The defining difference between cow manure and steer manure is rooted in how the animals are fed. Dairy cows are fed a diet to promote milk production, and feeder cattle, or steers, are fed a diet that promotes growth. Steers, raised for meat, are housed in mass feedlots. Most commercially sold cow manure comes from dairy cows.
Dairy Cattle Feed
To increase milk production, dairy cattle are fed legume hay and grass supplemented by silages, such as corn and sorghum. Their diet also includes small grains, such as oats.
Steers being fattened for slaughter are fed a bit differently. Their diet consists of a base ration of hay or corn silage. Added to this is corn as a grain, a protein supplement as well as a mix supplement that includes salt, limestone and dicalcium phosphate. These cattle are also implanted with growth hormones and/or steroids to help maximize nutrient absorption and facilitate the growth of muscle mass.
Dairy Cattle Housing
Most cows are bedded on straw or an equivalent to help them stay clean. There are regulations concerning the cleanliness of dairy facilities. Using bedding where cattle are kept makes it easier to clean their pens, and it keeps the cattle cleaner. Cow manure can contain additional humus material from straw and wood shavings.
Most commercial feedlots keep their cattle in open, earthen lots. Bedding is not often used. The cattle are grown, sold and shipped to slaughter by lots. This means that the entire pen is cleared out all at once. The farmer then comes in and scrapes the pen before refilling it with a new crop of steers. Cleanliness is not as much of a consideration for the feedlot because the steers will be washed as they make their journey to the kill floor at the slaughterhouse. So virtually no additional qualities from bedding will be found in steer manure.
NPK numbers indicate the percentage amount of Nitrogen (N), Phosphoric Acid (P) and Potash (K) that a fertilizer contains. Cow manure is usually lower in nitrogen, than steer manure, because the nitrogen is diverted into milk production. Steer manure is generally higher in all three nutrients than cow manure. However, the NPK numbers do not offer any information on the amount of humus matter contained in either manure. Humus is a critical ingredient that determines the actual effectiveness of any manure to be used as a fertilizer.
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