Script 32.4


Nitrogen is an important plant food that is found in both manure and urine. But if the manure lies around in small piles on the ground in the sun, wind, and rain, much of the nitrogen in it will be washed away or lost into the air. Other plant foods will also be wasted. It’s better to collect the manure while it’s still fresh and rich in plant food, and keep it in a compact pile until you want to use it.

Build this pile on a hard surface if you can, so that nutrients won’t seep into the ground below. A cement floor is best, or ground that’s fairly hard and waterproof, such as clay. Surround the pile with a small ridge to catch any liquids that could flow out of the pile.

Cover the manure pile to protect it from being dried out by the sun, and to keep off heavy rains that would wash plant food out of it. Some people cover their manure pile with a plastic sheet, or with banana leaves, or banana leaves and soil. Another idea is to build a shelter to protect the pile. A simple thatched roof supported by poles keeps off the rain and sun. If you can’t build a shelter, locate the pile under a large tree.

Whenever you add more manure to the pile, pack it all firmly together. If there’s too much air in it, more nitrogen will be lost. Keep the pile moist, not too wet and not too dry. If it’s so wet that liquid trickles away from it, add more dry material, such as chopped straw, dry leaves or dry soil. If, on the other hand, the pile starts to dry out, sprinkle it with a little water to moisten it.

Collecting animal urine

Animal urine is also rich in nutrients. It’s easy to collect animal urine if the animals spend much of their time in a small area, such as a small compound or shed. Just spread dry grass, chopped straw, dry leaves, or even clean dry soil on the ground in this area to soak up the urine. Chopped straw soaks up more urine than straw that isn’t chopped. Chopped straw makes good bedding for your animals if you have it. You can also use the coarse hay stems that your animals don’t eat.

Before this bedding gets too wet and dirty add it to the manure pile. Then put down more dry grass, straw, or leaves for bedding. If you do this regularly, your animals will stay cleaner and healthier.

Applying manure to the soil

It’s really best to take your manure to the field just when you’re ready to cultivate. Then, as soon as you’ve spread the manure, you can mix it into the soil. That way all the nutrients will go directly into the soil and help your crops grow well.


  • Thanks to Dr. Eric Beauchamp, Land Resource Science, University of Guelph, Canada, for reviewing this script.

Information Sources

  • Manure handling, one page brochure, Rodale Press Inc. in cooperation with the Tanzanian Agricultural Research Organization. In English and Swahili from Rodale Press International Program, c/o Rodale Research Center, Box 323, Kutztown, PA 19530, U.S.A.
  • Manures and compost, Agriculture Canada Publication No. 868, 17 pages. Information Services, Agriculture Canada, Ottawa, Canada K1A 0C7.
  • Fertile soil, Robert Parnes, 1990, 190 pages. agAccess, P.O. Box 2008, Davis, CA 95617, U.S.A.
  • “Natural fertilizers: new life for tired soils”, by Souleymane Ouattara et al., in African Farmer, December 1991. The Hunger Project, 15 East 26th Street, New York, NY 10010, U.S.A.