You can add other materials to your manure compost pile. Almost all natural, organic material will compost, but not everything belongs in the compost pile. Some wastes attract pests, others contain pathogens that can survive the compost process, even if the pile gets hot.
Materials That Should Not Be Added
Materials that should not be added to a livestock manure compost pile include:
As shown above, fatty food wastes, such as meat or bones, should be avoided. They attract rodents, raccoons, dogs, cats, flies, and other pests; and they can cause odors. Cat and dog manures can contain harmful pathogens that are not always killed by the heat of the compost pile. Manures also attract cats and dogs to the pile.
Plants harboring diseases, or suffering severe insect infestations, should not be added to the compost pile. Certain pernicious weeds, including morning glories, buttercups, and grasses (such as quack grass) with rhizomatous root systems, may not be killed if the pile does not heat up. Piles containing these types of weeds must be turned to encourage the high pile temperatures that will kill them.
Another consideration in choosing materials to go into the compost pile is the time they need to break down. Woody materials, such as wood chips, branches, and twigs can take up to two years to break down unless they are finely chipped or shredded. Their high C:N ratios indicate that they require a lot of nitrogen to decompose, so they may slow the decomposition of other materials. Other materials that break down slowly include: corn cobs, husks, and stalks; sawdust; straw; apple pomace; and some nut shells. These materials should be cut into small pieces to increase their surface areas and mixed with high-nitrogen materials, such as manure or fresh grass clippings.
Materials That Should Be Added
Materials that should be added to a livestock manure compost pile include:
High Nitrogen Materials
Fruit peels and rinds
High Carbon Materials
Materials that break down slowly should be mixed with easily decomposed materials to allow the pile to get hot. If a high nitrogen source is not available, high-carbon wastes should be used as mulches. While materials such as wood chips and straw break down slowly, they also are bulking agents that improve the pile structure, allowing air circulation. If composting dense, high-nitrogen materials, such as manure, the addition of a bulking agent may be required to facilitate the process.
The art of composting is discovering the mix of materials that will provide the best environment for the compost process. Mixing materials of different sizes and textures helps to provide a structurally stable and well drained compost pile. Diverse material also helps maintain the right C:N ratio and an efficient process. For help determining a compost mix try our Compost Mix Calculator.