Updated date:

Managing Manure on the Homestead

We have been raising animals on our farm for over 10 years—sheep, dogs, cats, chickens, turkeys, guinea pigs, ponies, donkeys, and a pig.

We have a lot of animals on our farm—51 in fact. We have a fairly efficient system to feed, water, and care for them all, and they provide us with hours of enjoyment… and mountains of poop. We have spent many hours cleaning up, moving around, and discussing what to do with the poop

We are vegan, and by definition, we do not use or exploit animals. Yet, this definition becomes clouded since we are responsible for caring for a menagerie of different animals while maintaining the balanced ecosystem they inhabit. This is particularly true with regard to their manure.

Farm-fresh fertilizer

Farm-fresh fertilizer

The Danger of Poorly Managed Poop

The trend of modern agriculture is moving towards large operations. The number of farms is declining, and the production of each farm is increasing. Instead of a handful of animals spread across many different farms, thousands (sometimes hundreds of thousands) of animals are concentrated in lots. Their manure is collected in huge mounds or liquefied pools called lagoons, which often leads to slow seepage or massive spills that contaminate soil and water alike.

Problems can also arise on pasture-based farms. Overgrazing fields means manure is not properly distributed and heavily concentrated in certain areas. Not to mention that most animals born on pasture farms end up in feedlots, and the cycle continues.

There is nothing ethical, sustainable, or healthy about this cycle, and the only way to fix their manure “problem” is to do away with them altogether.

As with everything else in nature, poop has a cycle. Something poops; the poop fertilizes a plant; the plant grows; something eats the plant and poops again. Nature balances manure distribution within its ecosystems, and our farms and homes should replicate this.

what-to-do-with-manure

Poop: Where It Comes from and Where It Goes

Sheep

Our sheep live on pasture and their manure fertilizes the grasslands as nature intends. They move through pastures throughout the spring, summer, and fall to mimic their wild ancestors and fertilize large areas. But even though they have a large pasture to roam and spread out in, our prairie winters keep them fairly concentrated under the trees where they shelter at night. This over-concentration of feces is not the fault of the sheep, but rather our “fault” for keeping them as pets. As such, it is our responsibility to spread it around. Most of it ends up in our vegetable and flower gardens.

Sheep manure provides wonderful benefits to a garden. It is high in potassium and phosphorus to help grow plants that are strong and resistant to disease. Sheep manure has a low odor, so it can be used as a mulch, top dress, or tea. It composts well, but since it is cold manure (low in nitrogen), it can be applied fresh to the garden without burning your plants.

It is true that we could use purely plant-based compost and thus not “use” animals for our benefit, but our farm would still be out of balance: our sheep create an overabundance of nutrients in one area, and our garden creates a depletion of nutrients in another. We feel using the composted manure in the garden is one way our small piece of land can sustain itself as a balanced ecosystem. This is how nature intended it to work, and we can lend a hand as responsible stewards of the land.

The next generation manure producer

The next generation manure producer

Chickens

The same is true of our poultry. Chickens produce nitrogen-rich manure that, when mixed with straw bedding, produces a wonderful amendment in the garden. Chicken manure is hot manure, so it is best to compost it to keep it from burning your plants.

Hot manure: Nitrogen rich manures that will “burn” the roots of a plant

While our hens bed in straw, we like brooding our chicks on pine shavings. When the chicks leave the brooder house after four weeks, we often add their bedding directly to our flower garden. The wood shavings tie up a lot of the nitrogen so the plants don’t burn, and the slowly decomposing shavings create a nice, spongy tilth.

Digging

Digging

Dogs

We periodically care for foster dogs, and the dog run is also our poultry run. When we let the chickens in after the dogs, all the dog poop magically disappears! Besides being quite gross, are we simply allowing a natural cycle or are we using the chickens to do our dirty work?

And there is still plenty of dirty work left for us when we scoop the dog-poop-turned-chicken-poop from the chicken house and load it into a compost bin (which again ends its days in the garden). Are we exploiting the foster dogs from the animal shelter to fertilize our garden? Or are we caring for a displaced animal, feeding our pets, and growing our own food?

Another wonderful cycle of poop is that our dogs love eating guinea pig feces, and then they poop it onto our lawn. The guinea pigs feed the dogs, who feed the chickens, who feed the garden.

Dog poop can be successfully composted, but it must be done carefully, and it is best left to the professionals if you are uncomfortable with this. The compost needs to reach a temperature of 55°C to 60°C to destroy harmful pathogens. Even if these conditions are met, it is best to use the compost on non-edible gardens.

what-to-do-with-manure

Cats

This is a whole different can of worms. Due to toxoplasmosis and other harmful pathogens, cat feces must reach a temperature of at least 73°C to be safe. Rarely will a compost pile get this hot, so this is not a safe disposal method.

We empty our cat’s litter boxes into the burning barrel with our other burnable garbage, and spread the ashes on our fields.

Cat feces must reach a temperature of at least 73°C to safely kill pathogens.

what-to-do-with-manure

Equine Poop

Ponies are another example of a perfect manure machine. One thing I have learned from my experiences of keeping ponies is that they are very clear about where their bathroom is. Even though they have large pastures, our ponies’ bathroom is right beside their shelter. If their bathroom is not cleaned regularly enough, they move their bathroom to the other side of the shelter. To provide a healthy environment for our animals, we remove this manure and add it to the other poop in the compost.

Like chicken poop, equine manure is a nitrogen-rich “hot” manure, so it is best to compost it before use. It is less digested than the manure from other livestock so it adds lots of organic matter to your garden. But it can also contain weeds seeds, so make sure your compost pile gets hot to kill them before they contaminate your garden.

what-to-do-with-manure

The Circle of Poop

Spreading manure from a factory farm or a dairy operation could never be considered vegan, but is this akin to mixing our guinea pig’s poop into the flower garden? I realize this may be splitting hairs, but while we are “using” the manure to fertilize, I don’t think we are exploiting the animals. Of course, we are benefiting by looking at the flowers and eating the vegetables, but it seems to me that our animals are simply balancing out our inability to manage nature.

By definition, our farm would not be considered vegan, and I suppose our claim to be vegans is slightly hypocritical. But I believe we also have a social and environmental responsibility to being sustainable. We could bring in off-farm fertility such as vegan fertilizer, but our environmental health can be best fulfilled by our own animals even if that raises questions about how we label ourselves. To say that manure is bad is to neglect one of nature’s perfect soil amendments. Our pets are raised as nature intended, and nature reaps the benefits.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Bellwether Farming

Comments

Bellwether Farming (author) from Alberta, Canada on March 03, 2021:

We are always happy when the information we provide is helpful to other people, Maren Morgan M-T.

Bellwether Farming (author) from Alberta, Canada on March 03, 2021:

Thanks, DWDavisRSL! It's impressive what nature can do.

Bellwether Farming (author) from Alberta, Canada on March 03, 2021:

Thanks for your support, justthemessanger. We try to manage every aspect of our farm ethically.

Maren Elizabeth Morgan from Pennsylvania on March 02, 2021:

This was SO useful to me. Thank you!

DW Davis from Eastern NC on February 27, 2021:

Once again you have provided us with an excellent and informative Hub, and an example of how nature is still the best recycler when allowed to do its thing.

James C Moore from Joliet, IL on February 27, 2021:

Very informative. This here is he scoop on managing poop. I believe no-one should "raise a stink" about how ethically you operate your farm.

Related Articles