Can You Compost Cow Manure? A Guide to Composting Cow Manure For Nutrient-Rich Soil

Composting is an excellent way to transform organic waste into nutrient-rich soil amendment. It not only reduces waste but also improves soil fertility and sustainability. If you’re wondering whether you can compost cow manure, the answer is a resounding yes!

In fact, composting cow manure offers several benefits and is a great way to harness the natural fertility of these mighty herbivores. In this article, we will explore the process of composting fresh cow manure, discuss the time it takes for it to compost, and address whether you can directly use cow manure in your garden.

Benefits of composting cow manure

Composting cow manure provides numerous advantages. Firstly, it helps to recycle and repurpose organic waste, reducing the amount of waste that ends up in landfills.

Secondly, composting breaks down the manure into a nutrient-rich amendment that can enhance soil structure, promote microbial activity, and improve overall soil health. By incorporating composted cow manure into your garden, you can increase water retention, improve drainage, and foster a thriving ecosystem for beneficial organisms.

Collecting and preparing fresh cow manure

When it comes to composting cow manure, the first step is to collect and prepare the fresh manure. It’s important to create a balanced compost pile by adding carbon-rich materials, such as straw, leaves, or wood chips, along with the nitrogen-rich cow manure.

Collect the manure in a designated area, away from direct contact with edible crops, and store it in a covered bin or pile. This helps prevent runoff and potential contamination.

3. Creating a compost pile

To create a compost pile using cow manure, follow these steps:

  1. Select a suitable location in your yard or garden for the compost pile.
  2. Lay down a layer of carbon-rich materials as a base, around 6 inches thick.
  3. Add a layer of fresh cow manure on top of the carbon-rich materials, aiming for a ratio of approximately 2 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen.
  4. Continue layering carbon-rich materials and cow manure until the pile reaches a height of around 3 to 5 feet.
  5. Water the pile lightly to ensure proper moisture levels.

Managing the composting process

Managing the composting process is crucial to achieve optimal results. Regularly turning the compost pile helps with aeration and ensures even decomposition. Aim to turn the pile every two to three weeks, using a pitchfork or shovel. Additionally, monitoring the moisture content is important.

The pile should be damp, similar to a wrung-out sponge. If it’s too dry, water it lightly, and if it’s too wet, add more carbon-rich materials to absorb the excess moisture. Furthermore, monitoring the temperature of the pile can provide insights into the composting process. Ideally, the internal temperature should reach between 130°F and 160°F (55°C to 71°C), indicating active decomposition.

Composting duration for cow manure

The duration for cow manure to fully compost depends on various factors. The size of the compost pile, the carbon-to-nitrogen ratio, the ambient temperature, and the level of moisture all play a role.

Generally, it can take anywhere from several months to a year for cow manure to fully compost. However, regular turning, maintaining proper moisture levels, and ensuring the right balance of carbon and nitrogen can expedite the process.

Using composted cow manure in the garden

Composted cow manure is a valuable resource for your garden. Before applying it, make sure the compost is fully decomposed, dark in color, and earthy-smelling. It’s best to incorporate the composted manure into the soil before planting or as a top dressing around existing plants.

This allows the nutrients to gradually release and be absorbed by the plants. However, avoid using fresh cow manure directly in edible gardens, as it may contain harmful pathogens that can cause foodborne illnesses.

What Other Manure Can Be Used

While cow manure is a popular choice for composting due to its availability and nutrient content, there are other types of manure that can also be used effectively. Here are some common manures that can be used in composting:

Horse Manure

Horse manure is another excellent choice for composting. It is rich in nutrients and has a balanced carbon-to-nitrogen ratio. However, horse manure may contain more weed seeds compared to cow manure, so proper composting techniques, such as maintaining high temperatures, are important to ensure weed seed viability is minimized.

Chicken Manure

Chicken manure is a highly potent fertilizer due to its high nitrogen content. However, it is also high in ammonia, which can be too strong for direct use in the garden. Composting chicken manure helps to reduce the ammonia levels and create a more balanced and safe soil amendment.

Sheep and Goat Manure

Sheep and goat manure are also valuable additions to a compost pile. They have a moderate nitrogen content and can contribute to the overall nutrient balance of the compost. Similar to other manures, composting sheep and goat manure helps to eliminate potential pathogens and weed seeds.

When using manure from animals such as horses, chickens, pigs, sheep, or goats, it’s important to consider their diet and any medications or chemicals they may have been exposed to. Organic manure from animals raised without antibiotics or synthetic additives is preferable for composting and gardening.

Precautions and considerations

While composting cow manure is beneficial, it’s essential to take precautions and consider a few factors. Firstly, always wash your hands thoroughly after handling fresh manure to prevent potential contamination. Secondly, ensure that the composting area is well-ventilated to minimize odors.

Lastly, when using composted cow manure, avoid direct contact with edible parts of plants and adhere to any local regulations regarding the use of manure in gardens.


Composting cow manure is an effective and sustainable way to convert organic waste into nutrient-rich soil amendment. By following the proper steps, you can successfully compost fresh cow manure and harness its benefits for your garden.

Remember to collect and prepare the manure, create a balanced compost pile, manage the composting process, and use the composted manure wisely. With patience and care, you’ll be able to produce high-quality compost that nourishes your plants and improves the overall health of your soil.


  1. Is composting cow manure safe?
    • Yes, composting cow manure is safe when handled and processed correctly. Following proper composting guidelines helps eliminate harmful pathogens.
  2. Can I use fresh cow manure in my garden?
    • It is not recommended to use fresh cow manure directly in your garden, especially in edible areas. Composting the manure first allows for the breakdown of pathogens and creates a safer product.
  3. How often should I turn the compost pile?
    • Turning the compost pile every two to three weeks helps with aeration and promotes even decomposition. This frequency may vary depending on factors such as pile size and temperature.
  4. What is the carbon-to-nitrogen ratio for composting cow manure?
    • The ideal carbon-to-nitrogen ratio for composting cow manure is approximately 2 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen. This balance helps facilitate the decomposition process.
  5. Can I compost cow manure with other organic materials?
    • Absolutely! Composting cow manure alongside other organic materials, such as leaves, straw, or vegetable scraps, can enhance the composting process and create a more balanced nutrient profile.