Not All Manure is the Same – Beef and Dairy

The nutrient characteristics of a manure are dependent the species of animal, the diet of the animals, and how the manure is handled. While poultry manure is often viewed as a premium manure because of its high nutrient content per ton, and high organic nitrogen content, manure from the bovine species is not far behind.

The form of nitrogen in manure from beef and dairy manure vary bit and are dependent on manure handling. Solid beef and dairy manure are very high in organic nitrogen. Organic nitrogen is not readily plant available and requires microbial mineralization for the nitrogen to be plant available or subject to loss. Ammonium nitrogen volatilization loss from stock piling solid beef and dairy manure is small.  Low moisture solid beef manure without beading can have higher nitrogen content than swine or poultry manure and can release slowly like the poultry litter.

Source: University of Minnesota

Liquid beef and dairy manure can be quite variable in nitrogen content and form. Using “book values” for liquid dairy and beef are not advisable as they can be even more variable than liquid hog manure. The relative amounts of ammonium and organic nitrogen are dependent on manure handling and is not predicable.

Dairy and beef manure are unique in that they have relatively low phosphorus content and relatively higher potassium content ac compared to nitrogen than other manures.  Potassium levels are overall higher than other manures or organic materials.

Source: Iowa State Extension, 2016

Optimum utilization of manures is dependent on the characteristics of the manure. Beef and dairy manure tend to have the slowest nutrient release assuming that the nitrogen is mostly in an organic form. Only 30-50% of the nitrogen is available in the first year and can take up to 3 years to fully release. Poultry releases 50-60% in year one and swine released 90-100% within weeks. Even the phosphorus release from beef and dairy manure is up to 10% slower than other manures. With the variability of liquid beef and dairy manures it is advisable to test manures for total, organic, and ammonium nitrogen to better understand how it will perform in your situation.

There is one unique management issue with dairy manure from sand bedded dairies. In many parts of the upper corn belt and northeast, the sand used for bedding is not silica based but rather fine limestone. Depending on of efficiency the sand recovery is from the manure stream will impact how much limestone is being applied in the manure. Repeated applications of dairy manure with bedding sand can lead to elevated soil pH levels over time. Ask your ALGL regional agronomist on how you can add CCE (calcium carbonate equivalent) testing to your manure tests to determine the impact manure applications on soil pH.


Lorimor, J., W. Powers, A. Sutton. (2004). “Manure Management System Series. MWPS-18, Section 1 - Manure Characteristics.” 2nd ed. Midwest Plan Service, Iowa State University.

Properties of Manure, Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, November 2015.

University of Minnesota, Manure Characteristics,

Using manure Nutrient for Crop Production, Iowa State Extension, 2016


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