Cattle excreta deposited on grazed grasslands are a major source of the greenhouse gas (GHG) nitrous oxide (N2O). Currently, many countries use the IPCC default emission factor (EF) of 2% to estimate excreta-derived N2O emissions. However, emissions can vary greatly depending on the type of excreta (dung or urine), soil type and timing of application. Therefore three experiments were conducted to quantify excreta-derived N2O emissions and their associated EFs, and to assess the effect of soil type, season of application and type of excreta on the magnitude of losses. Cattle dung, urine and artificial urine treatments were applied in spring, summer and autumn to three temperate grassland sites with varying soil and weather conditions. Nitrous oxide emissions were measured from the three experiments over 12 months to generate annual N2O emission factors. The EFs from urine treated soil was greater (0.30–4.81% for real urine and 0.13–3.82% for synthetic urine) when compared with dung (− 0.02–1.48%) treatments. Nitrous oxide emissions were driven by environmental conditions and could be predicted by rainfall and temperature before, and soil moisture deficit after application; highlighting the potential for a decision support tool to reduce N2O emissions by modifying grazing management based on these parameters. Emission factors varied seasonally with the highest EFs in autumn and were also dependent on soil type, with the lowest EFs observed from well-drained and the highest from imperfectly drained soil. The EFs averaged 0.31 and 1.18% for cattle dung and urine, respectively, both of which were considerably lower than the IPCC default value of 2%. These results support both lowering and disaggregating EFs by excreta type.