Horse Sense Leads to New Recycling Initiative

Southeastern Michigan is the state's most populous region--for humans and for horses. According to a recent survey, Oakland has more horses than any other county--it is home to 6,900 of the state’s 155,000 equines.

As more people and more horses share an increasingly crowded landscape, it's not surprising that conflicts arise related to odor and unsightly manure piles. Michigan Department of Agriculture statistics show that in 2006, 20% of the nuisance complaints that it received about agricultural operations related to horse farms--second only to dairy operations.

Most horse stalls are bedded with wood shavings, a byproduct that has no real fertilizer value, so this waste can't be spread on land without composting. Michigan State University (MSU) Extension district educator and Lenawee County Extension director Matt Shane notes that composting can be challenging to horse farms that don't have the land base or labor needed to do it.

This growing issue was on Shane's mind in 2005 when he was part of a meeting with a wood waste recycling company called Mid-Michigan Recycling (MMR) near Flint. He was there to see how ash trees that had fallen prey to the emerald ash borer were chipped and processed to generate electricity by nearby Genesee Power Station (GPS). It occurred to him that recycling manure-encrusted wood waste could benefit horse owners, their neighbors and anyone who flips a light switch within 100 miles of Flint.

He began discussions with officials at MMR that blossomed into a concerted effort aimed at enabling the facility to meet state requirements to accept and recycle used horse bedding in an environmentally friendly manner.

"Beginning with this spark back in 2005, we have performed numerous samplings, testings and analyses as required to ensure compliance with environmental regulations and GPS's air permit," says Tim Flint, manager of wood waste recovery for Mid-Michigan Recycling. "In January 2007, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and the federal Environmental Protection Agency, after review of all of the analysis, agreed to this recycling concept and issued their approval of the recycling process."

The recycling program is based at MMR's Genesee Power Station in Flint, where the recycling occurs. So far, 65 horse farm managers have taken advantage of the opportunity, and MMR has collected more than 11,000 tons of bedding material for recycling with other wood chips to produce electricity for about 28,000 southeastern Michigan homes.

One 36-ton truckload of wood chip horse bedding can produce electricity for about 32 homes for a month. The state permit allows MMR to collect up to 110,000 tons of material from horse farms, so there’s plenty of room for growth. An estimated 30% of the stall bedding could be used by GPS annually.

The first farmer to jump on board was Rick Premier, owner of Premier Quarter Horses, a boarding and training facility near Flint. He has hosted other farmers who want to learn about the program.

"It's working well," he tells them. "This is a good example of energy and persistence to be more environmentally friendly."

Premier remembered attending an organizational meeting with representatives from MMR and MSU Extension.

"Matt Shane handled that great. He took over and got everybody on the right track. I learned you could smell with your eyes--as soon as people see manure on snow, they can smell it," Premier adds. "I’m in a situation here where a subdivision goes almost all the way around me, and I had to do preventive maintenance and take care of the manure before I had a problem. I wanted to make sure my neighbors aren't complaining and do what I can to help the neighbors."

Premier's setup involves using a concrete bunker similar to the type used by livestock farmers to ensile feedstock. He constructed it using federal cost-share dollars.

Though his farm may be larger than others, the challenges they are facing are the same. MMR is openly looking for more equine facilities to participate in the bedding recycling program. MMR will pick up bedding from horse farms within 35 miles of the plant at no charge if they meet the program’s parameters and for a fee for facilities within a 100-mile radius of the plant.

Donna Snyder at MMR coordinates the recycling program. Interested horse farm owners can reach her at 810/955-7976 or by e-mail at

Participation in the bedding recycling program by horse farm owners and the power plant is pretty obvious, but Flint maintains that MSU Extension has played a vital role in the effort, too.

"They're key--they were real involved in supporting the initiation of this process," he says. "To meet permit requirements there were publications and documents required, and Matt was a great partner in that area. The power plant is a licensed, regulated producer and could do it on its own, but it’s helpful to have a representative of the agricultural community that's knowledgeable and supportive."

Stay on top of the most recent Horse Health news with FREE weekly newsletters from Learn More