Smallholder farmers in Africa recognise the important role of manure in maintaining soil fertility. For smallholder farmers who use little fertiliser, efficient management of nutrients in manure is key for crop production. We describe a simple model to analyse the effect of manure management on the efficiency of mass and nutrient retention. We used on-farm data on manure excreted and manure management, experimental results, literature and fuzzy logic to model losses during manure storage. The model was used to analyse N cycling efficiency (NCE) within smallholder farms in western Kenya. Simulations showed that manure management during collection and storage had a large effect on the efficiency of C and nutrient retention. Differences in NCE between farmers of different wealth classes arose due to differences in resource endowment. For poorer farmers, large N losses occur at all stages of manure recycling. Urinary-N losses occurred on all farms but their impact on NCE for poor and medium-class farmers was larger due to the smaller amount of N recycled. With current management the poor farmer recovered <1 kg N y¿ 1 in composted manure from 15 kg N y¿ 1 excreted. Improved manure storage had little effect on increasing overall NCE for the poor farmer due to large losses before storage. For the wealthier farmer improvement of manure storage increased NCE and allowed recycling of 30% of N excreted (ca. 30 kg N y¿ 1) with small investment in infrastructure. Covering manure heaps with a polythene film reduced mass and N losses considerably. For the poor to increase overall NCE, investment in cattle housing and recycling of urinary-N is required. Increasing cattle numbers or improved feeding would have a larger effect on manure availability but this is constrained by feed scarcity and investment capacity. The absolute amounts of N recycled (1¿6, 4¿17 and 7¿18 kg N y¿ 1 for poor, medium and wealthier farmers) were small compared with maize N demand (> 50 kg N ha¿ 1), but significant given the small farm sizes (0.1¿1.1 ha). Although absolute amounts of N recycled with improved manure management may have little immediate impact on crop productivity, manure is often the only input available. Manure provides other nutrients for crops and maintains soil organic matter ¿ both vital to guarantee efficient use of fertiliser N ¿ which justifies the search for interventions to assist farmers make better use of manure.