Accurate and conservative information about pathogen inactivation rates is needed as the basis for safe manure management on beef cattle feedlots. The survival of indicators and pathogens in faecal pen manure, stockpiled manure and manure compost was measured with autochthonous indicator bacteria (Escherichia coli, Clostridium perfringens, enterococci, total coliforms) and pathogens (Listeria monocytogenes, Campylobacter jejuni) using culture and/or real-time quantitative PCR (qPCR) methods. Additionally, the manures were incubated at 20, 37, 50 and 60 °C in microcosms to quantify the persistence of autochthonous microorganisms and selected process performance surrogates (Clostridium sporogenes, green fluorescent protein-labelled E. coli and L. monocytogenes). Estimated qPCR cell counts indicated that up to four orders of magnitude more target cells were present compared with the culturable counts. Corresponding T90 estimates were up to sixfold higher. This study demonstrates the benefits of nucleic acid-based quantification of pathogen inactivation in cattle manures and concludes that the concurrent analysis of microorganisms by molecular and culture methods provides complementary value.