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How to Compost With Hay & Manure

By Regan Hennessy ; Updated September 21, 2017

If you raise farm animals or livestock such as cattle, sheep, horses and goats, or live near a livestock farm, you should have the materials you need to compost manure. Although the ammonia present in raw animal manure will typically burn your plants, adding hay allows you to convert your animals’ waste into a rich soil conditioner. Understanding the requirements of a successful compost pile is a key to composting with hay and manure.

Select a composting location for your hay and manure compost. The University of Illinois Cooperative Extension Office suggests that you find a level location with partial sun that has good drainage. Make sure the compost pile is located close to your garden so you can transport the finished compost easily. Remove sod from the ground with a spade to allow your compost pile ingredients to make direct contact with dirt to promote the decomposition process.

Collect your compost materials. In order to produce compost, your compost pile needs carbon materials, nitrogen materials, air (oxygen) and water. Animal manure, grass clippings, spoiled fruit and vegetable peels are all excellent sources of nitrogen, according to the Klickitat County (Washington) Department of Solid Waste. Good sources of carbon include straw and hay, leaves, paper and wood chips.

Although animal manure and hay are your primary sources of nitrogen and carbon for your composting pile, supplement them with smaller amounts of other materials to provide a diverse pile that will decompose more quickly. Overall, according to PrimalSeeds.org, your pile should be approximately 50 percent carbon and 50 percent nitrogen.

Construct your compost pile. Spread a 6- to 8-inch layer of hay and other carbon materials with a manure fork. Top this layer with 1 to 2 inches of animal manure and other nitrogen materials, followed by about 2 inches of plain topsoil. Repeat this layering process until your pile is a 3-foot cube. Spray the pile with a garden hose to moisten it.

Manage your compost pile. Add new hay and manure to the pile as these materials become available, mixing them thoroughly into the center of the pile. Use your manure fork to turn the pile regularly (approximately once a week), which promotes oxygen flow and helps keep the temperature of your manure compost high enough for the composting microorganisms to work effectively. Keep the compost pile moist (but not soaking wet) by spraying it regularly with your garden hose.

Check the temperature of your compost by inserting a metal pole into the center of the pile. According to the University of Illinois Cooperative Extension Office, if this pole feels warm or hot to the touch after you pull it out of the pile, then your compost is experiencing adequate microbial activity. Your compost should be finished and ready for use in 3 to 6 months.


Things You Will Need

  • Manure and other nitrogen-rich materials
  • Hay and other carbon-rich materials
  • Spade or shovel
  • Manure fork
  • Garden hose
  • Metal pole


  • Don't use pet manure, since that can introduce undesirable pathogens or parasites to your compost.

About the Author


Regan Hennessy has been writing professionally for 11 years. A copywriter and certified teacher, Hennessy specializes in the areas of parenting, health, education, agriculture and personal finance. She has produced content for various websites and graduated from Lycoming College with a Bachelor of Arts in English.