Animal manures in the garden
Steer Manure

by Lee Spindler 
(Queensland Australia)

Regarding all the different animal manures in a garden, I'd like more information. Can steer manure be used in a no dig garden for the fertilizer?
I'm getting both yes and no answers and I don't want to mess up my first attempt at a vegetable garden....I hope to get an answer soon so I can start the building process. Thank you in advance. Lee Spindler

Lee replies... I'll use this reader's question to dump all the knowledge I have on ALL animal manures, from Aardvarks to Zebras. I get a lot of emails about this subject, so here we go with a pile of sssssteaming facts.

The manures that gardeners mostly use are cow, horse, sheep and chicken. They are organic, consisting of mostly of digested plant matter, some nitrogen, potash and small amounts of many trace elements. Real humdinger stuff for your garden — there's enough goodness in this fuel to power battleships and beetroot, rockets and rocket lettuce. Smells good too, and the worms love it.

It's a head-scratcher of a mystery why people go to garden centers and buy bags of artificial fertiliser instead of going to the nearest pony club, racing stables, chicken or egg farm, goat, sheep, beef, cow farm, or anywhere there are herbivorous animals or birds kept and raised in good (organic if possible) conditions.

Although they contain good amounts of nutrients, manures are especially good as soil conditioners… that is, they break down clay soils and build up sandy soils. Animal manure is not crash hot in N-P-K (Nitrogen/Phosphorous/Potassium) so a dressing of blood and bone provides a concentrated natural source of these.

Animal manures make good mulch once they are dried and the best are natural pelleted manures from the likes of sheep and others as they resist breakdown longer. They contain micro-organisms which are essential in helping plants break down and digest nutrients. They are good compost accelerators to help breakdown plant material. 

Most animal manures for the garden are best put in the compost, layered with leaves or other carbon material. Or they can be scattered in the garden in shallowlayers. Otherwise particularly with horse manure or cow manure, leave to age and dry for 3-4 months before adding to the garden. Cover if necessary to deter flies.

A pile of fresh manure on your garden, like a pile of fresh grass clippings starts decomposing rapidly and will heat up to plant burning strength in no time! If you've ever mown your lawn and mounded up the grass clippings, within a few days bet you couldn't put your hand in the middle.

The most common animal manure for the garden is sheep manure. This is often available in bags at garden centers. Fine to buy if you don't live out in the sticks near a farmer. Sheep manure is easy to handle and apply, like little pellets. Use straight on your garden as a compost layer or mix some in with your other compost scraps.

Next steer manure, or what I call cow manure. Again this is lovely sweet composty smelling organic gold for your garden. If you let it dry a bit then it's easy to handle and crumble into smaller bits for spreading on the garden. Put a layer straight on or throw some in your compost to help things along there too.

Horse manure is excellent but can have a dark side. Usually horse manure is collected from mucking out stables, so it can have a lot of urine in it. This is tempered by the sawdust or straw mixed in, but it does need to be weathered and dried for at least a month otherwise the high nitrogen content of the horse urine will burn your plants with urea. They will go madly lanky, overblown and leafy with all the nitrogen, or simply die off if badly affected.

The good old chooks give us chicken manure or poultry manure This is often sold as dried pellets and it's more concentrated that the other manures as it doesn't have the organic content in it –'cause what they say about hens' teeth being rare is true. There ain't any, so they can't chew grass and leaves, thus no nice organic digested greenery. 

That's all for now about using different animal manures in gardens. Keep watching (where you tread) as we may be taking a look at using manure from Aardvarks and Zebras another time.

Comments for
Animal manures in the garden
Steer Manure

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Mar 27, 2011
A little more info 
by: RoyBear

Rabbit manure should be mentioned also. Great stuff, but kind of hard to get in quantity. Also, beware of horse manure. I've tried it in the past and always wound up with a garden full of weeds. I think weed seeds must pass right through a horse. I avoid it.

Oct 02, 2011
Horse Manure and Weeds 
by: Anonymous

RoyBear, I've have had problems with weed seeds in horse manure. I think you are correct, some weed seeds pass right through. Also, there is usually a million seeds in the hay my local horse owner uses for beeding and feed. A lot of seeds fall directly on the stable floor to be picked up with the manure. As Megan says, composting and occasionally turning the pile renders these potential weeds seeds inert. I haul a few cubic yards a week to my property with no volunteer weeds, if I'm careful to compost first.

Oct 03, 2011
by: SandraM

Aminopyralid appears in non organic horse manure and is a killer for certain plants, potatoes/tomatoes etc. It stays in the ground for up to three years, affecting your plants the whole time. Please check the source of your manure before applying it to your soil. It can be a heart breaker to have all your hard work ruined for the sake of checking first that the stables can guarantee the manure is herbicide free. Unless they grow their own hay they may well not know its origins. Just a thought to save anyone the distress that others I have heard about have suffered.

Oct 19, 2011
Sheep manure 
by: Anonymous

My father would not use anything else but Sheep Manure, that was in Northern NSW Australia. I do not have access to the Sheep manure but use mainly Horse manure. I have put this through the mulcher and it comes out as a fine powder and helps break down the compost or can go straight on the garden. I would like to try his method with Sheep manure.

Dec 26, 2011
zoo-doo NEW
by: estaban


Jan 03, 2012
Testing for 'Hotness' NEW
by: webwahm

Hi, is there a way to test whether my chicken manure is still too hot, or OK to use? 

I have 2 sources from my outdoor deep-litter style run. Old straw that's been left in their run so they don't wade in mud, pooped on and filthy but still clearly straw...and the other is from underneath the straw, dug-out once a year and will contain rotted down scraps, seeds etc. as well as poop. It's been there so long I imagine it's OK but daren't use it and kill off my plants! 

Just wondered if there was a gadget to stick in it and see if it's too 'hot'.

Jan 10, 2012
Re: Testing for hotness NEW
by: Kai

Could you just plant a sacrificial broad bean in a pot and dress it as you plan to with the actual plot? That's how I test for aminopyralids (albeit mixed with compost rather than dressed).

Feb 03, 2012
Grazing Chickens NEW
by: The Goat Whisperer

You might be suprised to know that given the chance, chickens of all types and sizes seek out white clover as a part of the daily intake. The reason why most birds have no forage intake is because they are for the most part are no longer raised in a pasture setting. Long live the free range chicken! Growing up we were taught to get composted chicken manure first (lots of Nitrogen, biggest bag for you shovel work), all other second and only horse as a last resort.

Apr 16, 2012
cow- steer vs horse vs chicken NEW
by: amy watt

Cows stomachs ruminate - thus all weed materials become dead by fermentation effects. Horses don't ruminate thus you get weeds. chickens usually are feed grain and seed and the grit in their gullet crushed these thus the chicken manure will be a grittier type.

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