirckung Gold zu machen: Wider die betrieglichen Alchimisten, und ungeschickte vermeinte Theophrasisten). The title is a pun on alchemistica: “alt” meaning “old” and “kumist” meaning “cow manure”. In that work, Clajus argues that an alchemist would be best off if he used cow manure to fertilize a field, grow wheat, feed the cows that produced the manure in the first place, and sell both for a healthy profit in gold coins.

Sadly for Georg, who finished writing his notebook in 1571, the Altkumistica appeared too late for him to benefit from Clajus’ advice.

Leiden University Library, Vossiani Chymici F19, fols. 80r-81v.

Both couplets were cited in Joachim Telle, Alchemie und Poesie: Deutsche Alchemikerdichtungen des 15. bis 17. Jahrhunderts. Untersuchungen und Texte (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2013), 323. English translations mine.

Additional Works Consulted

Nummedal, Tara. Alchemy and Authority in the Holy Roman Empire. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007.

Scientists group dung beetles by the way the beetles make a living: rollers, tunnelers, and dwellers. Rollers form a bit of dung into a ball, roll it away, and bury it. The balls they make are either used by the female to lay her eggs in (called a brood ball) or as food for the adults to eat. Tunnelers land on a manure pat and simply dig down into the pat, burying a portion of the dung. Dwellers are content with staying on top of the dung pat to lay their eggs and raise the young.

After a chance encounter at a dung pat, male and female rollers establish a pair bond. The male offers the female a giant-sized brood ball. If she accepts it, they roll it away together or the female rides on top of the ball. They must watch out, though, as other beetles may try to steal their ball!

The new pair finds a soft place to bury the ball before mating. The male then leaves to find more partners. The female stays to make another brood ball or two and lays a single egg in each. She then coats and seals the ball with a mixture of dung, saliva, and her own feces and stows it underground. Some dung beetle mothers stay with the ball for two months, cleaning the larvae (called grubs) that hatch and removing their feces.

Tunnelers dive into a cow pile and tunnel straight down to set up the family home. Storing the dung underground keeps it fresh and protects the developing grubs from predators and parasites. The female sorts through dung and arranges it throughout the tunnel. The male’s job is to bring home the doo-doo. One or both of the parents stay with the larvae until they mature, which can take up to four months. This level of parental care is unusual in the insect world.

Dwellers are on top of the world—or at least the dung heap. The female lays her eggs on top of manure piles, and the entire development from egg to adult takes place inside the dung pat. Dwellers are smaller than tunnelers and rollers, and they seem to like cow patties best for raising a family. The adults can be found in fresh, moist droppings, while the larvae are slowly growing in dung that is drying out.

NEW DELHI – Like consumers around the globe, Indians are flocking to the online marketplace in droves these days. But there’s one unusual item flying off the virtual shelves: Online retailers say cow dung patties are selling like hot cakes.

The patties — cow poop mixed with hay and dried in the sun, made mainly by women in rural areas and used to fuel fires — have long been available in India’s villages. But online retailers including Amazon and eBay are now reaching out to the country’s ever-increasing urban population, feeding into the desire of older city folks to harken back to their childhood in the village.

Some retailers say they’re offering discounts for large orders. Some customers are asking for gift wrapping.

“Cow dung cakes have been listed by multiple sellers on our platform since October and we have received several customer orders” since then, said Madhavi Kochar, an Amazon India spokeswoman.

The orders come mostly from cities where it would be difficult to buy dung cakes, she said.

In India, where Hindus have long worshipped cows as sacred, cow dung cakes have been used for centuries for fires, whether for heating, cooking or Hindu rituals. Across rural India, piles of drying cow dung are ubiquitous.

Radhika Agarwal of ShopClues, a major online retailer in India, said demand for the cow dung cakes spiked during the recent Diwali festival season, a time when Hindus conduct prayer ceremonies at their homes, factories and offices. On a recent day, ShopClues’ website showed that the patties had sold out.

“Around Diwali, when people do a lot of pujas in their homes and workplaces, there is a lot of demand for cow dung cakes,” said Agarwal, referring to rituals performed during the popular festival.

“Increasingly, in the cold weather, people are keeping themselves warm by lighting fires” at outdoor events, she said, adding that people who grew up in rural areas find the peaty smell of dung fires pleasant.

“It reminds them of the old days,” she said.

Online retailers said people were also buying the dung cakes to light fires for ritual ceremonies to mark the beginning of the new year and for the winter festival known as Lohri, celebrated in northern India.

The cakes are sold in packages that contain two to eight pieces weighing 200 grams (7 ounces) each. Prices range from 100 to 400 rupees ($1.50 to $6) per package.

Dung cakes are also used as organic manure, and some sellers are marketing them for use in kitchen gardens.

Cow Dung Fertilizer: Learn The Benefits Of Cow Manure Compost

The use of cattle manure, or cow dung, in the garden is a popular practice in many rural areas. This type of manure is not as rich in nitrogen as many other types; however, the high ammonia levels can burn plants when the fresh manure is directly applied. Composted cow manure, on the other hand, can provide numerous benefits to the garden.

