Please define 'aged' manure...

golfngardennut(8 NW of San Antonio)January 11, 2010

Is it crusty... like used in cow-chip throwing contests? Or completely crumbly like coffee grounds or something? If I pile it up do I need to mix it with something to age it? Or ... help?


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Hi G'Nut,
Don't listen to those "other guys" ;-)

Me and You Brother ,we got a plan ! !

Now ,Get out there and get it all mixed place.

By May (if you keep working it) you can start planting.

AGED MANURE is what you are going to have in May ;-)

BTW....If you have Decomposed Granite that you can throw in the mix ,you will be providing all the little microbes and macrobes lots more excitement.....

and if you want a real bonus chuck in a yard of Pumice and you'll be almost as cool as me ;-)

    Bookmark   January 11, 2010 at 8:54PM
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Aged manure is manure that has been sitting around for some time, usually 6 to 9 months. Often many of the nutrients that manures can contribute are lost to the atmosphere and are leached out by rain.

    Bookmark   January 12, 2010 at 6:24AM
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Often many of the nutrients that manures can contribute are lost to the atmosphere and are leached out by rain.

That's not exactly correct. Ammoniacal nitrogen - the strong urine smell associated with fresh manures - is primarily what is volatized and lost to the atmosphere. And that's a good thing, as this is what causes 'burning' of tender plant roots and tissues. Otherwise, the nutrient content of aged manure is not all that different than fresh and in some cases, nutrient levels will be concentrated by either the aging or composting process. Generally, letting the manure sit for at least 6 months constitutes sufficient aging, but smell will tell!

    Bookmark   January 12, 2010 at 10:27AM
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Steven Laurin & Company

I have a question re: a local dairy farmer's aged cow manure, which he claims has aged 10 to 15 years. He has a surplus of 1,000 yds that he's selling for $10/yd - includes loading into buyer's truck.

Has this manure been over-aged, or is it still a good buy?

    Bookmark   January 12, 2010 at 10:36AM
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I don't believe there is a "definition" of 'aged' manure, much like beauty, it is in the eye of the beholder. Or like asking for the definition of old, it's all relative.

But I have to admit I'm intrigued by the "cow-chip throwing contests", are you talking about Congress? Up here in Canada we call it "bovine scatology" and it is most often seen in our Parliament. ;-)


    Bookmark   January 12, 2010 at 10:44AM
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I use aged horse manure. My source cleans stalls daily and wheels it out to a windrow which is currently about 60'x20'x3' high. I get it from the old end of the row where it has set 2-3 years. The top 1' prior to winter rains was light and fluffy like store-bought stuff. The bottom 2' was dark, compacted, and had redworms present. The smell is not bad. In fact I kind of like it! ;) Hope this helps

    Bookmark   January 12, 2010 at 10:45AM
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Hi Archdiver,
Without it being personally inspected by Gardengal, who could know for sure ;-)

But my own opinion is:
even if it had been left "out in the weather" it would still be a fine supplement to any garden,it would help to create all the necessary components to have a healthy and productive soil.

    Bookmark   January 12, 2010 at 10:47AM
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Steven Laurin & Company

jon -
It has been exposed to the weather for that length of time and stored in a windrow behind his barn. Short of Gardengal's verification through her olfactory process, I'll use it anyway as amendment to my heavy clay soil. :)

    Bookmark   January 12, 2010 at 11:21AM
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golfngardennut(8 NW of San Antonio)

Cow-chip throwing contests are conducted in west texas - a dried mound is tossed much like a discus to see who can throw it the farthest. Don't you do that in Canada? lol I like your "bovine scatology", I haven't heard that before... lol

    Bookmark   January 13, 2010 at 2:44PM
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I don't have an answer, but my father brought over a large paper bag (like one would use for grass clippings), of manure to my house a little over a year ago. At the time he said it was "hot". I don't know what he meant by that and still don't. It was not hot to the touch. Anyway a week or so went by and I finally tossed some into the compost and didn't notice any temperature change. The rest I spread on an area in my front yard. He had told me it would make my grass green. Well, the grass that got the manure died and is still dead, a year later. I have no clue what was wrong with it and I have not asked him for more.

Any insight to that?

    Bookmark   January 13, 2010 at 7:43PM
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Bluelake .... the dead lawn is from 'HOT' [fresh] manure. 'HOT' = lots of amonia ... which kills plants it comes in touch with. Probably nothing wrong with that manure that composting -- even just 'aging' -- won't fix.

    Bookmark   January 13, 2010 at 7:54PM
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albert_135(Sunset 2 or 3)

"Cow chips" have been used as building material.

I collected at truck load in the Nevada desert and tossed them in the bottom of a raised bed then added sacks of soil and compost and grew annual flowers in the bed. Four years later the cow chips were largely unchanged.

    Bookmark   January 14, 2010 at 12:41PM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

Gardengal said, "Smell will tell." That's exactly right. Manure is considered "finished" aging when it finally smells like fresh soil. I always call it the smell of a forest floor after a spring rain. At that point it is called compost.

    Bookmark   January 14, 2010 at 10:17PM
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Seems to me it's beneficial to mix straight manure with *something* in the "brown" category. I mix straight horse manure with fine wood shavings and let it sit for as long as possible. My theory is that the excess nitrogen will be absorbed by the wood shavings and cause them to decompose. Seems to be working, the compost I layered last October is looking pretty good now that it's not covered with snow and I'm using it all in a couple of months. I'm not concerned with leaching so don't cover. It can only improve the nearby soil and there is no danger of run-off. It's not going on edible crops so I'm not concerned with how long it heated last fall altho I'll mix it up a bit and see if it heats before using.

