What Kind of Manure Should You Use?

Some years back my cousin and I had a discussion about manure and gardening. A difference of opinion occurred. He said basically that I was doing it all wrong. Yet, in terrible soil at the place we lived before my plants grew far better than any other garden in the area according to the neighbors, and the UPS man who runs all over the countryside and in town too?

My cousin said he has been gardening for five years and I now for over 40 and I’m sure we both could learn from each other. He obviously gardens in a different environment than I and swears that you should never put citrus in your mulch pile. I could use the acidic nature of them but doubt they are doing much since a little peel is going on a large garden.

There are some things my cousin said like the only manure you should use on a garden is horse that I can’t find any statistics on to substantiate. He claims it is lower in salt but the science studies state clearly otherwise. Fact is the diet of the animal is the key to salt content according to research. Yes, cattle do have higher salt levels but only in commercial settings where a higher salt content is in their diet. Horse manure varies tremendously just like any other manure so you have to know the diet of the animals to which you are getting the manure from. If the grass or hay they were fed is high in salt, then the manure is high or if they are fed a large amount of salt supplements. Salt itself is not bad. Soil needs salt to properly function just not too much salt.

My cousin was emphatic about using only composted horse manure with no bedding and really poo pood using wood shaving from pine or straw but the research again says otherwise. How much pine is used is more important. The kicker is that pine shavings need large amounts of nitrogen to break it down and in turn the shavings loosen the soil and add acid which we desperately need. Mix it with chicken manure and you have an awesome combination for an alkaline, compacted soil. Our shavings are first used as bedding for the goats and chickens bedding which adds urine and manure. I add more manure and it creates a pretty soil that continues to improve the soil over time.

Yes, in a perfect world your manure should be applied in the fall not spring. It just doesn’t happen in the fall for us as winter comes too soon and I’m busy canning etc. so I put on older manure in the spring to compensate. The experts say that cold manure such as goat, sheep, and rabbit manure can be raked routinely and put right on the garden without composting as it takes longer to break down so it won’t burn plants.

The older the manure, the less fertilizer it has in it but it still produces humus which creates a loose soil. If manure was composted under high temps then it has little fertilizer quality. The bags of manure from the store are heated at high temps to kill weed seeds and it also removes the fertilizer quality of it. It also concentrates the salts.

People for centuries have use manure as a fertilizer. Before commercial chemical fertilizers, it was shipped to farmers on boats because it was the only fertilizer to be had besides blood and bone and a few other things that comes in small quantities. It is where the word shit came from. S.H.I.T. which stands for ship-high-in-transit that was stamped on the shipping manifesto. Shipped high because manure burns very well and smells so it was placed in the upper decks of a ship.

As for the e-coli question my cousin poised, yes it is a risk factor but studies have shown it comes down to the diet of the animal. If the animals were sick or unhealthy then the manure will be sick. Also if the animals were fed a corn diet then their digestive systems will be acidic. Acidic digestive environments are rich grounds for disease. That is why commercial operations are at higher risks for e-coli.

So what is the best manure? Manure from animals in which were fed a natural diet and healthy.

One more factor. Manure that has been rained on excessively or wetted down too much will have the nutrients washed away. It is why sand is a problem as a garden soil as nutrients wash away easily. Some leaching is good since it washes away excessive salts. Balance is the key.

Chicken manure is great except if too fresh then it is especially high in ammonia and that burns plants. Laying hen manure can also raise the pH of soil due to the calcium supplements but it is great on tomato plants that need lots of calcium. Therefor a simple answer of chicken manure is bad is the same as saying one size fits all or that all cow manure is high in salt because it isn’t true. The truth is far more complex.

Manure is not fully available to growing plants the first year as part is tied up in organic forms. Organic nitrogen becomes available to plants when soil microorganisms decompose organic compounds, such as proteins, and then convert the released N to NH4.  This process, known as mineralization, occurs over a period of years. Where manure is routinely added, garden soils will likely have adequate phosphorus and potassium.  Manure is a great source of micronutrients like zinc. Eliot Coleman says the best manure is the manure most readily available to you. I use horse, cow, goat, sometimes sheep, rabbit, and chicken because that is what is available to me. When I discovered that the favorite pine trees the chickens spent lots of time under grew tremendously over the others, I began putting mulch under them to encourage the visits. Now more and more of them are looking great.

The only other manure readily available to us is deer poop. It is not suitable for gardens and the lawn though it is thick with it each year. It isn’t bad, it just doesn’t do much of anything. Research bore up my findings.

So what is your manure of choice?

(Due to a spending the weekend in a hospital bed and a tough week leading up, the photos for this post will trickle in today so apologies to the tardiness but I’m working with what little air I’ve got at the moment.)


4 thoughts on “What Kind of Manure Should You Use?

    1. Of course they are right, BUT to use chicken manure extensively over thousands of square feet of garden plus fruit trees, wind break of pine trees, and berries bushes would require a small poultry farm of manure in just my yard. That is why the trees the chickens love grow best. It isn’t really that much manure and it falls in small proportions over time. 16 to 24 hens running free range are not going to produce enough manure in a wood shavings bedded small chicken coop to cause any harm to my garden when I spread the compost because it doesn’t go far but they can at their share to the whole. I am also going to start using chickens extensively in my vegetable garden to till in green manure and integrate compost I put on the garden into the soil. Our few animals simply don’t produce enough manure for our agricultural needs. It is why my ranching neighbor and I get along so well. I love his manure pile and he loves my removing of it to my place. Meanwhile a little rabbit poop, chicken manure, and goat manure, add a nice variation to the mix.


  1. Lots of research done there I’m sure! I’m trying to get away with not importing animal manure if I can help it (my best friend is a vegan (I’m not!) and has done a fair amount of research on animal free farming). We’ve also had problems in recent years in the UK with herbicides coming through in the animal manure and affecting garden plants, which makes me nervous. I’m also a bit concerned about vermicides affecting my earthworm population. Luckily I don’t grow much annual crops; perennials already have an established root network to make the most of what nutrients are available. I am trying to get away with making as much of my own compost from kitchen scraps and weeds as I can. This goes in the planting holes. It is always full of weed seeds, so I try and bury it if I can. I also grow ‘green manures’, notably comfrey, which is quite high in potash and nitrogen, cut a few times a year it will mulch around the fruit bushes and make a liquid feed for tomatoes. I am trying to plant nitrogen fixing plants and shrubs, such as legumes and Elaeagnus. Together with minimal soil cultivation the nitrogen these fix (and other nutrients) can be moved by soil fungi around the garden. I am also lucky enough to be only a couple of miles from the sea, so I try and collect seaweed which gives lots of micronutrients as well as NPK. I haven’t managed this yet this year, there always seems so much else to do!


  2. Goodness! We use what we get. It works. I don’t know why, but it works. I know that some people import horse poop from fancy horses miles away, but I really never noticed that their gardens were any more efficient or productive. Although I refrain from fads, and do not subscribe to this whole sustainability thing, I do believe in doing what is efficient. The horses are here. I use their poop. I am not going to waste time and fuel to go get fancy poop. Everything that goes into the compost is generated here. I am not going to generate special debris to make compost. That is silly. That is like pouring thin concrete slabs to bread it up and sell as recycled concrete to landscapers in Los Angles who must keep up with the trend . . . . which is actually common practice now.


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