Can horse manure keep deer away from your garden?

deer may be repelled by manure from horses like this one
Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

by Connie Oswald Stofko

I don’t get deer in my yard, so I haven’t tested whether horse manure might keep deer away. But I know how desperate Western New York gardeners get when it comes to deer, so I figured I should pass along any tip that might help.

I got this information from a blog post by Joyce Tomanek on Mother Earth News that was published in 1999. Tomanek lives in the Southeast, which may (or may not) make a difference.

Tomanek noticed that horses in her pastures won’t eat grass in an area contaminated by horse manure. When deer joined the horses in the pasture, it seemed that the deer also wouldn’t eat where there was horse manure, but Tomanek couldn’t get close enough to really know for sure.

When asparagus came up in her garden, the deer ate it as fast as it would grow. She put up an electric fence, which helped until the deer learned to jump the fence.

Then she sprinkled horse manure on part of the asparagus bed and left the other part of the bed alone. The next morning there was plenty of asparagus still sprouting from the manure-covered area, but every shoot was eaten where there was no manure.

To find out whether this was just a coincidence, she covered the rest of the asparagus bed with horse manure and had no more problems that whole spring. Since then, she said she routinely applies horse manure to her asparagus each spring and there hasn’t been a problem.

She used to use chicken manure and cow manure in other parts of her gardens, but the deer kept coming. Eventually she decided to switch to horse manure as her universal fertilizer and she said it protected everything, including favorite deer foods such as corn seedlings, early spring peas and blueberry bushes.

You might think that the horse manure would have to be fresh from the horse to keep deer away, but Tomanek said she uses aged manure. That’s good because fresh manure can burn plants.

There are places in Western New York where you can get horse manure for free if you shovel it yourself. One place is the S&L Ranch, 4447 Broadway, Cheektowaga. Hours are 3:30 to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. You’ll see the piles of manure to your right as go down the driveway. Wear boots. You need to take a shovel and your own containers, such as old storage totes or bushel baskets.

While many things that are suggested to keep deer from eating the plants in your garden are also suggested for rabbits, I doubt that horse manure is a defense against rabbits. We got some horse manure in early autumn and kept it outside in a bin made of old pallets. I think the rabbits were sheltering on the manure pile to keep warm during the cold weather.

If you try using horse manure to keep deer away, please leave a comment below to let us know whether or not it worked for you.

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8 Comments on “Can horse manure keep deer away from your garden?

  1. A word of caution; we shoveled some composted horse manure from a field several years ago and ended up with bind weed being introduced into our garden. I think the roots extended nearly to China, and the only way to eradicate it was to submerge a growing stem in a small jar of Round up; this took quite a while as each plant needed to be treated! So beware!

  2. Unlike cow manure where what goes in gets well digested, seeds and grains can pass through an equine digestive system; so in reference to the previous comment, yes you can be introducing not only weeds, but a selection of feed grains as well.
    If using fresh horse manure theoretically for deer deterrence, I would use it sparingly and take care around plants, as it could harm the plants you’re trying to protect; aged manure is a better choice. Then again, one needs to ask how overpowering the odor of manure would be versus the fragrance of the garden itself, as the application would not be tilled into the existing soil.
    We always recommend Milorganite as a first initial treatment in order to repel deer; same theory as manure, but no risk to plants and the odor is not strong to the point of being offensive.
    That being said, deer will become accustomed to all means of repelling; you need to have a few different options, and keep rotating what you use. The key is to change their habit, and make it such that any deer feels that the risk of approaching your property is greater then simply moving on elsewhere.

  3. Anthony, don’t use fresh manure. That’s the beauty of this tip–it uses aged manure. I’m not sure why aged horse manure works, or even if it does work. But it seems low-risk, so there is little harm in trying it. Again, I’ve used horse manure and aged it, and I’ve never had trouble with introducing weeds. Thanks for your suggestion.

  4. I’m sorry to get off the topic, but can anyone tell me where to get horse manure from, I was getting it from S&L Ranch on Broadway. Dose anyone know of horse stables around this area that give manure away for free?

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