Manure Composting - What You Should Know Before Starting

Most of the interest in manure composting will be generated by people who own farms or ranches, as they will normally have medium to large quantities of livestock manure to dispose of. Using it to generate compost kills two birds with one stone - generating a rich amendment for the soil while disposing of a waste material in a safe manner.

Organic materials that can be added to a manure compost pile include aquatic weeds, bread, fruit and fruit peelings, vegetables and vegetable peelings, coffee grounds, eggshells, straw, tea bags and tea leaves, egg cartons and some other types of cardboard, grass clippings, and paper. There are other materials that can be included, but will take a long time to decompose, such as tree branches and wood chips. Chip or shred these and use sparingly.

Do not include human, cat or dog manure, as these sometimes harbor pathogens that might not be killed by the heating of the pile, and also may attract pests. Also, don't add any animal or milk products, oils, or fish scraps.

While straw is a material that breaks down very slowly, it gives the pile an open texture that allows air to circulate. Air circulation through the pile is very important, as composting is the aerobic decomposition of organic matter by certain specific bacteria. Aerobic means 'with air'. If straw is included in the pile, then other materials that break down faster should be added, so that the compost can heat up to the proper temperature. Adding straw also helps the finished compost to have a more favorable carbon to nitrogen ratio.

It's important to select a suitable location for the compost pile. If a concrete pad is available, it's a great place to start. However it's not necessary and a pile can be started directly on the ground. Be sure the location meets the following condtions: the pile should not be in a place that is damp or completely shaded, as this will impede proper heating and aeration. Conversely, a location that gets sunlight all day is also not good, as this can cause the pile to dry out. Be sure the area has decent drainage, because standing water will interfere with the composting process. Finally, be sure that any rain runoff exiting the pile will not enter surface or ground waters, as this is a health hazard.

The manure compost pile will usually reach temperatures of between 110 and 150 degrees Farenheit. 130 to 140 degrees is the optimal range, where any pathogens or weed seeds that may have originally been present should be rendered lifeless. If the temperature exceeds 140, turn the pile repeatedly to cool it off, as excessively high temperatures can be deadly to the beneficial bacteria.

The finished compost will usually weigh only around half as much as the materials originally added to the pile, mainly due to the loss of moisture, and will resemble humus with a fine texture and an 'earthy' odor. Be sure the compost is completely processed before spreading it on plants, as an unfinished product be toxic. When the temperature of the pile has cooled off to around ten degrees of the surrounding air, it is ready for use.

Worm Farm Guide | Legal Information | Privacy Policy | Contact Us |