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Sheep vs Cow vs Chicken Manure: Which to Choose?

While all three are organic fertilisers, sheep, cow, and chicken manure are vastly different in the nutrients they provide to our gardens.

Adding manures to your garden is good for your soil and for the plants that you’re growing.

The type of manure that you choose depends on what you’re growing and the condition and pH level of your soil.

Key similarities

soil pH. | Plant care
Manure helps to increase the microbial activity in your soil.

Although sheep, cow, and chicken manure are vastly different in the nutrients they provide to our gardens, there are a few similarities.

All three manures are organic fertilisers and help to condition the soil as they break down. It’s important to note that any manure that you add to your garden should be well-composted.

In addition, all three manures will help to retain moisture in sandy soils and will also help to break up clay soils to make these more friable and better for your plants.

As well as this, all three manures will help to increase the microbial activity in your soil. This ensures that the plants take up the available nutrients more easily.

Key differences

grevillea 2 | Plant care
Native plants like Grevillea can be sensitive to phosphorus.

Although all three of these manures contain nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, they do so in varying amounts.

Knowing this will allow you to determine which type of manure you should choose for different areas in your garden. 

Nutrient content

Here’s a relative breakdown of the nutrient content in these manures.

  • Sheep manure has an NPK of around 1.8:0.4:0.5
  • Cow manure has an NPK of around 1.0:0.4:0.5
  • Chicken manure has an NPK of around 2.3:1.7:1.0

Chicken manure NPK

As you can see, chicken manure has the highest nitrogen content compared to the other two. It also contains much higher levels of phosphorus and potassium.

This means that it’s a rich source of nutrients for your plants but needs to be composted really well so that it doesn’t burn the roots of your plants.

Sheep manure NPK

Sheep manure also has a relatively high level of nitrogen. However, it has much lower levels of phosphorus and potassium.

This means that it’s safer to use around plants that are sensitive to phosphorus. It’s also a fairly dry manure and is easy to incorporate into the garden.

Cow manure NPK

Lastly, cow manure has the lowest level of nitrogen but it is relatively well-balanced.

However, due to the way that cows digest their food, it also contains a good amount of microbes and enzymes. This is particularly useful for soil conditioning.

A brief guide to N:P:K ratios

N – The first number represents the amount of nitrogen in the product. Nitrogen promotes vigorous leaf growth and deep greening of plants, but too much can cause burning of foliage.

P – The second number represents the amount of phosphorus in the product. Phosphorus promotes root growth and flowering.

K – The third number represents the amount of potassium in the product. Potassium helps plants withstand stress and promotes overall hardiness and disease resistance. It’s also important for fruiting and flowering.

pH level

While both sheep and cow manures have a higher pH level (above 8), chicken manure is regarded as a little more neutral with a pH level of around 6.5 to 8.

This means that both sheep and cow manures are likely to raise the soil pH over a lengthy period of time while chicken manure is the least likely to raise the pH of your soil.

Which to choose for your garden?

vegetable garden 1 | Plant care
Chicken manure is excellent for vegetable gardens.

Which manure you choose for your garden depends entirely on what you’re growing. 

Chicken manure is excellent for vegetable gardens. Especially if you’re growing a lot of greens as the high nitrogen content will ensure lots of healthy and lush growth.

Of all the manures, it also contains higher levels of phosphorus and potassium so it will encourage plenty of healthy root growth and fruiting. 

Chicken manure is also the only one of the three that you should consider if your soil has a high pH level above 8. Both cow and sheep manure will not help with lowering the pH level of your soil.

Sheep manure is also good for the vegetable garden because it contains good levels of nitrogen.

In fact, sheep manure is good to use anywhere in the garden where you want to encourage strong and healthy growth.

However, it doesn’t contain quite enough potassium to be very helpful for fruiting plants.

Cow manure can also be used anywhere in the garden and it is the best one to use around native plants thanks to its relatively low phosphorus content.

FAQ

Is sheep manure good for vegetable gardens?

Sheep manure is excellent for your vegetable garden. It contains ample amounts of nitrogen to feed your plants and has smaller amounts of phosphorus and potassium to ensure healthy root growth and fruiting. 

Is sheep manure good for citrus trees?

While sheep manure will provide plenty of nutrients for your citrus trees, it doesn’t have quite enough potassium to encourage a lot of fruit production. What I’ve found the most useful for encouraging more fruit production is the addition of potash to the soil around the tree. However, this may take at least 12 months or more before you see any significant improvement in yield.

When should I add manure to my garden?

The best time to add manure to the garden is while you’re preparing your garden beds for planting. Ensure that you use well-composted manure and dig it well into the soil. You can also add manure in autumn to garden beds that will be fallow over winter. This will give the manure time to compost into the soil.

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Annette Hird

Annette Hird is a gardening expert with many years of experience in a range of gardening related positions. She has an Associate Diploma of Applied Science in Horticulture and has worked in a variety of production nurseries, primarily as a propagator. She has also been responsible for a large homestead garden that included lawn care, fruit trees, roses and many other ornamental plants. More recently, Annette has concentrated on improving the garden landscape of the homes that she has lived in and focused a lot of energy on growing edible plants as well. She now enjoys sharing her experience and knowledge with others by writing articles about all facets of gardening and growing plants.

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