At various times the subject of garden fertilization using sheep manure comes our way; naturally, we are great advocates of the practice! Using sheep manure has many advantages over other alternatives and a relative few disadvantages. Perhaps the most beneficial aspect of sheep manure is its compact and clean nature; it is easily the cleanest, least revolting “natural” manure available. Not only do sheep shed their nasty smelling sulfides in the production of wool, it comes in a clean utilitarian form, quick-drying compact pellets that are easy to dry, transport and utilize in the garden.
If that isn’t enough, sheep manure generally doesn’t need much aging or special preparation; it comes ready-made for application. Generally, sheep manure takes about a week or two to thoroughly dry in Arizona’s sunny and arid environment. Properly raised sheep, meaning largely pen fed with alfalfa as ours are, which have no exposure to other animals or toxic chemicals (fertilizers, tainted water or medications) do not even require drying, though we do in all cases dry our manure for two weeks because of the need to store large quantities and for shipping purposes. Manure will mold if it is not thoroughly dried, – if properly dried manure will store for many months, but great care needs to be taken to monitor inventory. Even a small introduction of “moist” manure can contaminate the driest manure, ruining an entire batch.
As far as I am aware, no other manure can claim such a distinction; – clean, the mildest of odors, dry handling with no mess or unpleasantry, ease of storage and transport.
Then we come to the meat and potatoes of the argument in favor of using sheep manure, its bang per pound. According to the USDA, sheep manure is significantly superior to horse and cattle manure in nitrogen, phosphorous, potash and potassium. Further, it is said that sheep raised by our method, pen fed with alfalfa and grain, will have higher nutrient content.
Some concluding thoughts regarding practices; because sheep manure is compact and robust, it is best used in applications where time to decompose is available, so when buying sheep manure consider what your application will be and how long you have before use. We sell our manure in three forms:
- Straight manure thoroughly sorted and dried. This is packaged for those that have the most time and or for special applications like teas or long-term applications or storage. It tends to be the driest and most compact in nutrients and is preferred by small applicators like apartments or small gardeners or as a supplement.
- Sorted manure is manure that has undergone at least one sorting (the more sorting steps the freer of debris and time involved); this manure is for the most part debris free but will be less consistent in shape and contain partially crushed pieces. Ideal for immediate use and mixing with compost or other soil amendments.
- Composted manure, this is generally regular manure than is crushed in the sleeping areas of the pen. We rake it out and sort out the rocks and sticks and sift it to remove the heavier dirt. We also generally add manure from the other two processes to it as the sorting methods available do not allow full exploitation during normal sorting. Generally, we sell three times this composted manure than the other two combined. It’s the easiest to collect and sort and we sell it cheaper. It is also the most ready to apply, largely broken down and dried it is perfect for immediate use across a range of applications.
Lastly, the only downside to sheep manure is the limitations in marketing it, – the cost involved in selling manure on-line (Amazon, eBay, etc..) and postage represent three-quarters of the price of our manure. However, in our situation it is a meaningful year-round source of income that helps make our sheep profitable and therefore justifies keeping more sheep than otherwise would be possible.