Manure Matters: How This Unassuming Gold Fuels the Livestock-Garden Ecosystem

By Emilee Wessel

July 9, 2023

Kamala shows her vegetable production.
Kamala displays her kitchen garden vegetable production in Bhaglapur, Kapilvastu, Nepal. Photo by Narendra Shrestha/Heifer International.

Kamala Poudel, a dairy farmer from Kapilvastu, Nepal, knows the value of cow manure. With her keen oversight, what others commonly regard as waste undergoes a renewable transformation into bountiful fertilizer that nourishes her land daily.

Supported by Heifer Nepal, Kamala and her husband, Bed, learned practical methods to convert animal byproducts into nutrient-rich fertilizer for their kitchen garden and fields. The outcome? Lush vegetation, abundant in essential nutrients, capable of sustaining their family’s well-being.

The Green Engines of Kapilvastu

In Kapilvastu, Nepal — a region rich in agricultural heritage — kitchen gardens play a pivotal role in the local food system, where numerous families rely on these small plots of land dedicated to cultivating a diverse range of vegetables, herbs and spices for household consumption.

Kamala Poudel works in her kitchen garden.
Kamala waters her garden to ensure life with each drop. Photo by Narendra Shrestha/Heifer International.

From a food security standpoint, these backyard sanctuaries can offer a reliable supply of fresh produce that improves dietary quality and self-sustainability.

For individuals grappling with limited access to affordable and nutritious food, having healthy soil to grow crops at the household level translates into enhanced sustenance and stronger, healthier communities.

Manure’s Multifaceted Role

Animal waste, or manure, is a favored natural fertilizer due to its rich nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium concentration, which is vital for plant growth.

In Nepal, Heifer promotes the use of manure-based fertilizers for their affordability and the robust, organic produce they yield for smallholder farmers. These crops, in turn, command higher market prices, delivering significant economic gains for farmers and their families.

Manure can be applied directly to the soil or combined with other organic materials, such as garden scraps, to create nutrient-dense compost that revitalizes surrounding land and vegetation.

Kamala and her husband collect animal manure.
Kamala and her husband, Bed, left, collect animal manure for repurposed use on their farm. Photo by Narendra Shrestha/Heifer International.

Manure has other benefits too:

  • It makes the soil healthier and helps prevent erosion.
  • It’s cheaper than buying synthetic fertilizers.
  • It’s good for the environment and supports circular agriculture — a farming method where everything is reused.

Closing the Loop: From Soil to Livestock and Back Again

Beyond the garden gate, the advantages of waste management extend to animal nutrition, as farmers like Kamala can apply this knowledge to feed their herds with wholesome forage harvested from fertile ground. 

Inspired by a remarkable improvement in her livestock’s health and milk production, Kamala now includes a nutrient-rich blend of mulberry, berseem clover and field silage into her animals’ diets — all enriched by her cattle’s manure.

“Previously, each buffalo would yield only 1-2 liters of milk [per] day, but with improved practices and nutritious fodder, this has increased [more than fivefold],” she explained.

Kamala pours milk into a canister while her husband feeds their cow.
In the tranquil aftermath of a fresh milking, Kamala carefully pours milk into a steel canister while her husband, Bed, feeds their dairy cow. Photo by Narendra Shrestha/Heifer International.

Heifer Nepal’s teachings on proper feeding and animal care techniques have also empowered Kamala to become a community animal health service provider and establish a successful fodder business in her region.

Kamala’s family not only receives fundamental nourishment from the animal outputs but profits from a steady income generated through local milk and fodder sales. The animals, living a healthy life, complete the cycle when their waste returns to the soil, and the process continues. It’s a relationship that strikes a harmonious balance between nature and farming — key to sustainable food production.