As to smell, I would expect that if one were to dig and mix pure fresh manure (in moderate amounts) into garden soil the smell would dissipate within a few days. N'est-ce pas? Not probably a good way to tell if questionably aged manure is pathogen-free.

    Bookmark   January 14, 2010 at 11:22PM
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I think we are experiencing some confusion in terminology :-) There are three issues at work here - raw or fresh manure, dried or aged manure or composted manure - and they are each quite different.

Raw or fresh manure is as it comes from the animal and while it is often the most nutrient rich of the three, it is also the least safe to use as it contains the highest levels of ammoniacal nitrogen, the possibility of dangerous pathogens and often high levels of viable seeds. This is also the strongest smelling.

Aged manure is just that - manure that has sat unattended for a period of time so that much of the ammoniacal nitrogen has volatized or leached out. Depending on the length of time it has been allowed to sit, pathogens may or may not have been neutralized (some have rather short half lives and without a host, do perish). Any weed seeds will still remain viable but the strong odor should have dissipated. Often, aged manure is quite dry compared to the fresh stuff or can be under the surface. It may also look very similar in appearance to fresh - i.e., the 'cow patties'.

Composted manure has gone through an active composting process, which is not at all the same as just allowing the manure to sit. Temperatures achieved during an active composting process, which will typically include some bedding materials as well, will substantially exceed those achieved by just allowing the material to sit. That ensures the destruction of most pathogens as well as any seeds. The finished product will look like a rich, organic soil and bear no resemblance to the original material nor have any unpleasant odor.

If you are growing certified organic, there are restrictions on what type of manure product can be used on what types of crops and how close to harvest it can be applied. Otherwise, how one uses the manure and at what stage is up to the user and their intent. But I would be very hesitant to make any comparisons between an aged compost and one that is considered "pathogen-free" - there is no direct correlation and if you want pathogen-free, 'safe' manure, it must be composted first, not just aged.

    Bookmark   January 15, 2010 at 10:20AM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

gardengal, I think you are right in that there is confusion in terms. I like your definitions. Can we get the people who market the stuff to agree to those?

When I visit my source for horse manure the relatively new manure is generally hot. All they do is dump it from the wheelbarrow to the pile. As the pile piles up, the heat from below is contained by the fresh stuff on top. If you dig into it it is definitely hot enough to be called compost. The old stuff looks like dried, fresh, horse apples, but it sure smells good.

    Bookmark   January 15, 2010 at 11:31AM
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I have heard that if you are not certain as to the state of compost that trying to grow peas in it is a good test.

I have not tried this but if you can't germinate peas in it you may want to wait. Also with this subject is using your nose and eyes, it should have no smell or smell like the woods after a rain, you should not see a lot of large particles, leaves, grass, roots, etc. in it.

My friend took ten year old manure that was under roof ( no rain or mixing) and burnt his corn plants beyond belief.

    Bookmark   January 15, 2010 at 4:33PM
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gardengal48, I always appreciate your posts and thank you for taking the time to explain the various definitions of manure.

I know manure is a valuable soil amendment but it can also be quite dangerous. Since horse manure is a component of my compost I'm concerned about the safety for food crops. Is there any way of knowing how long it takes for pathogens to no longer be viable if the compost has not heated long enough?

Thanks in advance for info.

    Bookmark   January 15, 2010 at 5:50PM
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The heat one senses with fresh or raw manures is primarily the result of the volatilization of the urine/urea it contains. The conversion of this to a gaseous substance generates heat/calories but it is very different from the heat generated by the decomposition process and not nearly as 'hot'. I wouldn't rely on this type of heat as any indication of a well-aged or composted manure and it is not sufficient to adequately destroy pathogens or weed seeds.

luckgal, it's not an issue of time necessarily but rather of achieving and maintaining proper temperatures. The rule of thumb is to make sure your manure or your compost/manure combo reaches at least 140F and is held there for 4-5 days. The majority of - but not necessarily all - harmful pathogens should be destroyed at this heat, as will be any weed seeds. If you are just aging the manure - and that is not recommended for use on edible crops - then 6-9 months is the rule of thumb, but there is no guarantee harmful pathogens will be satisfactorily eliminated by this process.

    Bookmark   January 16, 2010 at 12:03AM
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Previous discussion.

Manure Question


    Bookmark   January 16, 2010 at 7:59AM
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Each manure has a certain time it should age to kill off pathogens, but I don't worry too much about how old (years?!) as much as how hot, if the horse manure I use has heated to 150'(f) for at least a few days (IMHO) it's good to go, another way I judge soil amendments is by smell, if it smells like dirt then it's good to go.
And in general, when you get right down to it, for what its worth, if you ask me, IMHO, if it is a pile of manure, it must have taken at least a few weeks to accumulate and with all manures - mass + time = heat.
So if it steams like no tomorrow and doesn't smell like poo (it might even smell like H20) then it's good to go.
I don't think of feeding the plants as much as feeding the soil and let the soil feed the plants.
For me it's hard to remember that some plants don't like good rich soil.

    Bookmark   January 17, 2010 at 8:30AM
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Oh yeah.
I forgot to say salts can (but not always will) accumulate in piles of manure and manure that is ten years old that "burns" a lawn has "other" issues. (IMHO)

    Bookmark   January 17, 2010 at 8:42AM
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