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Using Manure for Fertilizer

Manure can be a cost-effective choice for nutrients in crop production.

Using manure as fertilizer for your fields can give crops the nutrients they need in order to thrive. Organic fertilizers supply nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium needed for soil, plus many micronutrients. There are different options when it comes to manure, however, and farmers must carefully consider how manure applications will affect their soils.

Types of manure

Chicken: Manure from chickens, or poultry litter, is a common type of organic fertilizer used by farmers. It is a great source of both primary and secondary nutrients, as well as micronutrients.

The fertilizer equivalent is about 3-2-2; however, the actual nutrient content depends of a number of different factors, including the type of birds, what the birds have been fed, the feed efficiency and how the manure has been stored.

Poultry litter is typically cheaper than dairy manure. Cow manure fertilizer is about 95 percent water, so it must be pumped in order to be transported. In contrast, chicken manure fertilizer is only about 25 percent water, making transportation easier and less expensive.

Cow: Farmers also commonly use cow manure, or dairy manure, as fertilizer. The nutrient value can vary widely depending on the animals' diets, which can vary greatly from farm to farm due to different forage and feed-concentration sources. The form, storage and handling of the manure also impact the nutrient value.

Horse: The nutrient levels of horse manure depend on the diet of the horses and storage and handling. The type of bedding material of the horse's stall, which is typically collected along with the manure, also factors into nutrient values. Horse manure has lower nutrient levels than other manure types and may have more weed seeds compared with dairy manure.

Hog: Hog, or swine manure, is also used as a fertilizer for soil. As with other types of manure, nutrient content and application rates can vary widely depending on the age of the manure form: liquid, sludge or slurry.

Other factors affecting nutrient content

  • Physical form: Manure typically comes in four forms: liquid, slurry, solid, or dried. Depending on the form, the nutrient content typically differs. For instance, the less water contained in the manure, the less ammonium will be present, as it will have converted to ammonia.
  • Moisture content: The moisture content impacts the decomposition of manure. Dry manures are more resistant to decomposition and moist manures are more easily decomposable.
  • Stage of decomposition: The more decomposed the manure, the less organic nitrogen that is present. What nitrogen remains, consequently, is more resistant to mineralization.
  • Incorporation: The incorporation of manures reduces ammonia losses while advancing organic nitrogen mineralization.

Important to note

Before applying manure to fields, a representative sample of the manure should be taken to make sure the nutrient content is adequate to your soil's needs. If the manure is stored, sub-samples should be taken then mixed thoroughly to get the most accurate results. The sampling and analysis process should be done each time the manure is applied to the land.

If the manure is a continuous flow of effluent, then samples should be done periodically, then mixed together, to get a final sample for testing.

It is very important to check with your local and state laws before applying manure to your fields. Manure must always be applied in compliance with local regulations.

Retailers offer products designed to enhance manure performance. More Than Manure, or MTM, is a product to use in addition with animal manure. It is a non-plantfood ingredient that reduces phosphorus fixation and nitrogen loss when used in conjunction with manure. MTM is not recommended for use as a substitute for fertilizer.

Manure adds valuable nutrients to soil and is an important asset for farmers. Making sure you are using the right fertilizer for your farm's needs is crucial to the health of your crops. For more information on making the most of your manure, please consult a Southern States Agronomy Professional or your local Extension office.

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