Making Prep 500 – Horn Manure

Shetland cow, just after she had calved, 2010

About Cows …

This is cow manure which has been buried in a cow’s horn from autumn to spring equinox.

All of nature, including us humans, are energy-consuming beings. When food is digested it gets broken down into its component parts. As it passes through the digestive tract it gets processed by the juices of the mouth, oesophagus, stomach and small and large intestines. All of these body-parts are able to absorb nutrient from the food as it goes through the process which turns the food back into energy again – as it was originally, in the form of sunlight – so our body-cells can use it. Neither we nor any animal actually uses the food, solid matter that we eat. We use the energy our digestive systems are able to obtain from it. This energy is measured in calories, the calorie is a measure of energy, we use and consuming energy.

Cows produce the very best manure, partly because of their size and diet as well as their temperament. They also have some forty to forty-five meters of digestive tract … that’s an awful lot! … which handles the near continuous eating that cows, kept properly, are built to do. But the most important fact about them – in terms of prep 500 – is their four stomachs.

All ruminant animals – cows, goats, sheep, deer – have very long digestive tracts and four stomachs. The word ruminant is about chewing the cud, likely you’ll have noticed how cows and sheep will stand or lie chewing quietly in the field, this is chewing the cud and a vital part of the huge digestive process these animals use. All ruminants are also cloven hoofed and naturally have horns. Modern insurance practices and rules try to insist that farmers cut the horns off their cattle or disbud them when they are new-born calves. Biodynamics does not go along with this and all biodynamic cows have their horns.

The cow's 4 stomanchs

Cows don’t naturally have three meals a day – they eat all the time, slowly walking across their pasture, biting off grass and herbs and chewing the cud. Unfortunately, because of economics, greed and the massive demand for milk, cows on industrial farms are fed about three times a day so their digestive tract doesn’t work as nature intended. The physical and emotional strain of being forced to eat when the human says so, being treated as a unit of production, despite the fact that your body was built for continuous input must be pretty bad for cows that live in deep litter for most of their lives, as many do on industrial farms. This stress has knock-on effects on the milk they produce and our health if we drink it and is likely a contributory cause of the massive dairy allergies current at the moment. Ditto butter and cheese produced from the milk too.

Naturally, on biodynamic and organic farms, the cows have food available to them all the time, in fields as much as possible and with continuously filled hay/straw racks when they are in deep litter, so their guts work as they are supposed to. As a consequence they produce superb manure for us to use in the garden and on the farm. And to make Prep 500 with.

Making Prep 500

You need …

Cows’ horns – you’ll need at least three or four. If you’re going to do it why not get several and share the results with friends and your local garden club and/or biodynamic group? You’ll need 1-2 horns per person depending on the size of their land, we use 4+ horns per year here on our ¼ acre. You can buy horns from your local biodynamic association – see contacts.

Cow pats – freshly gathered from the field a day or so before you want to fill the horns. Make sure you have permission from the farmer to be on her/his land! Get cow pats that are stiff rather than sloppy in constituency. It helps if the farmer has been feeding hay for a week or two before you collect the dung.

NB – When you dig them up, the contents of the horns should be dark brown with no smell of manure, only the pleasant scent of humus. If the contents is wet, green or smelling of manure, the horns are not ready. The most likely cause is that the cow pats were too wet. You can leave them in the pit for a few more weeks to mature.

  • A Pit – to bury the horns in – see below.
  • Rubber gloves
  • Old tea spoon with long handle
  • Piece of bent coat-hanger
  • A table to work on and maybe chairs
The Pit

The pit should be between 30-50cm deep and about half a meter wide to accommodate the horns.

  • NB – ensure your pit gets a good dollop of sunlight each day, as well as some shade and that the rain can get to it as well. It needs the four elements – earth, air, fire (sunlight) and water to process properly. This is important for both 500 and 501 preparations.

Find a place that will never be disturbed as you will be using the pit year-in, year-out for both your spray preparations. It can be decorative and doesn’t have to look like a bit of old field but make sure the elements can get to it. It should be infested with tree or shrub roots – and digging around the roots twice a year won’t do any good to the trees either. It shouldn’t be near a wall, road or ditch. If the soil is clayey, wet or impermeable it’s a good idea to dig a drain for the pit.


Stuff the horns with the cow pat making sure it fills up all the way down. This is where the teaspoon and bent coat-hanger come in, poking the stuff with an old spoon or bent wire helps move it down and takes out air bubbles that stop it filling the horn.

When all the horns are full bury them in the pit and leave them there over the winter.

You put the horns into the pit open-end down and points up to stop water draining into them and wrecking the preparation. Then you refill in around and between the horns with good topsoil.

Make sure it’s marked in some way or you may forget where it is and spend ages come next spring hunting for it. A good idea is to mark the extent of the pit with flat tiles around the edge, sunk into the grass so that you can mow over them. It also looks good and makes a feature of the place. Our pit is in the middle of a circular lawn in the little grove.

A hornfull of Prep 500

The finished product

You leave the horns in the pit until after the spring equinox, or even longer depending on the weather. Good spring sunshine is necessary for the final weeks.

Remove the horns from the pit and refill it, or cover it if you are going to make prep 501 within a few days. Stack the horns outside under shelter and leave for two or three days to dry out. Then remove the preparation by knocking the horns gently together, open end down, over a bucket. The contents should fall out but a bent coat-hanger will get bits out of the corners.

Store the preparation in glass jam jars with lids loosely screwed on so a little air can get in, or you can put several layers of muslin over the top held on with an elastic band, like homemade jam. Or you can spend lots of money on the special earthenware pots most BD associations sell. The latter are very nice but glass jars work perfectly well and come for free with the jam in our house.

You need sphagnum moss to surround the jars and a box to put them in. The jars should be completely surrounded in the sphagnum moss to retain the atmosphere they need, and the lids should be only loosely screwed on so air and moisture can get into the jars.

A wooden box is probably the most convenient, it will be solid and cool and dark as required. Some people, who make a lot of preparations, build an outdoor box against the wall of a shed or garage out of concrete blocks, with a waterproof lid. This is fine, it fulfils all the criteria of dark, solid, safe, frost-free and retaining moisture. If you’re into DIY it’s a good idea.

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Celtic shaman – Elen Sentier No-Knead Bread