What is Cow Manure Made Up Of?

Cattle manure is basically made up of digested grass and grain. Cow dung is high in organic materials and rich in nutrients. It contains about 3 percent nitrogen, 2 percent phosphorus, and 1 percent potassium (3-2-1 NPK).

In addition, cow manure contains high levels of ammonia and potentially dangerous pathogens. For this reason, it’s usually recommended that it be aged or composted prior to its use as cow manure fertilizer.

Benefits Cow Manure Compost

Composting cow manure has several benefits. In addition to eliminating harmful ammonia gas and pathogens (like E. coli), as well as weed seeds, composted cow manure will add generous amounts of organic matter to your soil. By mixing this compost into the soil, you can improve its moisture-holding capacity. This allows you to water less frequently, as the roots of plants can use the additional water and nutrients when needed. Additionally, it will improve aeration, helping to break up compacted soils.

Composted cow manure also contains beneficial bacteria, which convert nutrients into easily accessible forms so they can be slowly released without burning tender plant roots. Composting cow manure also produces about a third less greenhouse gases, making it environmentally friendly.

Composting Cow Manure

Composted cow manure fertilizer makes an excellent growing medium for garden plants. When turned into compost and fed to plants and vegetables, cow manure becomes a nutrient-rich fertilizer. It can be mixed into the soil or used as top dressing. Most composting bins or piles are located within easy reach of the garden.

Heavy manures, like that of cows, should be mixed with lighter materials, such as straw or hay, in addition to the usual organic substances from vegetable matter, garden debris, etc. Small amounts of lime or ash may also be added.

An important consideration when composting cow manure is the size of your

or pile. If it’s too small, it won’t provide enough heat, which is essential for the composting process. Too big, however, and the pile may not get enough air. Therefore, frequently turning the pile is necessary.

Composted cattle manure adds significant amounts of organic material to the soil. With the addition of cow manure fertilizer, you can improve the overall health of your soil and produce healthy, vigorous plants.

Benefits of Cow Manure Fertilizer and how to compost it

Kenya is an agricultural hub and the use of cow manure in the Shamba is a common thing in the rural areas. This type of fertilizer is not as rich in nitrogen compared to other types, however when fresh it contains high levels of ammonia which can burn plants if applied when fresh. On the other hand, composted cow manure can provide many benefits to the garden.

Components of cow dung manure

Cow dung/cattle manure is basically made of digested grass and grain. Cow dung contains high concentrations of organic materials that are rich in nutrients. It contains about 3 percent nitrogen, 2 percent phosphorus, and 1 percent potassium (3-2-1 NPK). Additionally, cow dung contains high levels of ammonia and possibly dangerous pathogens. Consequently, it is usually recommended that it be composted before using it as a form of fertilizer.

In addition, cow manure contains high levels of ammonia and potentially dangerous pathogens. For this reason, it’s usually recommended that it be aged or composted prior to its use as cow manure fertilizer.

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Advantages of Cow Manure Compost

Cow dung manure has many benefits. Apart from eliminating harmful ammonia gas and pathogens such as E. coli, composted cow manure removes weed seeds and adds generous amounts of organic matter to farmer’s soil. By mixing this compost into the soil, you can improve its moisture-holding capacity. This allows you to water less frequently, as the roots of plants can use the additional water and nutrients whenever needed. In addition, cow dung compost manure will enhance aeration, as well as help break up compacted soils. Composted cow manure also contains beneficial bacteria, which convert nutrients into easily accessible forms, so they can be slowly released without burning tender plant roots. Composting cow manure also produces about a third less greenhouse gases, making it environmentally friendly.

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How to compost cow dung into manure

Composted cow manure fertilizer makes an excellent growing medium for garden plants. When turned into compost and fed to plants and vegetables, cow manure becomes a nutrient-rich fertilizer. It can be mixed into the soil or used as top dressing. Most composting bins or piles are located within easy reach of the garden. Heavy manures, like that of cows, should be mixed with lighter materials, such as straw or hay, in addition to the usual organic substances from vegetable matter, garden debris, etc. Small amounts of lime or ash may also be added.

A crucial consideration when making compost manure is the size of your pile. If the pile is too small, it will not provide enough heat required for the composting process. On the other hand, if the pile is too big it may not get enough air. Therefore, it is necessary to keep on turning your pile every now and then. Composted cow manure adds momentous amounts of organic material to the soil. You can improve the overall health of your soil if you add cow manure fertilizer that in turn will help you produce healthy, vigorous plants.

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What is the Economic Value of Cattle Manure?

