Composting is one of the most effective ways to manage livestock manure and convert the waste into a valuable soil amendment.
With fertiliser prices soaring almost every month, making own compost manure can help a famer save a great deal.
Compost manure is rotten animal waste and plant. Composting helps to produce organic fertilizer high in plant nutrients, which improves soil performance as one manages organic waste in the farm.
Joy Waylen manages her five-acre organic farm in a Nairobi suburb. She says nothing is wasted in her farm as everything goes back to the farm after recycling.
She grows food for subsistence and has a few livestock in the farm.
If you give it the right material, she says, composting will do its own thing, do not put too much on the manure, just manage the air and the water.
The microorganisms produce enough metabolic heat to increase temperatures inside the compost pile and kill weed seeds and pathogenic bacteria and viruses.
Composting is scalable based on the operation and the needs a farmer has.
Requirements for composting
The basic requirements for composting include organic waste materials (manure, grass or hay, sawdust, food waste among other things), a dedicated area and careful management.
“With basic understanding of the biology of a compost pile, you are well on your way to being a master composter,” said Waylen.
As you build a compost system, consider drainage on the location of your property. Make sure the compost will not be draining into streams or water bodies. The compost should be relatively close to where the farm and the livestock are, for environmental and transportation reasons.
Ideal areas are well drained, can consist of concrete or packed soil or gravel and drain into a containment pond or into a plantation farm.
Composting manure process
The microorganisms responsible for composting are indigenous to manures. The producer facilitates these decomposing microbes by properly managing compost.
“The manure must be piled and the carbon-to-nitrogen (C/N) ratio should be 30-to-one, 50 per cent of the pore space should contain water and the pile must be aerobic (having oxygen),” said Waylen.
To efficiently compost manure, turn the pile when temperatures drop below 110 F (about 43 degrees Celsius). After three to five turns, the manure should be composted. Temperatures should be taken at various locations and depths.
Measuring temperature is the measure of success in composting. If your compost is hot over 110 degrees, then one is doing a good job. If it is cold, then either the bacteria or the fungi are not working very well in the compost pile and something needs to be adjusted, or the composting is finished.
Common challenges with composting
When the pile gets to wet
This means there is not enough oxygen for the microbes to breathe. Lack of oxygen then slows the process down and brings about odor issues when the pile is too wet. The ideal moisture content of compost should be about the same as a wrung out sponge,
“So if I take a handful of compost and I squeeze is, it should leave a thin layer of moisture in my hand, there should not be any water dripping from it and it should not be so dry that it crumbles,” she said.
Ensure the compost pile is mixed very well from time to time.
When will it be done?
With all the right steps taken, the compost will be ready in three to four months. If that is not the case, then just let it set and it will take probably six months.
The finished material is rich and dark, earthy smelling and it is difficult to distinguish the raw materials that went into the compost.
Once you are finished
You can use it on pasture, landscaping or garden and farm.
Advantages of compost over raw manure
The high temperatures reached during the compost process kill weed seeds, parasites, and pathogens that might be present in the raw materials.
Composting reduces the initial volume of raw materials by 30 to 50 per cent.
Unlike raw manure, compost is not a source of unpleasant odors or water pollution; does not attract pests or flies; and looks good around your rose bushes or tomato plants.
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