PHOTO: Daniel Johnson
November 6, 2018

No hobby farm is complete without livestock of some sort. Even if your primary focus is growing a garden or harvesting field crops, there’s something about having a couple of goats … or a couple of horses … or a few cows … or a bunch of horses … or dozens of cows … and a flock of chickens and a sounder of swine (that’s a herd of pigs) and maybe even a few alpacas.

OK, you get the point. But another point that goes along with livestock (in addition to milk, goat cheese, eggs, meat and the joy of having animals in your backyard) is, well, manure, and in the case of large animals such as horses and cows, lots of manure. It might not seem like much when you’re mucking out stalls (then again, maybe it does), but over the course of a year, you might be surprised at what a pile it can produce.

Presumably, you don’t want to let this manure settle in an ever-increasing pile somewhere on your farm, so you need the means to deal with it over time (as well as a management plan). Fortunately, some types of manure eventually decompose into valuable compost perfect for gardens and fields, a fact that should be thrilling to every hobby farmer who loves to grow things.

Of course, depending on your goals, handling all of this manure and compost requires some tools and equipment, including a manure pitchfork (you don’t want to pick it up with your hands, right?) and something like a wheelbarrow or yard cart for hauling it away from your barn, stable, coop or other animal housing. Because you can’t do with manure until it has turned to compost, your best bet is probably to let the manure fully decompose in a designated area before transferring it to your garden using shovels and a wagon or a front-end loader. This is the route that I follow, and just last week I dug up rich, black compost from a manure pile several years old, then transferred it to garden beds as part of a pre-winter project to prepare for next spring.

Another option if you have a few fields and the budget for special equipment is to purchase a manure spreader. This machine does exactly what its name suggests—you pull it behind a tractor and it spreads the substance evenly across your fields, applying a rich layer of fertilizer to your soil. Technically, it wouldn’t need to be fully decomposed if you’re spreading it on bare fields in the fall, but the stench of fresh manure spread across your field is far from pleasant, and generally speaking you should let it decompose in a pile before attempting to spread it.

Of course, you might find that your livestock produce more than you can use, in which case you have a third option—sell it. The compost is so valuable as fertilizer that you might find that a good market exists for large quantities of decomposed manure. You might even find people who bring their own equipment, clean up your piles and haul it away for their own use. Even if they’re not paying a lot (and even if you’re just giving it away to get rid of it), there’s nothing wrong with having someone else deal with your manure, right?

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