What Is Cow Manure? What Can I Do With It On My Farm?

Cow manure, also known as cow dung, is mostly digested grass and, depending on the cattle’s diet, may also contain grain. It’s not just cow droppings, as it contains tracks of hay, straw, grains, and other organic matter used to feed the animals.

There’s nothing quite like the sight of cow manure to make you realize you’re definitely out of the city! The distinctive, circular shape of fresh cow dung has given rise to several nicknames like cow pats, cow pancakes, cow pies, or country pancakes.

Cattle dung is the waste produced by bovine animals such as domestic cattle, bison, yak, and water buffalo. This undigested plant residue passed through the animal’s gut, and its resultant fecal matter is rich in minerals.

What is Manure?

Cow manure is mostly digested grass and contains tracks of hay, straw, bedding, grains, and other organic matter used to feed the animals. This mixture is rich in plant nutrients and very suitable for plant growth.

It contains three percent nitrogen, two percent phosphorus, and one percent potassium or 3-2-1 NPK, making it the right fertilizer for almost all plants and crops. That’s because it organically brings a nutrient balance and soil fertility to fields, improving its water holding capacity and crop yields.

However, fresh manure from cattle is also rich in ammonia and, sometimes, can contain dangerous pathogens and bacteria, such as E Coli. An aging or decomposition process is necessary to break down the organic compounds and eliminate the harmful substances before the manure gets to the fields or a home garden.

Benefits of manure include:

  • Increases the water-holding capacity of the soil
  • Improves soil porosity and increases gaseous exchange
  • Provides humus and therefore enhances soil texture
  • Will increase the number of microbes in the ground
  • Is entirely natural and in constant supply

Cow feces vary in color, shape, and texture. Poo from a healthy cow resembles a thick cake batter and is moist enough to spread and form a small pile. The excrement is pie-shaped with a slightly higher middle section. It is usually a light to mid-brown color.

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A cow’s diet is plant-based and consists of hay, grain, cottonseed, corn silage, soy meal, and more. These undigested plant fibers create a composted manure that will add nutrients to the soil and aid plant growth.

Green manure can occur and suggests that the cow has only been eating green grass. A browner stool indicates the presence of a mainly grain-based diet. Thinner feces with a gray to dark brown color are relatively common and result from the kind of grain in their diet.

Common Uses of Cow Poop On The Farm

When the compost is ready, you can use it to feed compost worms. The worms will add their castings to the compost, creating an even more productive bio-available environment for your plants. Put the finished compost in a layer underneath your mulch.

Composted cow poop makes an excellent growing environment for garden plants. You can also mix it in the soil or use it as a top dressing.

Some dairy farmers – particularly more extensive operations – have anaerobic digesters which turn cow dung into electricity. The digester converts the manure into biogas, which powers a generator, creating energy to feed to the National Grid. Anaerobic digesters mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, helping to prevent global warming.

However, the returns on converting manure into electricity are low. Many California farmers take advantage of the state’s low-carbon fuel standards program and use the digesters to make renewable natural gas instead.

Other Types of Animal Fertilizer

Canine or feline feces should not fertilize edible plants as they contain many parasites and bacteria that are harmful to humans. Add sawdust to dog or cat feces and compost them for a minimum of two years. Hot composting can reduce this time, but you must ensure composting conditions are adequate to break down microbial activity.

Dog poop is very acidic due to a canine’s high-protein diet. The nutrients in dog poo do not benefit plant growth and are not conducive to plant growth. As mentioned, dog feces are highly poisonous and contain over 600 million coliform bacteria in a single ounce. 

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Although not widely accepted, human excreta can make decent fertilizer and provide good plant nutrients and organic matter, building soil structure and reducing erosion. With hot composting or other appropriate heat treatment, you can achieve the removal of all harmful pathogens to produce fertilizer safe to use in agriculture.

Traditional farm animal and livestock manures contain differing quantities of nutrients, and you should use them in different ways and at other times.

With high levels of nitrogen, chicken manure contains a lot of nitrogen and is probably the best suited to fertilizing gardens. It is also rich in nutrients and, for optimal results, should be used in fall or spring. Chicken manure contains high levels of ammonia, so it must be composted for a long time to prevent plant burning when applied.

Sheep manure is high in nitrogen but has a lower ratio of other macro-nutrients. Its pellet size makes it a quick waste to compost.

Horse manure is similar to cow manure, and its larger size and the weed seeds it contains mean it takes a long time to compost entirely and benefits soil structure.

How To Use Cow Compost On Your Farm

1. Use as a Fertilizing Agent

Using cow dung as an organic fertilizer and soil amendment is widespread in many rural areas. It contains many of the nutrients required for a healthy crop.

What a cow eats passes through four stomachs, creating beneficial microbes and removing any harmful material before exiting the cow as manure. However, raw cattle manure does not contain as much nitrogen as other types, and the high ammonia levels can cause burns if you apply it directly to crops or plants.

Composting the poop can remove the ammonia and make it suitable as a fertilizing agent. Composted dung is environmentally and climate-change friendly, releasing around 30 percent fewer greenhouse gases and methane than raw manure. Compost contains helpful bacteria, improves aeration or air circulation within the soil, and improves its capacity to retain moisture, meaning less watering.

2. Potassium, Phosphorous, and Nitrogen

Cattle manure consists of digested grass and grain. After composting, it is rich in organic matter and nutrients, containing one percent potassium, two percent phosphorus, and three percent nitrogen.

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a graphic showing the nitrogen cycle on a farm with cows

Potassium improves the overall health of the crop or plant. Nitrogen helps the leaves grow, and phosphorous help the roots develop correctly.

Unfortunately, as mentioned, raw cow dung has high ammonia levels and may contain dangerous microbes or pathogens (like E. coli), hence the need to compost or keep it for a while before using it as fertilizer. The composting process removes these pathogens and the ammonia gas. It should also eliminate weeds and their seeds and add nutritious organic material to the soil.

3. Making Your Compost

Heap your raw cow manure away from anywhere that might be affected by the water runoff.

The size of the manure pile is essential. If it’s too big, air will find it difficult to enter, and if it’s too small, it won’t provide sufficient heat. It would be best if you also turned it frequently to allow the proper aeration. The compost needs to break down fully by going through the complete heating process before you can use it. This process ensures the removal of any harmful weed seeds or harmful microbes.

Never use wet cow dung compost. You can water it, to begin with, but always ensure it is completely dry and has sat for several months before using it. Wet cow manure will cause insect and bacteria attacks and kill your plants.

4. Hot Composting

Hot composting allows the temperature inside the pile to reach 135 degrees to kill harmful weed seeds and most pathogens. Be careful – heat will destroy the beneficial microbes if the temperature rises above 160 degrees.

Mix the compost (the nitrogen source) with a carbon source like straw and alfalfa to make the heat. Mix and layer the straw over the first few days as you create the pile. You can also add food waste and sawdust to the mixture.

Combining cow manure with hay or straw makes the compost lighter and more manageable. Ash or lime are other substances you may add to your finished compost to increase its nutritional value.

If the poop has a high moisture content, there is no need to water it. Too much moisture in the compost pile will adversely affect the heating-up process. Remove the excess water yourself or turn the manure and straw mixture frequently to let evaporation take care of the surplus moisture.


Adam has always had a fascination with farmyard animals, no doubt sparked by the farm in Devon he used to visit every summer when he was a young pup. He became close friends with the farmer’s children, two of which were about his age, and they allowed him to help out with cattle milking, herding and tagging. Being a fondly magical experience, he recently jumped at the opportunity to help the team at Cow Care Taker.

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