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Animal Waste as Garden Fertilizer

Source: Beth Berlin, University of Minnesota Extension

Many gardeners in rural parts of Minnesota have access to animal manure or compost as a garden fertilizer.  This practice has been done for centuries, and is effective not only because of the nutrient content but also the benefit of organic matter. The University of Minnesota Extension has a detailed publication on the nutrient content in various animals’ manure and compost; here are some details from that publication.

Nutrient content in animal manure depends on the animal species, bedding used, storage, age, and processing. Fresh manure has the highest nitrogen content, but recognizes this isn’t always a positive thing. Too high levels of nitrogen can burn the plants or also cause vigorous plant growth but negatively affect fruit production; an example is huge, bushy, green tomato plants, but poor or limited tomato production. Another down side of fresh manure is it may include weed seeds as well as the possibility of E. coli, which can cause illness to humans after consuming the fresh produce. To reduce the risk of E. coli apply the fresh manure at least three months before you will harvest produce; in Minnesota that typically would require putting the fresh manure on in the previous fall.

CHART (shown above): Approximate Nutrient Composition of Various Types of Animal Manure and Compost
(all values are on a fresh weight basis)

For more details and instructions how to calculate applications visit the full publication at  It is also recommended to have a soil test completed to determine existing nutrient levels in your gardens, which can be done through the University of Minnesota. Soil testing forms are available at your local county Extension offices or at


Jason Ertl
Extension Educator, Ag Production Systems
(507) 237-4100
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