Manure: The Gift That Keeps On Giving



Our son, Jerry, gave his mother a big trailer load of cow manure for her birthday last spring. She could not have been more pleased. Where can you buy even from Neiman Marcus, barn manure aged for three years with a bouquet somewhere between old English leather and woodsy leaf mold? My brother-in-law, Brad, does one better. He not only gives his sheep manure to family members who live nearby, but delivers it by the forklift load and spreads it neatly on their gardens about four inches deep. We are all real nice to Brad. If we don’t already get the gift that keeps on giving, maybe next year. And if you wonder about whether it really keeps on giving, you should see my sisters’ gardens after receiving this kind of treatment for a few years. Luther Burbank would be jealous.

Making barn manure compost is simplicity itself if you have a front end loader. Just scoop the manure bedding out of the barn out into piles, like around six feet high and eight feet in diameter, and watch it turn into black gold over several years. Brad turns his piles with the loader once or twice a year to hasten composting, but Jerry just lets the microorganisms do the turning and waits a year or so longer for the composting process to complete itself. He has plenty of space for it around his barn far from human habitation so no paranoid twenty-first century health faddist will raise unfounded fears of odor, rodents or microbes of devastation. The heat of composting and three years of decomposition renders the compost almost as pure of harmful bugs or pathogens as the driven snow. Yes, it would be better to have a roof over the pile but the amount of plant nutrients lost to rain is minimal.

If you keep only a dozen hens or so, you don’t even have to scoop the manure out into a pile. I don’t know how often I have written this, still to be countered by disbelief sometimes, but a small flock of hens constantly scratching in its bedding will turn the manure into an odorless loam without any help at all if you provide at least four feet square of space per chicken. Just keep the floor well-bedded and dry. Even the manure under their roost disappears into compost in short order. I scatter table scraps on their bedding and what they don’t eat as well as what they do eat disappears into compost too. Wonder of all wonders, their manure contains Vitamin B-12. In fact scientists discovered B-12 in barn manure in the first place. Chickens bedded on their own dry litter seldom resort to  cannibalism. Pecking in their own manure, they ingest B -12 and no more pecking bloody wounds in each other.

There are other amazing manure miracles that we are just beginning to discover. If you bury dead animal carcasses in piles of manure, they will compost right along with the manure and magically disappear. I find it hard to believe, but I’m told by reputable sources (haven’t tried it myself) that even the bones dissolve into rich fertilizer. And I’m sure you’ve heard that medical science is combating certain human abdominal disorders by injecting feces from healthy humans into the ailing digestive tracts.

Recently I talked on the phone a long time with Aaron Tartakovsky, the Director of Business Development at CB Engineers in San Francisco. His company is developing another manure miracle. The engineers are perfecting a process whereby a small plastic sack of, say, dog or cat scat can be turned into odorless compost fertilizer in a matter of minutes. They feel sure that they can revolutionize our whole waste disposal system, including human waste, into a simple, home based process if only humans will open their minds to view manure as a valuable resource, not a waste product. I don’t see why this idea won’t work. In a way, it is just speeding up a natural process, something science is good at doing. Aaron promises to keep us posted.

I said above that you can’t buy our kind of distilled barnyard manure but actually all sorts of composted wastes are coming on the market. Just tune in to Google or Yahoo. I am tempted to box up small amounts of my pure, undiluted chicken litter compost in brightly wrapped Christmas packages and give them to friends who grow potted plants. Holiday Greetings from the Merry Makers of Miracle Manure.


wah aplenty for the organic material.
it was very good for the soil and the plants we ..
first will produce healthy food..

Dont forget with all the states govt going whole hog into casinoes and race tracks, you can also get horsemanure and mostly clean sawdust bedding at the racetracks. Plus the small cul de sac cowboys have a horse or two but no land to properly spread themanure on. Craigs list in the farm and garden listings has people occasionally wanting to get rid of their collections of manure. Some already composted down but still organic matter.

