Does sheep manure burn plants?

burry(7 Maryland)July 20, 2008

A neighbor of mine has offered me sheep manure for my garden. She said others are applying it right to their gardens (not composting it). I have read that sheep manure does not burn plants. I am looking for a way to amend the soil in a flower garden that I have -- it really needs it! If I can add the sheep manure, should I add anything else before mulching? I was thinking of chopped leaves, too.

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All animal manures should be composted before being applied to any garden soil because of the potential of disease pathogens in that manure. In a few weeks you will be able to get large quantities of leaves from the deciduous trees and thye will make a very good garden mulch as well as a very good addition, along with that sheep manure, to a compost pile.
To know what might need to be added to that planting bed you need to have a good, reliable soil test done so contact your local office of the University of Maryland USDA Cooperative Extension Service about having that done and then dig in with these simple soil tests that will help you decide what more needs to be done to get a good, healthy soil that will grow strong and healthy plants.
1) Structure. From that soil sample put enough of the rest to make a 4 inch level in a clear 1 quart jar, with a tight fitting lid. Fill that jar with water and replace the lid, tightly. Shake the jar vigorously and then let it stand for 24 hours. Your soil will settle out according to soil particle size and weight. A good loam will have about 1-3/4 inch (about 45%) of sand on the bottom. about 1 inch (about 25%) of silt next, about 1 inch (25%) of clay above that, and about 1/4 inch (about 5%) of organic matter on the top.

2) Drainage. Dig a hole 1 foot square and 1 foot deep and fill that with water. After that water drains away refill the hole with more water and time how long it takes that to drain away. Anything less than 2 hours and your soil drains too quickly and needs more organic matter to slow that drainage down. Anything over 6 hours and the soil drains too slowly and needs lots of organic matter to speed it up.

3) Tilth. Take a handful of your slightly damp soil and squeeze it tightly. When the pressure is released the soil should hold together in that clump, but when poked with a finger that clump should fall apart.

4) Smell. What does your soil smell like? A pleasant, rich earthy odor? Putrid, offensive, repugnant odor? The more organic matter in your soil the more active the soil bacteria will be and the nicer you soil will smell.

5) Life. How many earthworms per shovel full were there? 5 or more indicates a pretty healthy soil. Fewer than 5, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service, indicates a soil that is not healthy.

Here is a link that might be useful: UM CES

    Bookmark   July 21, 2008 at 8:15AM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

I agree. All the tested and approved guidelines for using any animal manures in any garden call for it to first be composted. The only "possible" exception for that is rabbit manure and even it isn't approved for uncomposted use even tho many do it.

Sheep diet is almost pure greens so yes their manure is clearly high nitrogen and can burn plants if used fresh. And as kimmsr pointed out there is the issue of bacteria and pathogens.

Accept the manure and then compost it regardless of what they are doing with theirs and then use it this fall. That way you get all the benefits and none of the problems. ;)


    Bookmark   July 21, 2008 at 9:49AM
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Im going to disagree here :) I use fresh sheep manure and never compost or mature it, it's not a hot manure and doesnt burn plants. I can understand what your neighbour is saying about just using it, Ive never had a problem doing that with sheep manure, other manures I wouldnt use that way.

    Bookmark   July 21, 2008 at 10:39AM
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I never used sheep manure that way when we had sheep as couldn't be bothered trying to collect it but do know people who did and as long as you keep it away from the stems of the plants you will be OK. I would not use it on food crops but in flower beds it's fine.

    Bookmark   July 21, 2008 at 10:43PM
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Even in flower beds raw manure is not okay since any of the disease pathogens that could be there can be picked up by the gardener as they work in that garden. Rabbits do have potential diseases that can infect humans and the rabbit manure should be composted before use as well. luckygal does bring up a good point, from where do you think sheep manure is collected?

    Bookmark   July 22, 2008 at 8:03AM
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sheep manure is fine to use in a flower bed unless the gardener is planning on eating the flowers or hoeing into a sandwhich without washing their hands first which you would hope a gardener would do anyway since soil is not a sterile environment with or without manure.

    Bookmark   July 22, 2008 at 1:26PM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

It is difficult to imagine what could possibly be gained by using fresh manures vs. composted manure. And even if there is some unknown benefit other than convenience for the gardener, the associated risks would far outweigh any possible benefits.

It is well documented that no animal has a sterile intestinal tract and we have recently discussed here how research proves that both antibiotics and pathogens can be absorbed into the plants. How many e-coli scares does there have to be before folks catch on?

Sure it would be nice to assume that everyone washed their hands every time they work in the garden or that they had no cuts on their hands. But do they do it before scratching their nose or sneezing or wiping the sweat off their face? It would also be nice to assume we all wore gloves when working in the garden. Unfortunately, neither is true.

So why not, as every authority on the subject recommends, just practice safe gardening habits and age or compost the manures before using them?


    Bookmark   July 22, 2008 at 6:01PM
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firstly, the risk of ecoli is greatest from manures such as cow manure and considering how beef is produced in feed lots where the cows are standing in their own faeces it's really no wonder there have been outbreaks of it, but the risk comes from food contaminated with it, not from rubbing your nose or wiping your brow while you were out gardening.

antibiotics are very short lived in manure and are usually only present for a few days. but why worry about antibiotics in the manure when we 're eating meat with antibiotics in them? theyre ok to be in your food but not in your manure? how silly. or should we all be vegetarian too for the same reasons?

even if you decide to compost manure it needs to reach optimum temperatures to kill off pathogens, so there is no way to be sure youve killed them all before you use manure and since sheep manure is not a hot manure it would be difficult to heat it appropriately anyway.

"Just practice safe gardening habits"

that would include washing your hands before you eat as I mentioned above, I cant imagine anyone who values their health would sit down to eat with dirty hands from gardening.

I find it bizarre that on another thread you advised someone that eating their neighbours vegies grown with dog poo as fertiliser was fine, but you have a problem with uncomposted sheep manure on a flower bed. dog poo can also carry pathogens, and parasites if the animals are not treated regularly so youre contradictory attitude is just baffling.

    Bookmark   July 23, 2008 at 12:38AM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

I find it bizarre that on another thread you advised someone that eating their neighbours vegies grown with dog poo as fertiliser was fine, but you have a problem with uncomposted sheep manure on a flower bed. dog poo can also carry pathogens, and parasites if the animals are not treated regularly so youre contradictory attitude is just baffling.

I'm sure it would seem so when taken out of context and misunderstood. Nevertheless, it is an apples and oranges comparison so not valid.

In the other thread, while noted that it was far from the ideal situation and definitely not recommended, the question was "is the food safe?" Given the far smaller amounts than we are discussing here and the fact that the gardener was tilling in the small amounts in question, the answer was yes, if the food was hygenically treated and cooked properly then it would be safe.

Totally different situation here.

e coli is normal in all animal intestinal tracts so poses a potential threat regardless of the animal source. And research that has been linked here by many clearly shows that antibiotics, salmonella, and e coli can remain active in manures for as long as 2 years. Composting may not eliminate all of the pathogens true, but it can substantially reduce their levels when compared to fresh manure and so reduce any associated risks.

The recommendations to avoid using un-composted animal manures in the garden are not something new. They have existed for many, many years now and the reasons and research behind those recommendations are well documented and available to all. For commercial and certified organic growers those 'recommendations' were made flat prohibitions several years back.

So, given that there is no benefit to offset the associated risks in using raw/fresh manures vs. composted manures, there is simply no reason to encourage the use of fresh manure of any kind in the garden.


    Bookmark   July 23, 2008 at 11:27PM
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