Cow manure is abundantly available and is an environmentally-friendly fertilizer and soil amendment as opposed to chemical products. Cow manure must be composted for several months to kill any lingering pathogens or weed seeds and to remove any of the intense odors associated with it. It adds valuable nutrients to the soil thereby allowing flowers and vegetables to thrive.
Cow manure has lower nutrient values than other types of manure, such as poultry manure, for example. Cow manure contains varying amounts of phosphorus, nitrogen, potassium and other nutrients that are slowly released into the ground. According to the University of California, fresh cattle manure can be composed of up to 80 percent moisture. This moisture slowly evaporates as the manure is composting and aging. This also results in the nutrients becoming more concentrated in the manure.
One of the advantages of cow manure is its availability. Aged and composted cattle manure can be found bagged in most hardware stores and garden nurseries. Purchasing cow manure ensures the recycling of this abundant natural resource.
The fact that cow manure is lower in nutrients than other types of manure can be an advantage. As long as it has been composted and aged, cow manure can be spread liberally around flower and vegetables as a fertilizer without fear of burning delicate stems and roots.
When cow manure is tilled into the soil, it also acts as an excellent soil amendment since the organic matter helps to improve the drainage and aeration of the soil, as well as adding to its fertility.
Depending on what has been fed to the cows, the salt content of the resulting manure could be high. In addition, it is possible for weed seeds to have survived the journey down the digestive tract of the cow and to sprout when used in the garden. Composting the manure at high temperatures should kill all viable seeds.
Method of Use
Composted cow manure can be used in a variety of ways. Since it is a soil amendment, it can be tilled into the soil to enhance the soil's ability to conserve moisture and contribute to its overall fertility. Manure can also be spread in a 2- to 3-inch layer over the soil as a mulch. The nutrients will slowly leach into the ground when rained upon. It can also be scratched into the soil and watered to impart a quick boost of nutrients to new or existing plants.
Uncomposted cow manure could contain E. Coli bacteria or viruses that could possibly infect humans. Composting fresh manure for at least four months should kill all pathogens. Bagged manure from nursery and hardware stores is already aged and composted so it is quite safe to use.