Pros and Cons of Different Manures for Gardening

We had a conversation about different manures for gardening use in the comments last week. I thought I would put together a quick run down on the basic pro and cons for each manure I could think of. Lucky readers, all the poop reading you need, right here at SHTF blog.

Cat/Dog – Specifically the issue is the parasites that cat and dog poop can contain. With cats the first step is to get a kitty litter that is biodegradable. Some pine or newspaper based litters will compost. You HAVE TO INSURE the pile is composting at a high enough temp to kill the parasites. Also compost made from carnivore and omnivore poop needs a two year cycle to allow the pathogens to die off. My best source for someone actually doing this is the folks at Root Simple.

It is not considered “safe” to compost pet waste–all the standard advice tells you not to– but we’re doing it anyway, because we trust time and bacteria and worms and our own composting skills to make good compost out of cat litter. Also, the standard advice is mostly in reference to a home’s one-and-only compost pile. You would not want to add cat or dog poop to your regular compost pile. It needs to be kept in a separate pile that is managed more carefully.

Be safe here folks, if you’re new to composting don’t try it. Mrs Homegrown’s warning:

You should have a solid foundation in regular compost to begin with, because all the basics apply. Take a good composting class or find a compost mentor. Read the Humanure Handbook. For complete safety, all cat/human waste compost should be allowed to sit for two years, and it should not be applied to food crops (but it can go around fruit trees).


Cow – Cow manure, depending on bedding amounts, weighs in at a dismal 0.5% nitrogen, 0.5% phosphorus, and 0.5% potassium N-P-K rating, low in all three elements. Be sure to cure cow manure by giving it plenty of time in your compost pile. Cows being fed a diet high in antibiotics will have that in their manure, so make sure you’re getting the pile up to a temp high enough to break down those hormone residues.

Horse – Horse manure usually scores slightly better in all categories with a 1.5–1.0–1.5 N-P-K rating and a shorter composting time. I have heard gardeners complain that horses kept in weedy stalls have weed-seedy poop.  Could be worth your while to check on living conditions.

 Sheep and Goats – Both animals produce around a 1.5–1.0–1.8 rating on the nutrient chart. Their manure naturally comes out in an awesome pellet form. That makes them easy to work with and quick to decompose.

Humanure – Well beyond the scope of this post, but check back and I’ll try to cover it.

Rabbits – rates an impressive 3.5% in nitrogen. The other elements are also slightly higher than in manure from goats and sheep. If they are your rabbits, it’s likely they won’t produce much manure for you. Small scale rabbit raising just can’t compete with a horse or cow for quantity. If you are buying the manure, you get more nutrients for your buck.

Chickens – Very nutritious, almost too much so, allow it to mellow first, as fresh chicken bedding can burn vegetables with its Nitrogen levels.

Alright, that’s enough for now. Did I forget any animal you are curious about managing the waste stream for? Hollar in the comments and I’ll see what I can find out.

– Calamity Jane


19 comments… add one
  • fubar March 28, 2013, 7:45 am

    >>Rabbits – rates an impressive 3.5% in nitrogen

    this is the reason that rabbits eat their own waste, to re-digest, horses also do this to some degree. . so if you are planning on harvesting it from your own rabbits, you might have to fight them for it.

    I don’t know if you have covered ‘brown tea’ ?
    since i have my own cows and horses, I have experimented with putting manure in a plastic barrel and allowing rain water to fill up, and using it to water plants.

  • Jarhead Survivor March 28, 2013, 7:57 am

    Hey CJ – how about pig manure?

    • Calamity Jane March 28, 2013, 9:24 am

      Oh! I did forget pigs. Well, pigs it would HIGHLY depend on their diet. If they are on a Big-Agro Feed Lot diet of crap/food-waste/drugs I don’t know that you’d get anything of value from pig manure. But, if it’s a pasture pig, with a healthy diet, I would think you could treat it like the cat and dog manure. (Pigs are omnivores, so their parasites can be dangerous to humans.)

      • Anonymous March 31, 2013, 12:47 am

        While pig farming is becoming less common where I live, the pig farmers always had very well fertilized fields. They usually spread “liquid manure” which smells absolutely horrendous! But in aerial photos from a few years ago, the local pig farmer’s land is a noticeably brighter green than the surrounding fields.

        I usually use old cow manure in my garden, though am trying to make a deal with a chicken farmer.

  • rush2112 March 28, 2013, 8:07 am

    wow, i am suprised at the low value of cow manure. no wonder it never seemed to make much difference.

    i was curious about the dog scat too. i pile it up, not for compost, but because i like a clean yard. keep 2 piles so at the end of the year, i know one is at least a year old. never used on any plants cause i always heard it was no good. probably not much value to the plants, but its free.

    thanks for the article CJ

  • irishdutchuncle March 28, 2013, 8:30 am

    Calamity is one girl that really knows her manure.

  • GoneWithTheWind March 28, 2013, 9:53 am

    Dog and cat feces are dangerous even if not used in the garden. I would not only suggest you don’t use it as fertilizer but don’t allow dogs and cats on your property. Don’t let your children play in areas where dogs and cats use it as a bathroom. A suprising number of Americans have parasites and the primary culprit is pets, i.e. dogs and cats.

