Choosing the Right Manure for your Garden

February 4, 2021

There are so many amendments to choose from these days. You can add generic compost that has been blended for the most benefit overall. You can buy specific micro-nutrients and create your own garden soil. Or you can do something in between. You can use manure.

Choosing the right manure

But what manure should you use?
Cow, steer, horse, goat, sheep, hog, rabbit, or chicken? While all manures have their positives and negatives, I am going to focus on the two most common manures you find at the garden center to use in your beds – cow and chicken manure.


Cows eat mainly grass. This diet does not contain a lot of nutrients and that same composition is passed on through their digestive tract to their poop. The NPK for cow manure is 3-2-1, almost half of what chicken manure has to offer. This means less nutrients, but it also means it is an all-purpose manure. There are no concerns about adding too much nitrogen to a plant that needs less. Cow manure is a one-fits-all kind of manure.

But where chicken manure feeds the soil, cow manure adds structure and aeration to the soil. Having all that roughage in their diet, cows add wonderful organic material, much like composted straw, lifting the soil up and leaving small pockets for air and moisture to settle in. Because cow manure is lower on the acidic scale, it can grow positive bacteria, such as mycorrhizae. Chicken manure can do this too, but only after it’s been properly composted. Cow manure can be used straight from the source. However, if you don’t compost your cow manure, it’s likely you’ll end up with unwanted weeds.

Cow manure is a great choice for almost anything. Adding it as a top dressing or mixing it in before you plant your flowers in the spring will give your garden a wonderful start to the season. It’s not necessary to put cow manure on in the fall. It doesn’t need a rest time before you plant into it.


Chicken manure is high in nutrients. Because chickens are omnivores (bugs are meat too), their varied diet produces a variety of components to their poop. It is also higher in nitrogen and phosphorus, both of which can be exceptional additions to the garden when applied properly. It has an NPK of 5-4-2.

Chicken Manure Sup'R Green 3-2-2, 25 lb

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Another wonderful property of chicken manure is its calcium content. How many times have you babied your tomatoes only to end up with blossom-end rot? While consistent watering is a big culprit, calcium is also important in stopping that nasty problem before it gets started. And speaking of veggies, almost all of them would be happy to have added nitrogen at their disposal. That includes the easily overlooked root vegetables. Just because they’re hiding underground, doesn’t mean they don’t have needs too.

There are a few things to be careful with when using chicken manure. First, it MUST be composted. If you use fresh chicken manure, you risk burning and possibly killing your plants. Don’t be tempted to sprinkle it on like a top dressing either. Just compost it, ok?

Timing for chicken manure in the garden is also important. Use it on your vegetable garden beds in spring, to prepare them for a wonderful crop. And use it again in the fall when you’re tucking the garden in for the winter. Allowing it to sit for several months composts the manure even further and allows it to disperse throughout the soil.

In the end, it comes down to what your soil needs and how much work you’re willing to do. Using cow manure gives you the advantage of working for almost anything you want to grow. And it conditions the soil. Chicken manure builds nutrients in your soil, but you must be careful how you use it. So, which one will you try this year – cow or chicken? Or maybe both.

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