By Mary O’Malley, Honeysuckle Farm, Silver Spring, Md.
Learning how to sell manure can turn an unpleasant byproduct into more than garden gold.
When people decide to raise sheep, they’re generally motivated by a desire to grow their own wool or meat. But you know what sheep produce a lot more of? Poop!
This is not a problem when the sheep are out grazing in the pasture; their little cloven hooves compress the manure they jettison as they walk, enriching the soil. But in closer quarters, poop piles up.
What to do?
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How to Sell Manure: The Hot Scoop
Well, one low-tech solution is to bag the poop and sell it to gardeners. I’ve been doing this for the last several years and have developed a loyal following of customers. The tools of this trade are simple: Something to collect the “raw material,” a place to build up your supply, a container for the sale product and advertising.
For collection, I use a shovel, a hoe, and an old bucket. On a semi-regular basis, preferably when the weather has been dry, I go to the ewes’ favorite hangout spots in search of the stuff that garden dreams are made of: Often a shady spot in summer; in winter, sunny, wind protected areas are preferred.
I hoe those little pellets onto the shovel and drop them in the bucket. Simple! It takes just a few minutes to fill two or three buckets.
The contents of the bucket are then dropped into large barrels we purchased from MuCutcheon’s Store in Frederick, Md. Originally, these food grade barrels held grape concentrate used in making jam. The size of these barrels makes it easy for me to put in the manure, turn it occasionally and get it out again. Covers for the barrels keep the “product” dry when it’s rainy.
Wholesome & Rewarding
Sheep manure contains nutrients that promote plant growth. It’s some of the best manure for gardens. According to my very used copy of Raising Sheep The Modern Way (14th edition), sheep manure is superior to the manure of cow and horse because it has more nitrogen, phosphorus, and potash per ton of manure. In addition, it lacks the unpleasant smell of other manure and its small pellet size makes it easy to work into garden soil.
Though composting chicken manure is important, there seem to be differing views on whether to “age” or compost your sheep manure prior to putting it in your garden. According to Raising Sheep The Modern Way, the manure “does not even need aging.” However, consider these points in favor of composting from Susan Schoenian’s Sheep 101 website.
“Fresh manure may contain pathogens and should not be spread on land that produces crops that are eaten raw (e.g. carrots, strawberries, lettuce, and greens).”
E. coli, salmonella, parasites, hormones and other pathogens contained in manure can be reduced by proper composting. Composting reduces manure volume by approximately 50 percent. It reduces odors and kills weed seeds and fly larvae. Methane emissions can be reduced by a well-designed composting process.”
The number of sheep you have, their living conditions and the weather all affect the condition of the manure. During hot, dry spells in the summer, those pellets seem to dry up and decompose quickly. However, rainy periods result in the poop retaining moisture. Frozen poop is easy to scoop!
I don’t hold to any definite time between picking up “fresh deposits” and bagging them for gardeners. Generally, a minimum of several weeks have passed.
For packaging the product, I reuse the paper feed bags we get at the Frederick Farmer’s Coop. The bags originally held 50 pounds of feed. I fill the bags two-thirds to three-fourths full of manure, which is about 25 to 28 pounds of “garden enrichment.”
How to Sell Manure: Marketing
What about advertising your product? Inspired by kids up the road who sell night crawlers, I fashioned a homemade sign that I leave with the bags of “garden enrichment” in an old wheelbarrow at the end of the driveway.
For the most part, this has worked well. People take a bag and leave the money in the coffee can. There has been the occasional theft, but I’ve met many more honest people who enjoy telling me about the great difference the sheep poop has made in their garden.
A local neighborhood Yahoo internet group had been another way to expand my client base. This is the sort of neighborhood list where people mention yard sales, ask for recommendations on doctors and dentists and just generally post neighbor-friendly items.
Spring and fall are the seasons that gardeners seem most interested in improving their garden soil with sheep manure.
I also post close to the holidays. After all, isn’t sheep poop “what the gardener really wants?” Here is a post from the fall of 2015:
Recent rains revive your interest in gardening? Fall is the perfect time to fertilize your garden. Sheep poop is “the best!!”
Our sheep are constantly striving to produce only the finest in garden enrichment. The poop is scooped into barrels and eventually put in old feed bags for customers. A bag can hold approximately 25 pounds of poop, depending on moisture content; cost $5.
How to Sell Manure For the Future
Admittedly no college tuitions have been paid with the money collected from sheep poop. However, there are excellent reasons to continue with the system:
· It’s another way sheep contribute to their own upkeep: For every two bags sold, approximately one bag of feed can be purchased.
· It’s a low-tech solution to pollution!
· Enriching soil is an ideal use for manure.
· I enjoy meeting local gardeners and hearing their stories about their gardens: Their awesome asparagus patch; their terrific tomatoes; their perfect pumpkins!
· It has health benefits for sheep and shepherd: Scooping poop on a regular basis, you quickly spot early signs of scours, tapeworm, and other problems.
· This shepherdess finds it’s good for her waistline. Really! (Try it; you’ll see what I mean.)
· And truthfully, it makes me laugh. Think about my response when sophisticated Washingtonians ask me what I do with my free time!
Undoubtedly, shepherds with a different farming setup could expand this enterprise. I’ve considered that if I had more sheep (and as a result, more poop), perhaps I could coordinate with a landscaping company or local nursery regarding how to sell manure on a grander scale. But I like to be realistic in my goals. So the Finnsheep flock of Honeysuckle Farm and their crossbred sisters will continue the “side business” of producing garden enrichment for the local community.
Do you have any additional advice on how to sell manure? Let us know!
Mary O’Malley raises purebred registered Finnsheep, with the help of her husband and family in Silver Spring, MD. She is Vice-President of the Finnsheep Breeders Association. E-mail: [email protected]
Originally published in sheep! May/June 2016 and regularly vetted for accuracy.