Manure proves good fertilizer for Miss. soil

Published 6:27 pm Saturday, October 8, 2016

I used one of the pretty afternoons this week to move manure.

My horse boarder dumps stall cleanings in piles behind the barn, and a couple of times a year, I take possession of it and move it to a different spot for further composting and future garden use.

Livestock manure has been used as fertilizer for growing plants for about as long as there have been plants, livestock and farmers/gardeners. In modern agriculture, the concentration of livestock feeding to specific areas and the cost of transportation and distributing animal manure onto crop fields limits its use as fertilizer to very nearby farms.

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Here in Mississippi chicken litter is the only commercial manure product used substantially, and the spreader trucks don’t travel many miles from the broiler houses. But a lot of us hobbyists use manure as part of the fertilizer needs of garden and landscape plants. The reason for local horse manure use in gardens is horses are like gardeners; they’re everywhere.

As for actual fertilizer content, animal manures are pretty low by weight. The amount of nitrogen fertilizer in cow manure is typically down around two percent or less. That means a farmer needing 160 pounds of nitrogen per acre on a corn crop would have to put out four tons of manure per acre to equal five hundred pounds, i.e. one- fourth ton, of one of the commercial fertilizers that are around 32-33 percent nitrogen.

The level of the three major fertilizer elements nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium does vary by species of animal, the animals’ diet and a bunch of other factors.  The high fiber diet of the ruminant cattle, sheep and goats is a reason why the manure nitrogen level from those animals is less than that from simple stomach hogs and poultry that are fed high protein diets with very little fiber. Fresh manure from all animal species contains more nitrogen than aged manure.

Poultry manures are highest in nitrogen for another reason in addition to the diet and type of digestion system: the urine is mixed in with the manure.

I don’t recall the exact chemistry of it, but urine becoming urea which becomes nitrogen is an oversimplified explanation, but good enough.

Manure fertilizer is more slowly released to plants than the commercial types and well-aged manure compost is even slower. For a lot of our home gardening perennial plants, this can be a good thing. And a sure fire advantage of manure as fertilizer is it adds organic matter to the soil.

Again, the animal and the diet affects the level of organic matter, but our hot climate, low organic matter soils are improved by added organic matter.

I can recall some old timers used the word “stuff” instead of “manure” when talking of barnyard fertilizers. A favorite quote is “I’ve always heard chicken stuff is hotter than cow stuff.”

I suppose the speaker could have showed out and said, “I’ve been informed poultry feces has a higher nitrogen content than that of cattle.”

Same thing.

Terry Rector is spokesman for the Warren County Soil and Water Conservaition District.