The Manure Question
You’ve got a ton of it – what do you do with it? As I walk around my own neighborhood, I can see various solutions to the problem. The most common one being, ‘let it sit out in the pasture, and start a parasitic fly breeding program’. But I think this is a result of just not knowing what to do with it. Maybe you do know, but it seems like a confusing big hassle. Most people I have talked to, know they can do this with their manure but for whatever reason they don’t. I will break it down and make it easy for you, literally anyone can do this.
Compost your livestock manure. Manure is a very valuable and underutilized resource. It’s estimated that one horse can produce $175 a year or more in compost, with cattle doing a little better than that. Start by using a cart attached to a tractor or ATV or you can even use a wheelbarrow. Survey your property a few times each month, and pick up all the manure.
Combine that manure with any used shavings, straw, or grass clippings you may have and form a compost pile. You can make a large bin with treated lumber to hold the manure, if you aren’t concerned about how a compost pile will look on your property or you can simply make a pile – making sure it’s located on flat ground to reduce run off .
Heat: Although the composting process will occur naturally over several months or years, with human help the entire process can be completed in as little as 4-6 weeks. Four essential ingredients are needed: oxygen, moisture, and a proper Carbon:Nitrogen ratio. When these components are present, the compost will heat up naturally to approximately 130-140º F. This heat will kill most internal parasites and many weed seeds present in the manure. If you are composting correctly, you won’t be breeding flies.
Oxygen: The decomposition process takes place when particle surfaces come in contact with air. To increase oxygen intake, turn your compost piles / bins as often as possible (anywhere from 3 times per week to a few times per month). The more you turn, the faster you reach the end result. Turning the pile can be done by hand or with a tractor. Increase the surface area by chopping, shredding, or breaking up the material speeds up the composting process. If the compost lacks oxygen, it will have a bad odor.
Moisture: Your compost pile should be about the consistency of a well wrung-out sponge. You don’t want it too wet and you don’t want it too dry. If the compost appears too wet, turn it or add dry materials such as leaves or straw. If it’s too dry, simply add some water. Maintain moisture levels by covering your compost piles with either composting fabric or plastic tarps.
Carbon:Nitrogen: Carbon and nitrogen are the two fundamental elements in composting. The bacteria and fungi that break down the manure and turn it into compost are fueled by carbon and nitrogen. The bulk of your compost pile should be carbon with just enough nitrogen thrown in to aid in the decomposition process. Carbon is found in ‘browns’ (leaves, sawdust, straw, shredded newspaper, ashes, cornstalks) and higher nitrogen is available in ‘greens’ (clover, manures, alfalfa, garden waste, grass clippings, hay, seaweed, weeds). If you have too much nitrogen, ammonia gas will be produced and you’ll notice a foul odor. The ideal C:N ratio is 25-30:1. Below are some examples of materials that might be added to your compost and their corresponding C:N ratios.
Source Carbon:Nitrogen ratio
- Manure 15:1
- Dry Weeds 90:1
- Weeds (fresh) 25:1
- Cardboard 300-400:1
- Grass clippings 15-20:1
- Pine Needles 80:1
- Alfalfa 12:1
- Seaweed 20:1
- Vegetable waste/produce 19-25:1
- Garden Waste 30:1
- Leaves 50-60:1
- Sawdust 300-400:1
- Wood chips 500-600:1
- Straw, cornstalks 60-80:1
Locate your pile in a spot that tends to remain dry so that you can access the pile with equipment to turn it when needed. To reach the proper temperatures, a compost pile needs to be at least 3 feet square by 3-4 feet high. Composting in a bin decreases the size required for adequate temperatures, but involves more cost initially.
Compost piles are combustible. Keep your pile away from housing facilities, and just like hay storage facilities, don’t allow smoking near your compost piles! If a pile smells like alcohol, the conditions are ripe for combustion. DO NOT add water at this time; instead, turn the pile to aerate it. Your compost pile will cool off on its own and will be approximately 1/2 its original size. Finished compost will smell and look like rich soil!
You can take this compost and use it on your own garden and save money not having to buy fertilizer, or you can sell it to your neighbors, or spread it on your pasture. Livestock grazing on pastures spread with composted manure (instead of fresh manure) are more likely to graze normally and are less likely to restrict grazing to areas with the thinnest application rates. Your pasture will produce more grass meaning you will have to buy less hay.
Handy Tip: To find buyers for your composted manure contact local topsoil companies, tree farms, landscapers, and organic farmers. A sign out on the road will also help. There’s a good chance that you will need to deliver it to them but selling your extra compost can allow you to use that money for your critters – this allows them to pay for their keep even more than just providing eggs, milk or meat.