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The difference between animal manures

Not all manures are equal, some are actually better than others.

Marcelle Swanson explains. 
Manure is natures’ way of returning nutrients to the soil. Much like they say in The Lion King, the animals eat the grass, produce manure, and the insects convert that manure back into soil, which creates an optimal environment for plant growth.  It is a complete closed loop recycling system and one of the best ways to improve your soil, but not all manures are alike, each has its own nutrient profile.


Animal manure has been used by gardeners throughout the world for centuries, and not just because of availability. Manure supplies the three essential (macro) nutrients required for plant growth – N, P and K. Nitrogen (N) promotes leaf growth; Phosphorus (P) promotes root development and Potassium (K) is required for flowering and fruiting. Different manures have different N:P:K ratios, which makes each a very useful commodity around the garden. By assessing the N:P:K levels of various manures, it’s easy to select the right poo for the job!

Getting to know your poo

Cow (N:P:K = 0.6:0.3:0.5), horse (N:P:K = 0.7:0.3:0.6), sheep (N:P:K = 0.7:0.3:0.9) and alpaca (N:P:K = 1.5:0.2:1.1) manures are all mild and can be used to improve most soils. Low in phosphorus, they are perfect for seedlings and native plants. Try composting these together to create your own super manure mix for enriching your entire garden.

Poultry manure is notoriously rich because of the way a bird’s digestive system concentrates its waste. Chicken and other poultry poo (N:P:K = 1.6:1.5:0.9) should be composted before use and used sparingly, with a little applied often. Ideal for citrus, leafy vegetables, brassicas (cabbages, broccoli and Brussels sprouts) and cucurbits (cucumbers, pumpkins, melons and zucchinis) where a quick hit of nitrogen boosts growth in spring and autumn.  
A manure that you may not see often, but is well worth seeking out is goat manure (N:P:K = 4.0:0.6:2.8). The most consumed meat in the world, you may be surprised to discover that goat poo is ideal for vegie gardens and fruit trees because of its exceptionally high nitrogen and potassium levels. It promotes good leaf growth as well as fruiting.

If you have a pet rabbit, start composting its poo. Rabbit manure (N:P:K = 2.4:1.4:0.6) is a rich, concentrated fertiliser which is ideal for acid loving plants like camellias, rhododendrons, azaleas and roses.

Not only available on roadsides, there are many types of pre-packaged manures available from garden centres and nurseries.  These are already composted and ready for use in your garden. The most common manures are usually available, as well as zoo poo which is made from the manure of elephants, giraffes and pygmy hippos!

Next time you're heading off for a relaxing weekend drive, be sure to pack a few gold coins and a rubbish bag or two. There’s a whole load of … nutrients just waiting for you.

Manure Tips

♦ Only use herbivore manure. Carnivore manure contains bacteria and pathogens that can be harmful to humans, especially pregnant women. These should be safely disposed of in the rubbish and not in your compost or garden beds.
♦ Compost manure before use. Manure should be composted with straw, grass clippings and other organic garden waste for around 6 weeks prior to use. This helps to reduce the levels of ammonia in the fresh manure, and destroys any viable weed seeds.
Processed manure-type fertilisers are far more concentrated than the unprocessed form of manure you may find at a roadside stall. They are more expensive than their fresh relatives, however a little bit of these will go a long way.
Manure is not mulch, it is a soil conditioner and fertiliser. Always apply mulch over the top to reduce weed growth and improve water retention.  
Always wear gloves when handling manure. Apply around the drip zone of garden plants (where the canopy reaches) rather than near the trunk in spring, summer and autumn.
Some manures are higher in weed seeds than others. Ruminants, for example, ferment seeds as part of their digestive systems, so these are typically lower in weed seeds than manures from other mammals, like horses.

♦ Horse manure can be a terrible source of weed seed in the garden, and as such, should be composted before use on the garden or used to make compost tea, rather than adding it directly to your soil.

Manure Tea

Any manure can be converted into a liquid fertiliser. Simply mix the manure with water, leave to soak for 30 days, sieve, dilute so that the liquid resembles weak tea and apply to the root zone of your plants.


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Marcelle Swanson

Marcelle is a sustainable farmer, gardener and horticultural writer. After graduating with a Bachelor of Applied Science (Horticulture) from Burnley, she worked in print, TV, web and published 3 books before joining The Diggers Club as Publishing Manager.
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