How to Use Cow Manure as Natural Fertilizer

How to Use Cow Manure as Natural Fertilizer


Cow manure can make an excellent organic fertilizer for gardens and farms. As a natural substance, cow manure improves soil health and provides nutrients plants need to grow. Using cow manure as fertilizer has many benefits over chemical fertilizers. This article will cover in detail how to use cow manure as a natural fertilizer for optimal plant growth.

Gathering Cow Manure

The first step in using cow manure as fertilizer is sourcing and gathering the manure. Here are some tips on obtaining quality cow manure:

  • Contact local dairy farms or cattle ranches: Dairy and cattle operations often have an abundance of cow manure and may give it away or sell it inexpensively.

  • Check with fairgrounds or rodeo arenas: Events where cattle are kept on the grounds temporarily will have quantities of cow manure to dispose of. Offer to take it.

  • Consider your own cattle: If you keep beef cattle or dairy cows, collect their manure for fertilizer use. Scrape cow pies from pastures and clean stall bedding regularly.

  • Purchase composted cow manure: Many garden stores sell bagged or bulk composted cow manure if you don’t have a local source.

  • Avoid cow manure with weed seeds: Inspect the manure to ensure it doesn’t contain viable weed seeds that could sprout in your garden.

  • Let the manure age: Fresh manure can burn plants. Allow collected manure to compost for 6 months before using.

Composting Cow Manure

Composting cow manure before applying it to your garden softens the manure and kills pathogens and weed seeds. Here is a simple process for composting cow manure:

  • Choose a dry, shady location for your compost pile, with direct access for adding manure.

  • Add alternating layers of manure and bulking agents like straw, leaves, or wood chips.

  • Maintain a moisture level of 40-60% by watering the pile as needed. Turning the pile occasionally will speed decomposition.

  • Allow the manure to compost for 6-12 months until dark, crumbly, and earthy-smelling.

  • Avoid composting cow manure that contains large amounts of hay, or the decomposition will be too slow.

Using Cow Manure as Fertilizer

Once you’ve gathered quality composted cow manure, it’s time to apply it your garden or farm fields. Here are some key tips for using cow manure as an organic fertilizer:

  • Spread manure over soil surface: Use a shovel or manure spreader to distribute an even layer of composted manure over the area you want to fertilize.

  • Typical application rate: Apply composted cow manure at a rate of 1-3 inches over the soil surface annually.

  • Work manure into soil: Use a tiller or spading fork to gently work the manure into the top 6 inches of soil so nutrients are available to plant roots.

  • Side dress growing plants: Sprinkle additional cow manure around the base of growing plants and lightly work it into the top few inches of soil.

  • Use in new garden beds: Mix generous amounts of composted cow manure into new garden beds and planting holes when starting a new garden.

  • Supplement with other compost: Pairing cow manure with plant-based composts can provide a diversity of nutrients for optimal plant growth.

Benefits of Using Cow Manure as Fertilizer

Adding quality composted cow manure to your garden provides the following benefits:

  • Rich in nutrients: Cow manure contains nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and micronutrients plants need to grow and produce crops.

  • Improves soil structure: Manure adds organic matter to soil which improves moisture retention, drainage and aeration in the soil.

  • Increases microbial life: Manure provides food for earthworms, bacteria and other beneficial soil microbes.

  • Better root growth: The improved soil conditions promote the growth of healthier, more extensive plant root systems.

  • Higher yields: With adequate nutrients and improved soil conditions, cow manure can boost crop yields.

  • Free fertilizer source: Using your own recycled cow manure is cheaper than buying commercial fertilizers.

  • Sustainable option: Cow manure is a renewable, environmentally friendly alternative to chemical fertilizers.

Downsides of Using Cow Manure as Fertilizer

While cow manure has many advantages, there are also some potential downsides to consider:

  • Can burn plants: Fresh or inadequately composted manure can damage plants with high ammonia levels.

  • May contain weed seeds: Unless composted at high heat, manure may contain viable weed seeds that can sprout in your garden.

  • Potential pathogens: Cow manure can contain E. coli, salmonella and other pathogens if not properly composted before use.

  • Unpleasant odor: Fresh manure has an unpleasant odor that can persist until fully composted. Work with aged manure and compost in well-ventilated areas.

  • High carbon content: Cow manure is higher in carbon than nitrogen. Supplement with nitrogen fertilizers or high-nitrogen compost.

  • Bulky to transport and spread: Cow manure is heavy and bulky, making it challenging to transport and apply.


With proper sourcing and composting, cow manure can be an excellent organic fertilizer. It boosts soil health, provides essential nutrients, and improves crop yields. Pay close attention to proper application guidelines to gain the benefits while avoiding potential downsides. Consider supplementing with small amounts of additional organic fertilizers to balance the high carbon content. With a bit of work, cow manure offers a sustainable, nutrient-rich fertilizer option for farms and gardens.