Every year, before the tree planting season kicks off, I work as a horticulturist at a garden center in Montreal.
At this point of the year (late April to May), the plants have barely come in yet, so we sell a lot of soil, compost, and manure for people prepping their gardens and planters.
Manure is one of the top-selling products for garden preppers, but one question comes up pretty often. One that deserves a full answer, because yes there is a difference.
What’s the Difference Between Cow Manure vs. Sheep Manure?
The difference between cow manure and sheep manure is their mineral composition.
So what’s the deal?
They’re both there, in the same section, but reading the back of the bag doesn’t really explain the differences.
But that’s not true, there are differences that matter when prepping your garden.
Nutritional Minerals for Plants
In general, compost, manure, or even enriched soil bags have 3 numbers indicated on them.
Usually in this fashion: 0.5-0.5-1
These numbers represent three essential mineral elements: Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium (N-P-K).
The three key elements that help your plants in their own way.
- Nitrogen: Important for the growth and development of new leaves and stems. Nitrogen is also essential for the production of chlorophyll, which helps plants to photosynthesize and produce food for themselves.
- Phosphorus: It helps plants produce strong roots, flowers, and fruits. Phosphorus also helps plants to resist disease and pests.
- Potassium: It helps plants to produce chlorophyll, convert nitrogen into proteins, and produce fruits and flowers. Potassium also helps to regulate water uptake and improve drought tolerance.
It’s worth it to give some thought to these three elements. Your mastery of them can improve the results you’ll get as a gardener.
With time, you can look at your plants and detect what they need.
Some manure or compost has more of one element than another. At this point, you’ll know which one to choose to help your garden.
While cow and sheep manure have a similar distribution of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, they’re not the same.
Doing research, I found that the N-P-K values differ with each supplier, but the trend shows this:
- Cow Manure: Lower in N-P-K minerals, ideal to spread without the worry of over-fertilizing. (ie. 0.25-0.15-0.25)
- Sheep Manure: Higher in N-P-K than cow manure, which means the mineral composition is more concentrated (ie. 0.70-0.30-.0.90). Ideal to enrich poor soils.
Cow manure vs. sheep manure, there is a difference! Now let’s look at the best uses for each:
What is Sheep Manure Best For?
Sheep manure is best when you start a garden in nutrient-poor soil and need to enrich it.
It’s best used on gardens and crops, as long as it’s composted first (Store-bought manure is already composted).
Sheep manure is high in nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium which are essential nutrients for plants. But it also contains other nutrients that can benefit plants, such as calcium, and magnesium.
Calcium: Essential for plant growth and helps to strengthen the plant’s cell walls, which gives the plant support and structure. Calcium-deficient plants show distorted growth.
Magnesium: It’s a component of chlorophyll, which is necessary for photosynthesis. It also helps transport other minerals within the plant. Magnesium deficiency in plants discolors their leaves, makes them brittle, and eventually falls off prematurely.
Is Sheep Manure a Good Fertilizer?
Yes, sheep manure is a great, slow-release, natural fertilizer.
It’s a good fertilizer because it is high in nitrogen and other nutrients that plants need to grow.
It also helps to improve the structure of the soil, making it easier for roots to penetrate and absorb water and nutrients.
Can You Put Sheep Manure Straight on the Garden?
Yes, sheep manure can be applied directly to the garden as a fertilizer.
However, it is important to compost the manure before using it in the garden, as it can contain harmful bacteria that can cause illness in humans (Store-bought manure is already composted).
Apply manure to the garden and work it into the soil. 15-20 lbs per 100 square feet is a good guide but by no means a set figure.
Only apply manure during early Spring or Fall.
What is Cow Manure Best For?
Cow manure is best when you have an established garden and just want to lightly fertilize it.
It’s an excellent source of nutrients for the garden. It’s high in nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, which are essential for plant growth.
Cow manure also contains a variety of other nutrients that can benefit plants, including calcium, magnesium, and sulfur.
Sulfur: An important component of some enzymes, it helps with the uptake of other minerals, and is involved in the production of chlorophyll.
Is Cow Manure a Good Fertilizer?
Yes, it’s a great slow-release, natural fertilizer.
Dairy cow manure is often favored over other types of fertilizer, as it is low in nutrients and can be applied in endless quantities with no detrimental side effects.
Additionally, cow manure sold in stores is mixed with humus like sphagnum moss. This helps aerate the soil and maintain humidity.
Can You Put Cow Manure Directly on the Garden?
Yes, just like sheep manure, you can apply cow manure directly to the garden.
The best time to do this is in Fall or early Spring when the plants are not actively growing.
40 lbs per 100 square feet is a good proportion to have for cow manure.
Cow Manure Vs. Sheep Manure Gardening Tips
Some veggies and fruits will do much better with the addition of manure, but which manure you use will depend.
Best Veggies/Fruits for Cow Manure vs Sheep Manure:
- Cow Manure: Potatoes, Carrots, Zucchini & Squash, Turnip, Onions, Strawberries.
- Sheep Manure: Tomatoes, Cabbage, Lettuce, Spinach, Celery, Eggplant, Peas, Squash, Pumpkins, Melons.
Root vegetables will do better with cow manure since it’s lower in nitrogen. Excess nitrogen in root vegetables will promote leaf growth which is not what you want, it might also encourage hairy and split roots.
Leafy greens tend to love sheep manure since it’s higher in nitrogen than cow manure. A high level of nitrogen encourages strong leafy, and green growth.
Berry bushes need a careful balance, too much nitrogen might hinder fruit production and produce excess leaf growth. Manure with a lower concentration of minerals is preferred. Did you know berry bushes are great forest crops?
That’s it! Hopefully, that helped clear the question of Cow Manure vs. Sheep Manure.
All in all, is sheep manure better than cow manure?
- Sheep manure is higher in essential minerals such as Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium, while cow manure has a lower concentration.
- Cow manure can be used freely without much risk of over-fertilizing while sheep manure is still relatively risk-free yet holds a higher yield of essential minerals.
They are both great slow-release fertilizers that have different uses based on your needs.
Trying to deal with pests? Take a look at our Eco-Friendly Pest Control Guide.