Fresh Manure vs. Composted Manure: What’s the Difference?

organic fertilizer granules on soil

Gardening and farming, often seen as tranquil pastimes, hide a fascinating world of choices beneath the soil. Imagine this: You’re standing in your lush garden or sprawling fields, poised to nourish your precious plants. You’ve heard that manure can be a game-changer, but there’s a twist.

There are two contenders in the arena, and they’re not quite the same. Fresh manure and composted manure – two sides of the same coin, yet worlds apart.

In this horticultural showdown, we’ll unravel the mystery behind these contrasting choices. Fresh manure, rich with raw potential, versus composted manure, the seasoned veteran of the soil. Each comes with its own set of perks and pitfalls, and the winner depends on your green thumb and the needs of your garden.

So, if you’re ready to dive into the world of soil enrichment and cultivate a deeper understanding of what’s beneath your plants’ roots, join us as we explore the age-old dilemma: Fresh Manure vs. Composted Manure – What’s the Difference, and which one should you choose? Let’s embark on this journey of discovery into the world of manure!

Introduction to Manure as a Soil Amendment

When it comes to nurturing your garden or farm, understanding the nuances of soil amendments is vital. Among the various options available, manure stands out as a natural and effective choice. 

In this article, we’ll delve into the world of manure, specifically comparing fresh manure to composted manure. By the end, you’ll have a comprehensive understanding of these two soil enhancers and be better equipped to make informed decisions for your agricultural endeavors.

The Importance of Using Manure in Agriculture

Manure, often thought of as waste, is a valuable resource in agriculture. It consists of animal dung and urine, sometimes mixed with bedding materials like straw or hay. The significance of using manure as a soil amendment lies in its rich nutrient content. It’s a nutrient powerhouse that can breathe life into tired soils.

Manure isn’t just about providing nutrients; it also plays a pivotal role in enhancing soil fertility. When incorporated into the soil, it improves soil structure, moisture retention, and aeration. Additionally, manure fosters the growth of beneficial microorganisms, creating a thriving environment for plants.

Brief Overview of the Types of Manure Commonly Used

Before diving into the specifics of fresh and composted manure, let’s briefly explore the different types of manure commonly used in agriculture. While there are numerous animals whose manure can be utilized, the most common sources include:

Now that we’ve laid the groundwork, let’s move on to understanding fresh manure.

Fresh Manure: The Basics

Fresh manure, as the name suggests, is exactly what it sounds like—manure that has recently been collected from animals like cows, horses, chickens, or pigs. It’s unprocessed and hasn’t undergone any decomposition or composting. Here are some key characteristics of fresh manure:

OdorStrong, often offensive smell
Nutrient ContentHigh in nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium
Pathogen PresenceMay contain harmful bacteria and pathogens
TemperatureTypically at ambient temperature
Application TimingShould be applied well before planting or during fall/winter

Benefits of Using Fresh Manure in Farming and Gardening

The use of fresh manure offers several advantages:

  • Quick Nutrient Release: Fresh manure provides an immediate infusion of nutrients to plants, making it ideal for addressing nutrient deficiencies.
  • Cost-Effective: It’s often readily available on farms, reducing the need for costly commercial fertilizers.
  • Enhanced Microbial Activity: Fresh manure introduces beneficial microorganisms to the soil, promoting its overall health.
  • Improved Soil Structure: The organic matter in fresh manure helps improve soil structure and water retention.

Potential Drawbacks and Risks Associated with Fresh Manure

While fresh manure has its merits, it’s not without its drawbacks and risks.

  • Odor: Fresh manure can emit strong odors that may be unpleasant to some.
  • Nutrient Runoff: Heavy rainfall can lead to nutrient runoff, potentially polluting water bodies.
  • Pathogens: There’s a risk of harmful pathogens, like E. coli, being present in fresh manure.
  • Unbalanced Nutrients: The nutrient content in fresh manure may not be balanced for specific plant needs.

Now that we’ve explored fresh manure, let’s turn our attention to composted manure.

Composted Manure: The Basics

checking soil wet dry

Composted manure, on the other hand, is fresh manure that has undergone a controlled decomposition process. This process involves the breakdown of organic matter by microorganisms, resulting in a stable, nutrient-rich soil amendment. Here’s what you need to know about composted manure:

OdorEarthy, less offensive smell
Nutrient ContentStill rich in NPK, but more balanced and stable
Pathogen PresenceReduced, as composting kills many pathogens
TemperatureHeats up during composting, then cools to ambient temperature
Application TimingCan be applied closer to planting season

Benefits of Using Composted Manure in Agriculture

Composted manure offers a range of advantages, making it a preferred choice for many:

  • Balanced Nutrients: Composting often results in a more balanced nutrient profile, reducing the risk of nutrient imbalances in the soil.
  • Reduced Odor: The composting process reduces the odor associated with raw manure.
  • Pathogen Reduction: High temperatures during composting kill harmful pathogens.
  • Improved Soil Structure: Composted manure enhances soil structure and moisture retention.

Guide: What Are the Negative Effects of Organic Matter in Soils for Agriculture?

The Downsides of Composted Manure

  • Cost and Time: Composting manure requires time and effort. It can take several months to a year to properly compost manure, and it may not be readily available if you need it in a hurry.
  • Lower Nitrogen: While composted manure retains its NPK content, the nitrogen content may decrease during the composting process. If your plants require high levels of nitrogen, fresh manure might be a better choice.
  • Variable Quality: The quality of composted manure can vary depending on the composting process. It’s essential to ensure that the composting was done correctly to get the best results.

