When it comes to any business, such as running a farm, finding cost-effective ways to reach production goals and standards is a key way for a successful market. Reusing materials not only can produce better results in product but also save the business money.

In any type of livestock production, a large component of waste material is the animals’ manure. Instead of letting manure go to waste, it’s beneficial for the farm to use it for fertilizer on their fields.

Manure is an amazing material to use as fertilizer due to its high nutritive contents. It contains required nutrients for plant growth such as nitrogen and phosphorus while also improving the texture and water-retaining ability of the soil. With these essential nutrients and moisture content, crops have a higher success rate in development.

Using manure as fertilizer isn’t as simple as spreading fresh manure on the soil, though. There are essential steps and requirements needed to create the proper composted material. In fact, spreading fresh manure as a fertilizer would cause more harm than good. Fresh manure contains various bacteria that can contaminate crops and lead to disease in their consumers. In order for the manure to be considered high-quality, it must have the proper oxygen concentration, moisture and temperature throughout as it is composted.

Compost material is decayed organic material that can be used as a fertilizer for plants/crops. Although composting manure prior to using it as fertilizer helps reduce contamination from bacteria and disease risks for consumers, there are other benefits of composted manure. Composting reduces odor, flies and volume of the manure material. Composted manure is easier to transport and spread across the fields. The nutrients in the composted manure release slower, allowing the product to be effective longer.

Some essential steps of the composting process include piling, temperature control, turning and storage. Manure should always contain a source of carbon, such as sawdust, wood chips or straw. This would not be a concern if the manure is being collected from bedded stalls containing one of these materials.

It’s suggested that the manure to carbon-source ratio should remain around 3:2 for the best results. Fresh manure should be piled and kept at a C:N ratio of 30:1. Although it’s possible to keep the pile uncovered, there is a risk of introducing rodents and insects, and it makes it more difficult to control temperature and water content. Instead, it’s beneficial to cover the pile in a material like plastic where it is still able to circulate throughout but it’s easier to protect and control.

The pile should contain water and oxygen – and approximately half of it should be pore space. After two days in a pile, temperatures should reach 120º F, entering the “active phase” of the composting process. The high temperature of the manure pile kills a variety of harmful pathogens such as E. coli, Staphylococcus, and Clostridium.

The most common form of piling is into a windrow, a long line of heaped up material. This high temperature is reached naturally, as heat is generated as organic matter decaying.

During this heating process, it’s essential for the pile to be continuously turned or mixed. Turning allows oxygen to enter the pile, evenly spread the various nutrients and materials throughout, allows microbes to contact all of the manure and breaks up any clumps that may be present.

There are various ways to successfully turn a pile of manure, but two of the most popular ways are using a windrow turner or a bucket tractor. Windrow turners are more commonly used in commercial composting where large amounts of manure are being composted at a time, and are able to control the temperature throughout.

The next step of the process is known as the “curing phase,” with the pile at 100º. At this stage, the organic material continues decomposing, and it can take three to six months to complete curing. Turning of the pile is not needed during this stage. At the end of this process, the compost should be dark brown and fall apart in crumbles.

The last stage is to pile the compost into storage while waiting for it to be spread throughout fields as fertilizer.

by Kelsi Devolve