9 Steps for Composting Horse Manure

9 Steps for Composting Horse Manure

Composting is a good manure management option, especially for horse owners on small acreage, because it helps reduce parasites, contaminated runoff, and other problems that can be caused by a heaping pile of manure.

Photo: Photos.com

Here's what to do with that huge mound of stall waste piling up behind the barn

Did you know that one horse produces about 50 pounds of manure per day and more than eight tons per year? Add to that the 8 to 10 gallons of urine a horse generates daily, and a wheelbarrow or more of used bedding, and in no time at all you have a virtual manure mountain on your farm. That mountain can take up a whole lot of space that most horse owners would probably enjoy using for far more appealing things than manure storage (A paddock or training area, perhaps!). Plus, you risk mismanaging with a manure pile: Horses grazing near their own manure can be reinfected by larvae that hatch from worm eggs within. Odors and flies can plague you or your neighbors, and unsightly poop piles can potentially decrease property value. Plus, runoff from soggy manure can cause serious water quality issues for creeks, wetlands, and drinking water. 

Composting is a great manure management technique to avoid these problems, particularly for small acreage horse owners. “Composted horse manure is a great source of slow-release soil nutrients for a pasture or garden,” says Caitlin Price Youngquist, PhD, a soil scientist and an area Extension educator for the University of Wyoming, in Worland. 

All organic matter, including manure and bedding, decomposes eventually. “Composting is basically a controlled microbial decomposition of organic material, done under aerobic (with air) conditions. This process is happening all around us in nature,” Youngquist says. “As composters, we are trying to set this process up to produce a more uniform product more quickly than nature would provide. In order to do this, bacteria and fungi require oxygen, water, and nutrients. Our job as a compost manager is to provide the best environment possible for them to do their job.” 

As a bonus, as manure and other stall waste break down, the microorganisms generate tremendous amounts of heat that destroy weed seeds, fly larvae, worm eggs, and other disease-causing pathogens. 

Ready to consider harnessing these microbes for good on your own property? To begin, Youngquist suggests first figuring out about how much manure you are managing. How many horses do you have? Are you picking up manure daily from stalled horses, or are your horses mostly pastured? 

“Once you know how much manure you are dealing with, your two best environmentally sound management practices are to either haul manure off-site or compost it,” states Youngquist. While compost management does require a time commitment, it provides you with a free source of a valuable soil amendment for your pastures, garden, or yard. Compost also saves you money—over the course of a year the manure one horse produces is worth $300 to $500 in compost value.  

If composting sounds like the right option for you, then “you want some type of aerated system, either static or turned,” says Youngquist. Both options add air to the compost, keeping it aerobic: A static system forces air into the pile using a blower, whereas a turned pile involves adding air by turning it occasionally, usually with a tractor. 

This article continues in the March 2016 issue of The Horse: Your Guide To Equine Health Care. Get a step-by-step guide to the practical and cost-efficient tractor method of composting, plus instructions on how to build your own wooden bin composting system. Subscribe now and get an immediate download of this issue!

About the Author

Alayne Blickle

Alayne Renée Blickle, a lifelong equestrian and reining competitor, is the creator/director of Horses for Clean Water, an award-winning, nationally acclaimed environmental education program for horse owners. Well known for her enthusiastic, down-to-earth approaches, Alayne is an educator and photojournalist who has worked with horse and livestock owners since 1990 teaching manure composting, pasture management, mud and dust control, water conservation, chemical use reduction, firewise controls and wildlife enhancement. She teaches and travels North America and writes for horse publications. Alayne and her husband raise and train their reining horses at their eco-sensitive guest ranch, Sweet Pepper Ranch, in sunny Nampa, Idaho. She also authors the Smart Horse Keeping blog.

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