What Are the Dangers of Cow Compost?

Knowing how to handle and store manure is important when creating compost.
Knowing how to handle and store manure is important when creating compost. (Image: Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images)

Cow manure can make a strong and natural fertilizer once it dries, but it still has its risks. Cow manure produces a high amount of methane gas, and it is a breeding ground for all sorts of unwanted bacteria and animals. You need to use caution when keeping a cow manure pile for compost to ensure your safety and the safety of those around you.

Water Contamination

Cow compost piles may be good for fertilizing gardens, but they can cause some serious problems in drinking water for both humans and animals. If the compost pile runs off into a nearby water system, you can experience many health problems from drinking the tainted water. Cow manure has high levels of phosphates and nitrates that are harmful when consumed. You can bypass this threat by housing the cow manure compost in a location where it cannot run off into a nearby waterway.

Spontaneous Combustion

Large piles of cow manure can build large amounts of methane gas, which is highly flammable. In the heat of a summer day, the methane gas can ignite, which can easily spread to other moisture-starved places. The taller and denser the compost piles, the greater chance that the manure will combust. Try making numerous smaller manure piles that don’t reach above 3 feet in height instead of one large compost pile. Sift through the compost regularly to release some of the built-up gas.


Insects and other undesirable vermin will come flocking to your manure pile. The smell is pungent and can attract them from long distances. They collect around the manure because of the abundance of nutrients. The manure is also warm, which makes it a comfortable home for many creatures. You can usually prevent a large buildup of insects by spraying your manure pile with insect repellents. Use repellents that will not harm your livestock or future plants that you fertilize with the manure.

Health Risks

Cow manure, like most any manure, is a breeding ground for germs. Even in its dried state, it has all sorts of dangerous bacteria that can make you sick. Wash your hands thoroughly in hot water and strong detergent immediately after working with the manure, even if your hands didn’t come in direct contact with it. Exposing yourself to cow manure leaves you open to contacting E. coli, which can sometimes be fatal to people with a weak immune system or small children.

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