Manure has value. That value may result from improvements in soil quality, increases in yield, and replacement of commercial nutrient required for crop production. Previous articles on manure’s value have focused on its soil health, environmental benefits, and tools for estimating manure’s value. This article will focus on the economic benefits of manure. Key take home messages include:
1) Targeting fields requiring supplemental phosphorus (P) produces the largest economic value from manure.
2) Targeting fields requiring supplemental potassium (K) significantly increase manure’s value.
3) Additional value result from manure nitrogen (N) and micro-nutrients as well as from yield increases. However, these benefits are typically less important than P and K.
The assumptions used for this analysis are found at the end of Figure 4.
Nitrogen and Phosphorus Value
Manure is a supplemental source of P, organic-N, ammonium-N, and micro-nutrients commonly required by many fields. Cropland receiving surface applied manure (not incorporated) benefits from both the organic-N and P. The value of the nutrients in beef manure (open lot) is heavily influenced by the value of the P and to a lesser extent the organic-N (see Figure 1 and assumptions for all figures presented. All assumptions are found at end of article. ). Because feedlot manures and many solid manures contains little ammonium-N, incorporation to conserve N would produce little additional value.


For slurry manures such as captured by a beef barn with a pit below a slatted floor, immediate incorporation of manure is important for gaining value from the important ammonium-N content. Slurry manures generally conserve the ammonium-N fraction commonly lost from open lots. Figure 2 illustrates the value of incorporating beef manure with a below barn pit. Approximately 35% of its value results from the ammonium-N conserved by direct injection.


Note the importance of P to achieving value from both of these manures. Almost half or more of each manure’s value will only be realized by applying manure to fields requiring P supplementation (typically, fields with Bray soil P levels below 30 ppm). Thus, farmers wanting to gain the greatest value from manure should target those fields with low soil P levels. A 25 ton load of open lot beef manure has a fertility value of $350. However, 2/3 of this value will not be realized if applied to a field with high soil P levels.
Potassium Value
To further enhance the value of manure, targeting those fields that have a K requirement offers additional value. Soil tests for highly productive fields are increasingly identifying a need for K supplementation. Manures are an excellent source of K. For the beef feedlot manure example shared in Figure 1, the manure’s value has almost doubled by applying it to a field with a K requirement (Figure 3).


Yield Response
Economic value can also be gained from a yield response to manure. Such yield responses can be a result of improved soil structure and greater drought tolerance of the soils receiving manure or from the increased biological activity in the soil producing a number of benefits such as greater nutrient availability to the plant. A recent worldwide literature review of 159 research comparisons of the nutrient replacement value of manure observed an average yield increase of 4.4%. Adding a 5% yield increase to a 200 bushel/acre corn crop will produce some additional value. However, note that this yield boost does not compare with the value of the P and K in manure (Figure 3) assuming a 5% yield increase is achieved.
Similar benefits are observed for manures produced in other beef systems houses in open lots, bedded back barns, and barns with a deep pit as illustrated in Figure 4.
Keys to Manure Value
Key to gaining the economic value from manure nutrients is the rate at which manure is applied. To receive the returns shown in this articles graphics, the following practices must be followed:
1. Manure should be applied at a rate that does not exceed the crop N requirements for a single year. Excess manure N application is likely to be leach beyond the root zone and be lost. See Determining Crop Available Nutrients from Manure or more information.
2. Manure applied at rates near the crops N requirement typically over apply P and K. However, these nutrients will continue to be available to crops in future years. To gain the manure’s P and K value, target those fields requiring supplemental P and K (see Nutrient Requirements for Agronomic Crops in Nebraska or your state specific recommendations). In addition, avoid re-applying manure to the same field until soil testing suggests need for supplemental P and K.
Accessing the economic value of manure begins by targeting fields low in P and K.

Adding Manure to Grass Seed Creates a Lush Lawn

At the time, I had a half-ton Chevy pickup truck, and I knew of a small cattle feedlot just a half-dozen miles away. One Saturday I drove to the feedlot and found the owner. Would he allow me to mine some of the hard, dried manure in his feedlot for use to fertilize my prospective lawn? Sure, he agreed, take all you want. Just don’t leave the gate open when you leave.

So for the next couple of weekends, armed with nothing more than a shovel, I set about the task of digging and chipping dried, hard-as-concrete cow manure from the feedlot and shoveling it into my pickup. Some came up readily. Some came up in chunks bigger than my mailbox. I made a couple of trips a day, backing my pickup into the yard, where my wife and I then spread the dry manure over the sand as evenly as possible. When the biggest chunks refused to break up, I simply dug holes in the sand and buried them.

By then, our yard looked like a bomb had exploded in a feedlot, with chunks of dried cow manure everywhere. I was clueless about how much nitrogen or potassium or phosphate I’d applied, but I figured the more manure, the better. We raked it in, spread seed, mulched the whole works with bales of straw we’d purchased from a local farmer, and laid out the soaker hoses.

When the water began dissolving the petrified manure, our yard soon acquired a certain aroma associated more with a farm than a suburban neighborhood. Our next-door neighbors, city folks from back East, politely asked how long the odor would remain. I assured them it was temporary. Or so I hoped.

Within a couple of weeks, a lush green lawn began to emerge from the sand. To be honest, some spots were considerably more lush than others, but at least we had grass covering most of our yard. The neighbors’ lawns, on the other hand, struggled to survive as hot summer temperatures arrived.

Some folks turn their noses up at the smell of manure. But any organic gardener can tell you that’s the smell of success.

Jerry Schleicher lives in Parkville, Missouri, where he continues to enjoy a lush, green lawn that is the envy of his neighborhood.

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