Choosing the Right Manure for Your Needs

Now that you know the differences between fresh and composted manure, how do you decide which one to use? It ultimately depends on your specific needs and circumstances. Here are some guidelines to help you make the right choice:

When to Use Fresh Manure

  • Early Application: Fresh manure is best applied well in advance of planting, ideally during the fall or winter. This gives it time to break down and reduce the risk of burning your plants.
  • High Nitrogen Needs: If your soil lacks nitrogen, fresh manure can provide a quick nitrogen boost. Just be cautious not to overapply.
  • Ample Storage Space: Fresh manure needs space to age and decompose naturally. Ensure you have the storage capacity for it.

When to Use Composted Manure

  • Closer to Planting: Composted manure can be applied closer to your planting season, thanks to its reduced risk of burning plants and lower pathogen presence.
  • Balanced Nutrient Release: If you prefer a gradual, steady supply of nutrients for your plants, composted manure is a good choice.
  • Neighbor-Friendly: If you have neighbors nearby and want to avoid complaints about odors, composted manure is a more considerate option.

Fresh Manure vs. Composted Manure: Nutrient Content Comparison

Fresh manure contains a range of essential nutrients, but the exact composition varies depending on factors such as animal diet and management practices. Here’s a breakdown of the primary nutrients typically found in fresh manure:

NutrientCommon Range in Fresh Manure
Nitrogen (N)1-6%
Phosphorus (P)0.5-3%
Potassium (K)1-3%
Organic Matter30-70%

These nutrients are crucial for plant growth, and fresh manure provides them in relatively high concentrations.

Raw Manure vs Compost Manure in Gardens

Nutrient Content of Composted Manure After the Composting Process

Composting alters the nutrient composition of manure. Here’s how the nutrient content in composted manure typically compares to fresh manure:

NutrientCommon Range in Composted Manure
Nitrogen (N)1-3%
Phosphorus (P)1-2%
Potassium (K)1-2%
Organic Matter40-60%

While the overall nutrient levels may decrease slightly during composting, the nutrient ratios tend to become more balanced, reducing the risk of nutrient imbalances in the soil.

How Nutrient Levels Impact Plant Growth and Soil Health

Understanding how nutrient levels affect plant growth and soil health is crucial for effective soil management:

  • Nitrogen (N): Essential for leafy growth and overall plant vigor. Adequate nitrogen promotes lush foliage and healthy stems.
  • Phosphorus (P): Crucial for root development, flowering, and fruiting. Adequate phosphorus encourages strong root systems and robust flowering.
  • Potassium (K): Important for disease resistance and overall plant health. Potassium helps plants withstand stress and disease pressure.
  • Organic Matter: Improves soil structure, water-holding capacity, and microbial activity. Higher organic matter content generally leads to healthier soils.

Mixing Fresh Manure with Composed Manure

Mixing fresh manure with composted manure is a practice that can offer a balanced approach to soil enrichment. This blend combines the immediate nutrient availability of fresh manure with the long-term benefits of composted manure, striking a harmonious chord in the world of soil improvement.

One key advantage of this mix is its ability to provide plants with a quick nutrient boost while simultaneously enhancing soil structure and microbial activity over time. Fresh manure contributes readily available nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, which can give your plants an immediate growth spurt. 

Composted manure, on the other hand, enriches the soil with organic matter and promotes a healthy microorganism population, ensuring sustained fertility and resilience against pests and diseases.

While gardeners can use some general guidelines for nutrient content, the most accurate way to determine fertilizer equivalency is to have the material tested. 

Generally, plant nutrients in manures and composts are measured in terms of pounds per wet ton, and nutrient content varies widely depending on the type of manure and the amount and type of bedding in it, and the ingredients in compost.

While some nutrients can be lost during composting, reducing the volume of manure can also concentrate the nutrients in the compost relative to fresh manure. Research has found that composted manure retained more nitrogen, phosphorus, zinc, and copper compared to fresh manure. 

The different types of animal manure have different levels of macro-nutrients and, therefore, must be adequately composted for effective use and used at different rates to prevent damaging plants with too much of one nutrient or another.


In the ongoing debate of fresh manure vs. composted manure, there is no definitive winner. Both types have their merits and drawbacks, and the right choice depends on your specific gardening or farming goals.

Fresh manure offers a quick nutrient boost but requires careful handling due to its strong odor and potential pathogens. Composted manure, while milder in smell and safer to use, demands time and effort for proper composting. Ultimately, it’s crucial to assess your needs, resources, and timeline to determine which type of manure suits your situation best.

As a conscientious gardener or farmer, understanding these distinctions will empower you to make informed decisions that lead to healthier, more productive crops, all while keeping your surroundings and community in mind. Happy gardening, and may your harvests be bountiful!

FAQs on The Differences between Fresh Manure and Composted Manure

Can composted manure be used as a fertilizer for organic farming?

Yes, composted manure is a valuable organic fertilizer for organic farming. It enriches the soil with nutrients and improves soil structure.

What are the best practices for storing and handling manure safely?

Store manure away from water sources, cover it to prevent runoff, and turn it regularly to promote decomposition. Wear protective gear when handling, and wash hands thoroughly afterward.

Are there any risks of pathogens or contaminants in fresh manure?

Yes, fresh manure may contain harmful bacteria and weed seeds, posing health risks if not handled properly.

How does the choice between fresh and composted manure impact soil microbiology?

Composted manure can enhance soil microbiology by providing a stable source of organic matter. Fresh manure may initially disrupt soil microbial balance due to its high nutrient content.

Can I use a combination of fresh and composted manure in my garden or farm?

Yes, a combination can offer the benefits of both. Use fresh manure sparingly before planting, and incorporate composted manure closer to your planting season for a balanced approach.

Are there alternatives to manure for improving soil fertility?

Yes, alternatives include cover cropping, green manures, organic compost, and synthetic fertilizers. The choice depends on your specific goals and preferences.

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