I was just reading this article and thought, my gawd, Gene Logsdon has to see this. How appropriate that the last post for me to comment on is about manure. (love you btw):

Bingo – Tim Henslee, you just made my day. We’re putting in a new 42-foot greenhouse and I’ve been wondering where to get some compost to put in there. I don’t have organic certification, but I usually follow that philosophy for my little farm operation. I googled for local organic composting operations, and lo and behold, the Virginia ag extension folks keep a list! And there’s a couple of operations in the next county over, so my greenhouse and the beds out in the field are going to get enriched. Thanks, and thanks also to Gene and the good folks on this blog. (The Virginia list:

Hi Steve,

Gene informed me that you had written in so I wanted to respond to your comment directly. We are in the development phase of an on-site treatment unit that will be going into high-rise buildings. Right now we are specifically working on domestic, human sludge, but the technology most certainly works with animal waste.

I’d encourage you to check out the website of our partners on this project, an innovative Israeli company who have done extensive work with animal waste.

Thanks for your interest!

For those who cant get enough manure, there are getting to be more chicken farms that are selling their composted manure and it’s available in bags,totes and semi loads too

Waste not, want not! In this case…waste, YES! chemicals, NO!

In regard to losing nitrogen: I’ve been reading research especially including dairy compost bedding pack research wherein the dairy manure pack is added to regularly with fresh bedding and the manure is stirred once or twice daily to ensure hot composting in situ, with situ being the barn or cow lounge area (lounge area sound better to me than cow shed). The reports indicate that if the semi-composted manure pack is applied to a field and plowed under without a lot of aging that the corn grown there can show signs of nitrogen deficiency. The research also indicates that the best bedding consists of wood sawdust and shavings as opposed to mainly straw and shredded corn stalks.

Therefore, although I still use plenty of straw for bedding, after reading these reports I shred our woody prunings to add to the manure pack. It does seem to me that the manure pack stays fluffy easier and heats up even better than with just straight straw as bedding and is definitely easier to aerate by simply prying the bedding up with a fork just like loosening soil with a spade.

I suspect that the addition of woody fiber ties up the nitrogen longer so less escapes to the atmosphere than just straight straw bedding because I also notice that there is much less ammonia smell if there is plenty of shredded wood in the manure pack. I also notice that after application to the soil the shredded woody material is still distinguishable in the soil longer than the straw. I suspect that the woody material helps keep the ratio of Carbon to Nitrogen closer to the ideal Redfield ratio of (if my memory serves): 30/1.

I”ve not been able to conclude from research I’ve read that indeed woody material does keep nitrogen tied up longer compared to straight straw as bedding during composting, but I”ve heard and read from sources alleged to be good authority that if you are smelling ammonia and/or the telltale rotten egg smell of hydrogen sulfide gas when you turn the compost that you are losing nutrients to the atmosphere. The common recommendation to address this condition is to use more bedding.

I know Gene discussed this topic at length in his books including : HOLY SHIT, but it still seems to me that compost science is in many ways still in its infancy.

Gene’s blog has inspired me to get out there and shred up all the remains of the pruned brush and tree limbs I’ve fed to the goats, which are currently forming unsightly piles of brush in the barnyard, then add the shredded woody material to the manure pack. Interestingly, when we use the resulting manure pack compost for potted plants, it seems the plants so bedded thrive much better than those with only store bought commercial grade potting soil.

Steve Johnson, CB Engineers are not far enough along to offer the kind of service you are suggesting. They read this blogsite, so I’m sure we’ll be kept informed. Gene

My neighbor gives me the manure from her goats, pigs, chickens and rabbits. I take four pallets tie them together with parachute cord and pile the manure in the middle. I collect this all year. Each spring I fill four of these bins with the oldest compost. I then add a four inch layer of soil and plant pumpkins, Blue Hubbard, Acorn and Butternut Squash. When the frost comes in the fall, the compost in these bins are then used on the vegetable, fruit and flower gardens. It takes about eight bins to fill the four so I have a total of 12 bins of manure. I also have another bin of leaves which when they rot down are used on the roses. The pallets last about four years. I get the replacement ones for free from work.

