Properly used manure is great for the garden. It’s rich in nutrients, including nitrogen and phosphorus, and adds organic matter to the soil. How it’s used depends on the type of manure, and type and age of plants. It can spread directly over established beds, mix into compost, be dug into soil before planting, or made into liquid manure tea.
A fine brew
To make manure tea, add a shovel full of dung to a big bucket of water and allow to steep for a week. Strain off and keep the resultant dark brown liquid. Before use, dilute to the colour of weak tea.
The good poo
The droppings from herbivores (plant-eaters) are good for the garden. All herbivore manure should be aged slightly before use, as fresh manure can burn the roots of plants. Although less hazardous than carnivore droppings, bacteria can still be present, so wear gloves when handling it. Don’t let the kids make mud pies from it – dig the manure well into the soil rather than leaving it on the surface
These are sloppy green piles, drying to large round pats. This is one of the gentlest manures. It has slightly lower levels of nutrients than others, so can be used in larger quantities and is less likely to burn plants if used fresh. Apply directly to the soil surface, add to compost, or dig into garden beds. It makes excellent manure tea.
Cow manure can be used in larger quantities and is less likely to burn plants if used fresh
Sheep and goat
Small, dark, round to cylindrical pellets. This is a dry, rich manure that should be allowed to rot well before using. Ideally, add it to the compost bin or dig it into soil well in advance of planting.
Add sheep and goat droppings to the compost bin or dig it into soil well in advance of planting
Large, coarse-textured, roundish lumps, often deposited in large piles in a paddock. It burns plants if used too fresh, and contains undigested seeds that may introduce unwanted weeds. Compost before use (ensuring the heap gets hot) or dig into the soil during autumn.
Compost horse manure before use (ensuring the heap gets hot) or dig into the soil during autumn
Rabbit and hare
Small, light-coloured round pellets. Rabbit droppings are rich manure and should be aged for several months or composted before use.
Rabbit droppings are rich manure and should be aged for several months or composted before use
Sticky, pale brown deposits. Chicken manure is rich in nitrogen, salts and phosphorus. It’s excellent food for the garden, but must be aged for six months or incorporated into compost before use to prevent it burning plants.
Chicken manure is rich in nitrogen, salts and phosphorus
The bad poo
The droppings from carnivores (meat-eaters) are high in nutrients, especially phosphorus, and can technically be used as food for the garden. This isn’t generally advisable, as diseases, parasites and high levels of bacteria can be carried within the droppings. If used fresh, the garden certainly won’t smell like roses. Carnivore droppings should only be used if decomposed in a very active compost heap, with a core temperature of at least 60°C, or aged for at least two years. A safer option is to bury deeply, away from food-producing plants.
Properly composted human manure makes excellent fertiliser. The Chinese are famous for market gardens fertilised by ‘night soil’, but the risks of spreading disease are high if the composting process is not carried out properly.
This can carry disease, worms and other parasites. Use it with care, or wrap in plastic and dispose of in the garbage.
Cats bury waste, so you’re only likely to encounter it while digging in the garden. It can carry nasty diseases and should be used with care, or wrapped in plastic and disposed of in the garbage.
Those with bush properties often encounter droppings from a variety of animals. If you have sufficient quantities, droppings from native herbivores, such as kangaroos, wombats and possums, can be described as ‘the good poo’, although they’re generally slow to decompose.
Distinctive large, pale brown squares. Wombats use droppings to mark their territory and typically deposit in prominent places on rocks and logs.
Wombats use droppings to mark their territory and typically deposit in prominent places on rocks and logs
Rats and mice
Small, dark, narrow, cylindrical pellets with a strong, musty smell. Found around houses and gardens in rural and urban areas, and usually indicates a rodent infestation problem.
Mouse droppings are small, dark, narrow, cylindrical pellets with a strong musty smell
Kangaroo and wallaby
Medium-sized, mid-brown, oval to squarish pellets. These droppings are common across grassy areas where the animals feed, and in shady rest areas under trees and rock overhangs.
Kangaroo droppings are common across grassy areas where the animals feed
Wallaby droppings can be found in shady rest areas under tress and in rock overhangs
Brown, cylindrical pellets that vary with the size of the animal. Found wherever possums have been feeding or sleeping, including roofs, verandahs and underneath fruit trees.
Possum droppings can be found wherever possums have been feeding or sleeping
Dark brown, cylindrical pellets with a distinctive eucalyptus smell. Found underneath trees where koalas have been feeding.
Koala droppings are dark brown, cylindrical pellets with a distinctive eucalyptus smell
Usually a black deposit surrounded or topped with a white liquid. Guano (bird poo), mined from around seabird colonies, was one of the earliest known fertilisers.Carnivorous birds, especially owls and raptors, leave deposits that may be mistaken for droppings. These pellets are the regurgitated, indigestible components of creatures they have eaten, and can be recognised as neat bundles of fur, bones and feathers.
Guano (bird poo), mined from around seabird colonies, was one of the earliest known fertilisers