  • Charles,,,, March 28, 2013, 9:54 am

    Fun post’s, being full of manure myself, ahem, I am always experimenting with stuff brownish in nature…..favorite being the rabbit tea, tried horse plop’s but they always seem to be loaded with undigested weed seeds sooooo….. an example of composting I have found effective is to take a fruit/nut tree and bury a 5 gal. bucket halfway or more, having the bottom cut out and one 1/8″ hole drilled through the sealable lid, then use them for my undesirables, fish heads and cleanings are fabulous additives and in two years I have never had to clean out the bucket’s, altho it has a good layer of bones they too seem to be asorbing into the root’s… the scat that is troublesome, unknowns like dawg or kitty litter, they go into the animal feed tree bucket’s, catawpa tree’s, which produce fine catipillars for fishing/chicken treats, or royal empress trees for animal feed, rabbits/goats will eat all the leaves of these trees you feed them, even dried,,,,,, I take the “O” ring off the bucket lid’s, seems to help them open easier when I have to add stuff… so those are one man’s thought’s, experiment’s, trial and errors, but it’s such fun and the feed to the tree’s produce amazing growth!!!!!

  • Charles,,,, March 28, 2013, 1:36 pm

    GWTW has a good point, why chance an ailment now when we can find/use alternates, begin to stockpile mulching stuff, my daughters house in town is in a neighborhood of good guyz-n-gals, they bag their leaves/clippings, so if I catch a visit on a garbage pick up day I can nearly fill up my pick up with trash bags of leaves, those bagz have a certain look to them versus trash trash, and for kickers I just leave the mulch in the bag to allow the heat to build and kill any rogue seeds from weeds…. in addition to planting, a scheduled fertilizing is smart for optimum growth versus just pouring the fert to the plants at random….

  • Charles,,,, March 28, 2013, 1:40 pm

    If all of this seems overwelming to new gardeners think of it as an hour a day of fresh air and exercise, skip the 5-6 o’clock government news now that daylight savings is here and just experiment/prep, use your commute time to plan the activities, each step brings you closer to the goal, some run faster then others but the goal posts don’t move….

  • Michael March 28, 2013, 8:55 pm

    I’ve had some experience with weedy horse poop. No fun.

  • D'ja'c March 28, 2013, 9:11 pm

    WHAT, no “S” htf jokes? With 2 horses, several sheep, egg and meat chickens and a steer a year we are full of it here at the homestead. I keep a couple of rotating compost piles going. I’m the compost geek who sticks his hand in into the
    bins to see how hot they are. The little lady won’t let me use the meat thermometer to check the temps in them. I like to see the steam rising of them on cold mornings. When we start building one I mix in green layers and brown layers. A few bushels of dirt and leaves from the woods helps jump start the composting process too. Shipping pallets screwed or tied together on 4 sides makes a nice bin. They let the air in and come apart easy to turn the pile over. For the winter we have a good bed of old hay in the chicken run that we throw kitchen scraps in for the hens to peck at and poop in. They even get earth worms in it. The good thing about this is that chickens being omnivores can also turn meat scraps into compost safely. The stuff from the run and the bedding from
    the pen make good garden mulch or compost starter. See “compost geek”! Compost tea is something I need to experiment with.

  • wilson March 28, 2013, 10:01 pm

    I stopped using horse – lots and lots of things grew that I didn’t put there especially weeds.
    Lama is fantastic.

  • Spud March 29, 2013, 6:26 am

    Build a Methane digester ! Because it is done without oxygen present, all pathogens are removed in around thirty days. With nitrogen content vastly improved. With the added benefit of methane production which can be utilized for cooking, heating or power generation. Much more efficient than the aerobic method, though it does require mechanical abilities and a bit of science. None very difficult to master.
    Run through this process, all manure including humanure can be directly applied safely to the garden. Look into the many benefits of Methane Digestion.

    • Spud March 29, 2013, 10:11 am

      Methane Production Guide – how to make biogas. Three simple anaerobic digesters for home construction [Kindle Edition]
      Richard Jemmett (Author)
      Kindle Price: $2.99

      Just Google Methane Digesters for many listings, from the complex to the simple. Even to the point of using a tractor inner tube as the container and the valve stem for collecting gas. Always remember that the bacteria live in an oxygen free environment. The basics are: Have a way to input waste and an outflow without introducing as little oxygen as is possible. Keep stirred and wait for the bubbles…

  • Charles,,,, March 29, 2013, 9:35 am

    “D” cool stuff, I too add leaves from the woods to thecken coop’s flooring, the chickens muclh it quite well with their scratching while adding their goodness to the pile so it’s nearly good to go every 3 months if ya add a feww weeks to weaken the burn factor of the fresh droppings….
    Methane digester, now that’s a researchable item, any good link’s to weed out the bogus/expensive sort? “C”

    • D'ja'c March 29, 2013, 10:35 pm

      The methane digester is an interesting idea. I’ve heard of using a small one to run a barbecue grill. Sorry no link. The main thing that seems to grow from horse manure is oats and other grasses and grains. One man’s weeds……. Lots of mulching will stop weeds. Any that come up thru the mulch pull out easy and lay on top to become more mulch and green fertilizer. Learning about permaculture put a new spin on “weeds”. Many weeds are actually good food and medicine. They are also indicators of soil health. Some of them have tap roots that go down deep and mine the soil for minerals and other nutrients. Pull them up and lay them in the mulch or compost to enrich your garden. Man I can’t wait for the snow to melt. I NEED A GREENHOUSE!!!! Or some of those cold frames CJ posted about. Wait I can use the methane digester to make fuel to heat the greenhouse at night…..sweet !

      • Spud March 30, 2013, 4:23 am

        Another huge advantage of the anaerobic digestion of compost is that it kills all weed seed. Even Horse manure !


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