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Composting Manure


Manure can really pile up sometimes! Rather than spend time and money to haul it away, why not compost it so that it is more quickly and thoroughly broken down to a usable, nutrient-rich source of “fertilizer” for your fields, garden, and flowerbeds? Composting is not too involved as long as you have space and equipment.

Raw manure can become valuable as composted manure because it can be applied to pastures, gardens, flowerbeds and landscapes as a nutrient rich soil amendment. Composting breaks down the organic matter of bedding, straw, hay as well as the actual manure, and reduces the amount of material you have by about 50 percent.  While the manure “cooks,” composting also kills worm eggs, pathogens, fly larvae, and weed seeds that are included within the whole mess.

How does composting work? Decomposition requires organic matter, oxygen, and water. Microorganisms “eat” the organic matter, which is composed of nitrogen and carbon, and which is the manure and bedding in the manure pile.   These microorganisms need oxygen while they break down the organic matter. Air needs to reach all areas of the pile which is composting. That’s part of the reason to “stir” or “turn” compost piles. As the microorganisms break down organic material, a great deal of heat is given off. At 130 degrees, bacteria, viruses, fungal organisms, weed seeds and fly larvae are killed. After several days of this temperature, bad stuff is certainly killed off. However, a temperature over 160 degrees will kill the microorganisms that are doing the work, so care must be given to the pile in terms of turning, aerating and releasing or redistributing heat.

The hardworking decomposing microorganisms also need moisture. Normal rains or watering with a hose can keep the pile working. A waterlogged pile however, is bad news. Too much water will kill the microorganisms, so covering the pile with a tarp or even a roof will help to keep out excessive rains, especially the seasonal rains of fall and winter which don’t dry out. Water can be added in the summer if the pile becomes too dry.

There are several methods to compost manure but they are all fairly basic: the pile of organic material needs air and water. Composting can be fast or slow depending on the method used.

Windrow composting is a method that uses manure dumped in long rows. These rows are turned regularly to give oxygen to all parts of the row. A tractor with a bucket or front end loader or similar machine is very helpful in this method.

An aerated static pile is another, more “technical” method which uses timers, perforated pipes and an air pump or fan to draw air into the pile. This type of composting system requires less labor than the windrow method, and it allows for composting much larger piles.

An in-vessel composting system breaks down material in an enclosed container where all conditions can be controlled. The vessel is aerated by turning or with forced air. This type of system composts material fairly quickly, but it requires more equipment and possibly a higher cost than the other systems.

A passive aeration system requires very little labor or equipment. However, this type of composting takes the longest time to decompose the manure pile. Using a cement pad with 3 walls is ideal. Passive aeration does not involve turning the pile. Rather, long PVC pipes are used to allow air to get inside the pile. Pipes are drilled with holes and laid down on the ground. Manure is piled on top of the pipes. As more manure is added to the pile, more pipes with holes are laid on top of the manure. The pipes continue to become covered by more layers of manure until the pile is several feet tall. As long as the ends of the pipes are not covered, air can get into the pile and the microorganisms can do their work.

Once manure is composted it becomes a usable, and potentially valuable, product. You can use it yourself as an amendment to soils, or you can possibly sell it to others who want an organic, composted soil or fertilizer. At any rate, getting rid of composted manure which is free of disease and weeds is an easier task than getting rid of the raw stinky material that you start with.


Compiled from
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