In Washington state recently, alert county conservation officers noticed two things. They noticed that some ranchers and farmers had more animal manures than they could handle, and they also noticed that the inquiries from gardeners about where to get manure for compost were increasing. Thus was born the Manure Exchange Program. This program is a free service that maintains a list of livestock owners with excess composted manure, and puts gardeners who are looking for manures in touch with them.
A waste of time and dollars you say? The program strives to improve water quality around farms by encouraging farmers to remove and compost the animal wastes rather than let them build up in corrals and run into local water sources. This also improves the health of the animals furnishing the wastes, as every rancher knows that a clean barnyard is a healthy barnyard. Diseases such as hoof rot and problems with flies and parasites are also reduced when manure is regularly picked up. The benefit for the local gardeners is that there is a regular supply of composted manure available for them to pick up for free, decreasing the need for expensive chemical fertilizers.
Livestock owners learn from the county conservation officers the proper and easiest ways to turn their excess cow or horse poop into compost. Generally, it involves stacking the waste in huge piles and letting it sit for several months. The best compost is created when there is the correct ratio of waste and bedding material such as straw. When this occurs, an aerobic reaction takes place which heats the pile hot enough that most weed seeds and many micro-organisms are killed. This makes the compost especially attractive to gardeners. Regular turning of the pile, usually with a tractor equipped with a front end loader, speeds the process.
Gardeners are educated about the safe and proper use of composted manure. They learn that vegetables grown in fresh or composted manure MUST be carefully washed. They learn not to use dog, cat or pig manures, as there are pathogens that can be found in these manures which can be transmitted to humans. They also learn which manures are desirable for their garden. Cow manure is generally "hotter", containing more nitrogen, and can burn or even kill plants if applied in too much quantity. Horse manure is a "cooler" manure and can usually be applied directly to a garden without damaging plants. The gardeners learn how to make compost tea and manure tea, two very potent organic fertilizers. Education is also offered on how to start a compost pile and turn kitchen and yard waste into nutrient rich soil for the garden.
Pretty cool, huh?
More information on this program can be found at: http://gardening.wsu.edu/stewardship/compost/manure/manure0.htm