Horse manure as a fertilizer

Peg Cook pegcook at
Thu Oct 5 15:55:28 EDT 2000

You did an excellent job of explaining this!  The one point that you made is
that there needs to be a source of Nitrogen to start the decomposition
process.  This is where the horse, cow, poultry, or whatever would work

well.  Again, Phosphorus and Potassium will be low in a compost unless rock
powders are added, but, again slow-release of P and K will present problems
if the soil is already deficient in these nutrients.

Peg Cook, Agronomist
Cook's Consulting

pegcook at

----- Original Message -----
From: <Pjn106 at>
To: market farming <market-farming at>
Sent: Thursday, October 05, 2000 12:03 PM
Subject: Re: Horse manure as a fertilizer

> I began using horse manure with sawdust bedding this year. I had some
> reservations about using sawdust based on what I've read, but I couldn't
> it up because unlimited amounts are available, and I get it delivered for
> free. I also just let the material sit for six months in a windrow about 5
> feet high by 5 feet wide before applying it to my fields. I found that
> of it was moist, but most of it was quite dry even though it had been
> to a lot of rain. The moist areas had broken down nicely while the sawdust
> the dry areas had apparently decomposed very little. I applied this
> relatively undecomposed material at the rate of 20 tons/acre in April,
> it under with a rye cover crop and put in transplants of a variety of
> vegetables about 3 weeks later. I applied no other fertilizer. These
> plants did not fair well for the first few weeks and appeared to show
> of nitrogen defficiency. I suspected that the sawdust was "tying up"
> in the soil. Fortunately, the plants recovered and actually grew and
> quite well as the season progressed. Sweet corn germinated well and grew
> exceptionally well with no other fertilizer. I suspect that nutrients
> eventually became available to the plants as the sawdust decomposed over
> course of the season. Weed seeds were not a problem initially, but I
> that the rye cover crop suppressed germination. By the end of the season,
> texture of my clay soil was greatly improved.
> This spring after determining that the mixture did not decompose well, I
> out to make a high quality finished compost with it. Here are some
> observations/tips based on my experience...
> -The pine shavings will take several months to break down under ideal
> conditions. If      the condtions are not ideal, it will take much, much
> longer.
> -Try to determine the carbon/nitrogen ratio in the mixture. This will be
> contingent upon the relative amounts of pine shavings and manure. The pine
> shavings will need ample nitrogen to decompose. Build your pile so that
> overall carbon/nitrogen ratio is around 30/1. Green grass clippings work
> for N; straw works well for C.Temp. should rise to more than 150 deg. F.
> remain above 150 for several weeks. That will kill most of the viable weed
> seeds that pass through the horse. Weed seeds will be present regardless
> where the manure is collected .
> -It is essential that all the material in the pile is always moist. If
> the pine shavings will take forever to break down. I use a couple of drip
> tape lines for each windrow and add water as necessary when I turn the
> -Turn the pile at least twice. More frequent turning will hasten
> decomposition.
> -Cover the pile with straw or soil.
> I added lots of green grass clippings, some old hay, and some straw to the
> manure/sawdust mixture, kept it moist at all times, and turned it four
> After 6 months the sawdust had broken down very well.
> Next year I am going to continue to experiment with different compost
> mixtures, and I will test the soil frequently to get a handle on how it's
> affecting my soil. I would suggest that you also use soil tests to
> what's going on, especially if you decide to take the lasse faire approach
> and just let the stuff sit for 6 months. Good luck and let me know how it
> works out for you.
> Jan Nagel
> Rolling Hills Farm
> Bedminster, PA
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