Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Stopped pooping on the bed

Following what I have witnessed others doing I have been applying raw horse manure to my garden. But is this the right thing to do?

Our typical process once the chook tractor has worked the previous crop back into the bed and any other organic material we wanted added, we rack it flat and remove any large depry. We then cover it with one large bag of raw (uncomposted) horse poo. But I have just recently read something that advises against doing this.

The article I was reading was a handout given to me when I recently attended a Michael Ableman workshop. It claimed that raw manure is not a food for plants until it has been composted down into humus. I knew this but I thought it would act like a slow release fertiliser. What confused me however, is that it continued to say that the composting process would tie up valuable nitrogen in the soil stunting plant growth. I understand that the composting process consumes some nitrogen along with many other nutrients while in decomposition. So I agree nitrogen from the manure may not be available for plants until the breakdown is complete. But as manure is high in nitrogen I do question whether it will lock up other nitrogen in the soil, resulting in stunted plant growth.

That said, regardless of whether it does or doesn’t lock up nitrogen within the soil, it never occurred to me that the nutrients from the manure may not be available for many weeks, even a couple of months. When layed out on the soil in a thin layer it does seem to breaks down very slowly. When used in a compost pile with a few additional ingredients it reduces to humus quite quickly. So thinking about it, it may be more efficient and beneficial to the plants to compost manure first.

I would love to be able to just chuck the horse manure in the chook tractor and have the chickens break it up and churn it into the soil like they do with most of our other organic materials. But I don’t think it would be very healthy for them. If I am wrong with that assumption, and it is perfectly ok, please let me know. It would make things so easy. Along with protecting the health of the chickens there is also the human gardeners to consider. Manure may contain some nasty chemical, bacteria, virus or parasite that would be destroyed through composting.

Also, as my mum too well knows, many insects love poo. These include slugs, snails and earwigs, and once they built up numbers and the food source deminissious, I don’t think I have to say what’s next on the menu.

On a side note, apparently wet manure is better than dry. When left to dry out that valuable nitrogen will be heavy lost. So source it fresh and keep it wet.

In light of this new information and thinking, the most recently prepared bed is horse poo free. Instead there is nice smoldering pile next to it ready for application, hopefully in a few weeks.

What’s your thoughts on the direct application of raw manure?


  1. G'day Jason,

    One of my weekly jobs is to collect the chicken poo from "The Hennery" and the coop. Initially most of it goes into the blue bin just outside the front gate but some of it is now being mixed with some hay and straw, water added, left for a week to steep, strained into a bucket, and finally into sealable containers. Our chicken "Poo Soup" is now being marketed and if diluted into a large watering can, can be added to plants immediately. I would send you some but I doubt liquid poo would travel very well. The blue bin poo is dried and then added to a raised bed in fallow. It is never added to a bed with mature plants. I have always read that natural animal poo is just as much about the conditioning of your soil as adding needed minerals, and we require both benefits. Our soil is clay based and as hard as a rock. It has taken 2 years and a lot of working over to produce the soil we have now. We are now changing from summer to winter crops and have had a number of opportunities to add dried poo while seedlings are developing in the greenhouse. A week or two of conditioning has produced a very friable soil, and the brassicas, lettuce, peas, carrots, onions and beetroot are thoroughly enjoying it. I believe soil can take up to twelve months to reach the required conditioning. Just keep doing what you are doing. The soil will improve over time.


    1. Mmmm.... poo soup sounds delish. I agree soil does take a good year or even two to become highly fertile. Ours is looking and feeling great in most places. I must give credit to the chickens for their great work. And by the sounds of it yours contribute heavily to the success of yours too.

  2. I used to not throw horse poo to chooks, until I watched them free range in a paddock with horses. They scratched apart every horse deposit, looking for insects really. Don't think there are diseases that transfer between horses and chooks, and if there are, the chooks seem to be ok with it.

    1. Linda you are my hero! that is wonderful news. It is going to make life so easy and that little bit more efficient. What else can we get the chooks to do?

  3. Hi Jason. Somewhere long ago I was told that horse manure is considered a hot manure and should always be left to break down before being added to plants I think because like chicken manure it is very acidic. I am sure once you chickens have dug it into the soil for you and it has had a few weeks to break down it will be fine. You can also add a bit of lime and blood and bone to the mix once you have moved the chickens on.

  4. A quick google confirms what your saying... it is considered "hot". About half the strength of chicken poo though.

  5. Like steer manure, horse manure will burn your plants if it's not composted. My sister and her husband destroyed their garden a few years ago by using fresh horse manure from a nearby stable.

    Some manures can be used directly like alpaca and llama. Due to the multi-chambered stomach the manure is "fully processed" by the time it's deposited. lol. I suspect sheep may be the same way, but don't know for sure.

    I have not heard of using chickens to help break up horse manure before... that's an interesting idea. I think I would do some research if those chickens or their eggs were destined for my kitchen though.

    BTW, I found you through City Garden Country Garden.

    1. Hi Kathryn, welcome. I have done some research and it seems a very common practice on farms to keep chickens and horses together. I did find some reports about health concerns for the horses catching things of the chickens though. But you right, working with uncomposted poo should always been done with some caution.

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