When you think of cowpats, you likely imagine some city slicker comedically stepping in one. However, cowpats – or cow manure – has a long history of important benefits to humans.
When dried, the pats become a valuable, odorless fuel for fires that have kept many a cowboy and nomad alive.
Likewise, when properly contained, the gaseous and liquid methane produced by composting cow manure can be used as an alternative to gas and petrol for green living (as illustrated in the old TV series The Survivors, a way to create fuel when gas is unattainable).
But perhaps the most basic use of cow poop is as a fertilizer.
Cow Manure Compost: Benefits And How to Use
Cow manure is beneficial to humankind, and you too can harness its power.
Here’s everything you need to know about cow manure and its use in composting.
The Scoop On Cow Poop
There’s a heated (pun intended) debate regarding cows.
On the one hand, vegans and global alarmists point out that cows produce methane, which is 20 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, citing this as a reason to stop raising cattle for food.
On the other hand, industries and global organizations such as the ACEA and even NASA are looking at cow manure as a cheap and environmentally friendly answer to fossil fuels, which would actually lower greenhouse emissions.
People living off the grid process cow manure in anaerobic digesters to provide electricity and fertilizer.
And then you have people – perhaps like yourself – who are interested in purchasing cow manure or manure fertilizers for your garden.
The simple truth is that poop can be one of the most valuable byproducts in our lives, yet we take it for granted.
Human poop needs special processing in a digester to be useful.
Still, chicken poop, horse manure (which can be used to make paper), and cow manure can be composted right in your own backyard, each having different “nutritional values” for your plants.
Best of all, you’re helping the environment as a whole while helping your garden.
Manure Nutritional Value
Cow manure, once composted, usually carries an NPK of 3-2-1 (the exact ratio can vary slightly based on the cow’s diet).
Not only is this safe for most plants, but it also means the lowest and most balanced nitrogen ratio compared to other manure types.
It also has a high level of carbon, making it an organically rich fertilizer option.
Numerous macro and micronutrients, such as calcium, iron, magnesium, and sulfur, exist in manure compost to further enrich your garden’s soil.
Best of all, the manure tends to lean towards neutral due to the cow’s digestive system, with Penn State recording a pH level of 7.0 in studies.
However, the University of Ngaoundere found that manure mixtures can range from a highly acidic 5.9 to neutral 6.9, depending on what materials you add during the composting process.
Other Cow Manure Benefits
Properly composted cow manure will improve soil structure, meaning better aeration and overall soil health.
Cow fertilizer has a very low risk of burning your plants as it is organic, unlike chemical options.
Depending on the composting method, you can harvest biogas and eliminate almost every drawback to this fertilizer option.
Drawbacks Of Cowpat Compost
Proper composting is essential, as raw cowpats are high in ammonia and can contain harmful pathogens such as E.coli.
When composting in the open air as opposed to a digester or other containment unit, large amounts of methane gas will be released into the air, creating a nasty odor and contributing to greenhouse emissions.
Improper handling of cow manure can lead to health risks, so protective gear should be worn when collecting and handling raw manure.
Composting Cow Manure
There are three major ways to compost cow manure, all f which have their own pros and cons.
This is by far the best way to compost cow manure.
To do so, you will need to invest in a digester, which traditionally resembles an airtight water heating tank but is split into two chambers on the inside.
As bacteria digest the manure, the solids fall to the bottom chamber while the gasses float to the upper chamber.
Te gasses can then be piped into your home as a natural gas alternative, while the solids become compost.
This method is popular in green households where the digester is hooked up to the home’s septic system, similarly recreating human waste.
The big drawback, however, is the initial investment cost, with on-farm digesters running anywhere from $100,000 for the smallest to approximately $1.2 million for a full-sized unit.
Depending on whether you get a bag-style, tank-style, or “beehive”-style system, costs can run anywhere from $200 to $5,000, excluding the cost of professional installation.
HomeBiogas and Home Biodigester are food options if you want to spend less than $1,000 and don’t mind a topless bouncy castle in your backyard.
This is the most popular method for composting cow manure and relies on the fact that decomposition produces heat, effectively cooking out the impurities.
Simply create a large heap of manure and organic material such as grass clippings, hay, sawdust, or specific food waste.
Wet it down with a hose and occasionally dampen it (but don’t get it too wet).
If you choose to compost out in the open, make sure you have some roof over the pile, so it doesn’t get rained on.
You’ll need to turn the compost frequently to ensure the process happens evenly throughout.
The compost will need to reach an internal temperature of 130° degrees Fahrenheit for several days before it’s ready.
This kills harmful bacteria and any weed seeds that are present.
Obviously, this is a quick and dirty method with pretty much no overhead costs, which is why it’s so popular.
However, it smells terrible the first few days and requires a lot of maintenance, not to mention the number of greenhouse gasses that will be released.
Now, this is an interesting option and perfect for those who want to make their own worm castings.
Vermicomposting is the process of using certain species of worms to create compost.
You’ll need to put the manure through its heat phase first, as well as water it a couple of times to remove any traces of deworming medications for obvious reasons.
Once aged, add it to your vermicomposting bin as you would any other worm food.
The process can take a month to several months, depending on the number and species of worms and the amount of cow manure.
Note that this process turns the manure into worm castings, which have a different composition from normal cow fertilizer and will need to be used as such.
Using Cow Manure Compost
While you can use processed cow compost in place of soil, mixing the compost into your soil is better.
Simply blend in a 2″ to 3” inch layer when tilling the soil or spread a ½” inch layer on top of the soil when feeding perennials.
Note that you can use a 1” inch layer for especially poor soil.
While cowpat compost is unlikely to burn your plants, be sure not to bring it in contact in case the plant is susceptible.
Using the fertilizer away from any water sources is important, as runoff from rain could lead to contamination.
You can use the fertilizer on your lawn, in the garden, and even with container plants, following the requirements for that plant and amending with other fertilizer supplements as needed.
It can even be used under mulch or (for some plants) in place of mulch.