Gene, can you provide me with contact info for CB Engineers? Being only an hour and twenty minutes south, I’d like to make a run up there with some raw materials, and watch the miracle occur! Is it by appontment only, or will they take walk-ins?

I have tried burying dead animals in my compost piles, along with slaughter wastes. I rarely even find a bone. I put the rabbit manure as well as the chicken cleanout from our chickens winter quarters on the pile too. The chickens are in tractors on the pastures during the growing season . I never turn my piles but do put a tarp over them after I finish one . I use biodynamic prepararations in my piles .A pile built in the winter and finished in spring is ready to spread by fall . For those who don’t have access to manure ,consider keeping rabbits. We raise ours for meat but pets are also a good source of free fertilizer.

My 15 hens get most of my lawn leaves in Fall-Winter and some grass clippings in Spring-Summer. Twice a year the remains get exported to the vegetable garden and added to all my beds. Makes the richest, blackest soil amendment you’ll ever see.

Betty, I know one book on your shelf. Its a goody!!

With most of the ag operations in our area having gone slurry (Amish included) it is nigh impossible to get manure. We have gone into the “city” twenty miles to the west with a dump truck for the composted leaves/grass clippings that are collected there. Not as nice as composted poop, but it does fine as an alternative. We boost the nitrogen by mixing in chicken litter when the coop gets cleaned in the spring. Deep litter does help get the birds through the winter.

it would be better to have a roof over the pile but the amount of plant nutrients lost to rain is minimal.

You’ll lose most of your nitrogen that way! Tarps are cheap!

Yes, my townie friends could never understand why I got so exited about a pickup load of manure for birthdays, Christmas and even Valentine’s day!

We used to fertilize with “llama beans” back when our llama-raising friends had a herd of 16. They’re now down to 2 (they decided to let the herd age out as they themselves aged), so that source has dwindled accordingly. We’re now using a combination of our own and municipally generated compost, but it’s not quite the same.

And thanks, Gene, as always, for lifting my spirits.

Dammit. I hate you, I hate Jerry, and I hate everyone who benefits from this ‘black gold’ bonanza. No, not really. I’m green with envy tho. We’re old farts on a hard pan Appalachian ridge here in SE Ohio and have to keep building soil. We go 12 miles to the nearest town – at least they have leaf mold. Shovel shovel. 🙂 Neighbors around here, even this far out, don’t garden or raise critters much at ALL. They might as well live in town. Even the Amish folks, thankfully, use their manure right so it would be wrong of use to even ask for it. BRAVO and dang if I don’t wish I lived closer. All the best.

Makes me wonder if we all pecked a little bit more around the manure like those chickens, there would be less bloody cannibalistic behaviors all around the world. I am willing to buy some stocks of CB Engineers manure miracle.

We have 3 goats for mowing what used to be the horse pasture, when they are in the barn in winter, just keep adding straw for bedding and by Spring time their bedding makes for great compost mulch to spread over the garden to keep the weeds down and feed the plants. Also – check out Price Farm Organics down in Delaware Ohio – they make amazing compost from barn even zoo waste from the Columbus zoo – perfect recycling partnership! When I need extra compost we go down there and get bags of the Barnyard Brew or Zoo Brew compost – Zoo Brew even makes an amazing landscaping mulch as well. If I had a pickup I’d be loading that up with unbagged load every weekend!! Love their stuff!

I had only five Dexters last winter. I cleaned out the barn and put it on a pile outside (by hand) during the winter and then covered it with a tarp. I guess the tarp must also speed digestion as well as prevent run-off. We turned it twice this summer and it looks just like topsoil. I suspect that it is a form more like that of humus than compost.

We have alpacas and their poo comes in neat piles that are easy to collect from their communal poo piles in nice dry weather – instant pellets. Perfect we think for selling 😀

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