Managing Your Manure – Using Your Compost


Manure piles can grow quickly.

Manure management may be one of the less glamorous responsibilities of owning or caring for livestock, but this information from the Clackamas Soil and Water Conservation District can help! Here is the second part of our guidelines and recommendations for what to do with all of that poo. Please see Part 1 here.

Share the Wealth

Compost is a good, stable way to deal with manure, but even with reduced volumes you will still have a large amount of end product to utilize or export.

If you do not have enough land to spread the compost at a rate that is beneficial, a solution may require some creative thinking. Developing connections with a local farm or nursery is a good way to dispose of compost for little or no cost. Be aware, however, that they may only want the product at certain times of the year.

Share composted manure with local farmers or gardeners.

Share composted manure with local farmers or gardeners. (NRCS photo)

Befriend Local Gardeners

Local gardeners may also need a source of good compost, but again, this is seasonal. Suitable dry storage may be necessary to address the seasonality of users. One pitfall to avoid is using compost for fill material. Due to its high organic content, it breaks down making it unstable for long-term fill.

Spread the Benefit

Even if you have a state-of-the-art composting facility, it is easy to fall behind and end up with a large pile. The most beneficial use for compost is even distribution back on local pasture or cropland. Recycling the nutrients feeds the grass or crop roots and builds soil structure and organic matter. The result may be quality forage or hay to feed the livestock.

Nutrient depleted soils produce low-yielding forages and poor hay. Degraded soils can also be more susceptible to weeds. Forage production is the least expensive way to supplement livestock feed.

Test soil to determine proper rates of manure application.

Test soil to determine proper rates of compost application. (NRCS photo)

Don’t Forget to Get a Soil Test

Pastures will receive the most benefit from compost if there is periodic soil testing to determine soil nutrient levels. Excess soil nutrients can be dangerous to animal health and increase the potential for contamination of surface and groundwater.

Reduce this risk by identifying soil nutrient needs. Test soil to determine correct rates to apply. Also, identify areas at high risk for runoff and avoid spreading in these areas, especially before heavy rainfall.

Check the Weather Before Applying Manure to Fields

Oregon Department of Agriculture has developed an advisory tool to help livestock owners know when it is safe to apply compost or manure to fields. Use this link to receive the risk rating and application guidance for your specific area, based on 72-hour precipitation forecast.

Compost is safer to spread than fresh manure due to the slow release of nutrients and the sterilized pathogens and weed seeds. Fresh manure may also be spread, but with a few simple precautions.

Recycling nutrients build soil structure and organic matter.

Recycling nutrients build soil structure and organic matter. (NRCS photo)

Spread Fresh Manure Following these Guidelines

  • Apply when grass is actively growing and taking up nutrients.
  • Use a harrow or a chicken tractor to break up clumps and incorporate the manure into the soil quicker.
  • Spread manure only on areas with established grass.
  • Maintain a weed prevention program, as many weed seeds are passed through animals unharmed.
  • Keep livestock off the fresh manure for several weeks after application.
  • Consider grazing with a different livestock species than the one that provided the manure. Generally, different livestock species are not susceptible to the same parasites.

Make Your Plan

Develop a plan to make the most of your manure while protecting water quality. Conservation planners from Clackamas Soil and Water Conservation District are available to help you reach your goals while managing the manure produced by livestock. Below are the essentials to consider when developing a manure management plan.

Covered compost bin

Covered compost bins are a step up from tarps, but the most important step it to cover your compost during the rainy season!

Manure Management Plan Essentials

  • Provide a covered storage area to safely stockpile manure/compost during the wet season.
  • Conduct periodic soil/manure testing.
  • Plan for access to equipment to spread manure/compost.
  • Develop a schedule using guidelines for recommended timing, method, and application rates.
  • Consider management practices such as leaving residue, fertilizing, mowing, or harrowing to improve your crop or forage produced.
  • Assess risk factors: runoff, erosion, flooding conditions.
  • Develop a schedule for beneficial grazing times and rotations.

For technical assistance, contact Clackamas Soil and Water Conservation District at 503-210-6000, or email our Conservation Planning Program Manager at [email protected].

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Clackamas SWCD