The difference between manure and compost is simple: manure is plant matter that has been through the gut of an animal; compost has not. Livestock manure is not hard to come by in the country, and a quick review of the table of nutrients below will show that there are significant differences in the nutrient level (and balance) of fresh animal manure. Rotted manure—that which has been allowed to sit, out of the rain yet moist and sufficiently packed down to exclude air—is usually richer by weight (as it loses much of its weight during the rotting process) and more stable in terms of its nutrients, since micro-organisms have already had a chance to do some of their work. While the balance of nutrients in manure is relatively good, improper use of storage can cause a significant loss of its nitrogen and pollution of nearby watercourses.
Urban and suburban gardeners might be able to keep a few chickens of rabbits; many, but not all municipalities allow it. If yours does, then manure will be available whenever you need it, though the best use of it might well be to provide nitrogen for making compost. For many gardeners, though, occasional use of purchased organic fertilizers—either dry bagged manure or in granular form — plus composting — may be the most feasible way to maintain a productive soil.
Table of Nutrients