Pros and Cons of Different Manures for Gardening

We had a conversation about different manures for gardening use in the comments last week. I thought I would put together a quick run down on the basic pro and cons for each manure I could think of. Lucky readers, all the poop reading you need, right here at SHTF blog.

Cat/Dog – Specifically the issue is the parasites that cat and dog poop can contain. With cats the first step is to get a kitty litter that is biodegradable. Some pine or newspaper based litters will compost. You HAVE TO INSURE the pile is composting at a high enough temp to kill the parasites. Also compost made from carnivore and omnivore poop needs a two year cycle to allow the pathogens to die off. My best source for someone actually doing this is the folks at Root Simple.

It is not considered “safe” to compost pet waste–all the standard advice tells you not to– but we’re doing it anyway, because we trust time and bacteria and worms and our own composting skills to make good compost out of cat litter. Also, the standard advice is mostly in reference to a home’s one-and-only compost pile. You would not want to add cat or dog poop to your regular compost pile. It needs to be kept in a separate pile that is managed more carefully.

Be safe here folks, if you’re new to composting don’t try it. Mrs Homegrown’s warning:

You should have a solid foundation in regular compost to begin with, because all the basics apply. Take a good composting class or find a compost mentor. Read the Humanure Handbook. For complete safety, all cat/human waste compost should be allowed to sit for two years, and it should not be applied to food crops (but it can go around fruit trees).


Cow – Cow manure, depending on bedding amounts, weighs in at a dismal 0.5% nitrogen, 0.5% phosphorus, and 0.5% potassium N-P-K rating, low in all three elements. Be sure to cure cow manure by giving it plenty of time in your compost pile. Cows being fed a diet high in antibiotics will have that in their manure, so make sure you’re getting the pile up to a temp high enough to break down those hormone residues.

Horse – Horse manure usually scores slightly better in all categories with a 1.5–1.0–1.5 N-P-K rating and a shorter composting time. I have heard gardeners complain that horses kept in weedy stalls have weed-seedy poop.  Could be worth your while to check on living conditions.

 Sheep and Goats – Both animals produce around a 1.5–1.0–1.8 rating on the nutrient chart. Their manure naturally comes out in an awesome pellet form. That makes them easy to work with and quick to decompose.

Humanure – Well beyond the scope of this post, but check back and I’ll try to cover it.

Rabbits – rates an impressive 3.5% in nitrogen. The other elements are also slightly higher than in manure from goats and sheep. If they are your rabbits, it’s likely they won’t produce much manure for you. Small scale rabbit raising just can’t compete with a horse or cow for quantity. If you are buying the manure, you get more nutrients for your buck.

Chickens – Very nutritious, almost too much so, allow it to mellow first, as fresh chicken bedding can burn vegetables with its Nitrogen levels.

Alright, that’s enough for now. Did I forget any animal you are curious about managing the waste stream for? Hollar in the comments and I’ll see what I can find out.

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