Finding your manure match
While it’s certainly not a glamorous job, spreading manure in crop fields, garden beds, high tunnels and more has proven highly beneficial in terms of crop yield and quality. When carefully planned, spreading manure can prove to be a cost-efficient manner of both soil management and fertilizer. Many farmers assume that all manure acts the same way, so very little research is done beforehand, leading to poor manure choices, which can damage crops and lead to long-term soil damage. This week, we will be covering some of the most commonly used manures and discussing the positives and negatives of each type. Provide your fields and crops with the nutrition they need by selecting the right manure for you.
Using your manure
Manure is commonly referred to as being hot. This is due to the high concentration of minerals and enzymes that exist within it. Compared to synthetic fertilizers, the ratios of Nitrogen, Phosphorous and Potassium (N-P-K) found in manure are very low, but the concentration of these beneficial nutrients is so strong that adding fresh manure to your crop field or garden can result in significant plant damage. Before adding manure to your growing area, allow it to stew or cool for a minimum period of three to six months. You can stop by our Manure Storage article to learn about properly storing your manure during this time.
Never add manure to vegetated gardens or fields. Seedlings, buds and even mature crops can be damaged by the high levels of nutrition. Additionally, manure from chickens and pigs require a greater settling time and should be used with the highest level of caution. This is because chicken manure in-particular has extremely high levels of Nitrogen, which can cause crop burn, stunted root growth and excess foliage growth. Swine manure must be carefully examined prior to use, because it goes through many different processes before it is ready for use as manure. The additional processing and refining amplifies the nutrient concentration, making it very potent if not properly cooled and prepared.
You can apply manure in the early spring or late fall, depending on your preference. In fall, manure should be spread after the final harvest of the season, while manure should be spread roughly one month prior to planting if used during the spring. Electing to spread during fall eliminates the need to store manure, as the cooling process will occur while the manure sits untouched during the winter months. Before planting, be sure to thoroughly till the soil and allow it to rest for at least one more month prior to planting. Manure that is applied during spring should already have gone through the proper cooling process. When you are sure that the manure is safe to spread, add it to the fields roughly one month before planting. This will give a nutritional boost to your soil without damaging your crops.
While manure can come from any type of livestock or living creature, the most commonly used manures are: poultry, horse, cattle, sheep and swine. Additional manure choices include rabbit, goat, alpaca and more, but we will be covering only the top five.
Poultry manure is an ideal source of phosphate and nitrogen. This manure is best for those that suffer from a nitrogen deficiency, but should always be used with caution, as the high concentration can damage plants. The high amounts of nitrogen found in this manure make it good for use in vegetable gardens, but is not recommended for flower beds. Plants and soil find added nutritional benefits from the undigested seeds that can be found in this type of manure. However, if not properly aged, these undigested seeds can lead to weeds. Be sure to only use poultry manure that has cooled properly, as this will prevent crop damage as well as weed problems.
Sheep manure is considered the second “hottest” manure. This manure is nearly just as rich in Nitrogen and Potassium, but provides far less Phosphate than poultry manure. Sheep manure is a good choice for those that are looking to add nutrition to their field or garden, but are concerned about the potential of crop burn or weed problems that come with poultry manure. With the high Nitrogen content, this manure is also best when applied in vegetable gardens, but the reduced concentration means that when used with extreme caution, this manure can be beneficial for flower beds as well. If electing to use sheep manure in a flower garden, spread during late fall to allow the nutrition to mix with the soil, then till the soil one to two times before planting any sprouts. With sheep, if they are fed a hay or grain, the manure produced will be very potent, while pasture-fed sheep produce a less concentrated manure.
Horse manure is considerably tame when compared to poultry or sheep manure, but it is still considered hot and should be composted properly before application. Horse manure is rich in Nitrogen, but the concentration is at a much more manageable level. This enables horse manure to be used in a wide variety of manners. Horse manure can easily be added during the spring prior to planting, but be sure to till the soil before any crops are planted. This manure also contains a variety of weed seeds, so be sure that it has been prepared properly if you are looking to avoid weed problems.
Cattle manure is nearly universal. This manure can be considered “cold” due to the high moisture content and low concentration of nutrition. It is an excellent soil builder, because the moisture causes the nutrition to break down slowly, allowing you to use this manure in unlimited quantities with little cause for concern. This manure is safe to be used as top-dressing in order to improve the soil’s nutrient content. Thanks to the highly complex digestive system of cattle, this manure is also packed with beneficial bacteria. The risk with this manure is that it generally contains high levels of unwanted salts and weed seeds, but the nutritional boost and ease of use make it a popular choice among farmers and gardeners alike.
Swine manure has a low quantity of nutrients, but an incredibly high concentration of those nutrients. This manure should be used with extreme caution as it can easily burn crops or stunt growth. Due to the high nutritional concentration, swine manure is best when mixed or supplemented with another type of manure. Cutting swine manure with cattle manure increases the nutritional balance of each. This means that cattle manure should be treated as hot and should not be used as generously or used for top dressing if mixed with swine manure. Mixing cattle manure with swine manure will balance out the high concentration of nutrients found in swine manure, making it much easier to work with and less harmful on your crop fields and garden beds. Considering that swine manure has very low nitrogen content, it is highly beneficial to use this type of manure for building up levels of phosphorous or potassium.
Applying manure of any type is a great way to increase water holding capacity in sandy soils or open up and improve clay soils. When stored and applied in the proper manner, adding manure will result in improved crop yields and quality. There is a science behind applying manure, and with some research and a little planning, your crop fields and garden beds can flourish like never before.