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Horse Manure Management--What are Your Options?

You need a strategy for using or disposing of your horse's manure. The proper management of manure is important to the health of your horse and your family. Needless to say, it may also be important in order to comply with state or county regulations. And if you have neighbors nearby, you will want to avoid any controversy with them.

An average 1,000-pound horse can produce 9 tons of manure waste each year. This is roughly 50 pounds per day. If you're going to store it, this translates to about 2-cubic feet per day or 730-cubic feet per year-just from one horse.

How the manure is stored and treated will have an impact on its value. A composition of manure and bedding is rich in nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium. These nutrients can be returned to the soil and made available to pasture, lawns, landscaping, crops, and gardens.

The Importance of Manure Management

Stalls and paddocks need manure removed regularly to prevent surface water contamination and to assist with parasite control and fly breeding. Stable flies commonly breed in the moist horse manure. So it makes sense if you want to keep the fly population down, manage your horse's manure.

The lifecycle of horse parasites also begins with eggs in the manure, which develop into infective larvae that later exist in your horse's pasture. Consuming grass, feed, or water contaminated with infective larvae will infect your horse. Parasites are one of the most significant threats to the health of a horse kept in small acreage areas and can cause irreparable internal damage. Manure management is an important part of controlling parasites.

So What Are Your Options for Managing Manure?

Essentially, your choices are to use it on-site, give it away, or haul it off-site.

If you don't plan to use the manure yourself, you should develop a plan so that other people can make use of it. You may be able to make arrangements with landscapers, nursery or garden centers, parks and neighbors to either buy your unprocessed or composted manure or take it off your hands for free. You may need to deliver the manure yourself.

Manure Collection

Typical management of horse manure consists of removing daily and stockpiling for later use or spreading on cropland.

Manure that is spread daily should be thinly distributed and chain harrowed (dragged) to breakup larger manure piles and to expose parasite eggs to the elements, and to encourage rapid drying. Don't spread on pastureland that will be grazed by horses during the current year.

Alternatively, manure may be stockpiled and allowed to accumulate until it can be disposed, or composted for later use. A large storage area will allow for better flexibility in timing of manure use.

A 144 square foot enclosed space will contain the manure from one horse for a year. Over time, manure shrinks from decomposition and may accumulate to 3-to-5 feet in deep. Your storage area should be easily accessible for loading and unloading.

The location for the storage area is important in order to safeguard against surface and groundwater contamination. The storage area should be at least 150 feet away from surface water (creeks and ponds) and wells. A perimeter ditch dug around the storage area may be needed to prevent runoff. Covering the storage with either a roof or tarp can help prevent the contamination of both groundwater and surface water.

Some of the newer bedding products are more absorbent allowing you to use less bedding than traditional straw. Using less bedding means you have less waste to manage. Also, don't use too much bedding and only use the amount necessary to soak up urine and moisture in order to reduce the amount you have to manage.

Composting

Composting manure for 6 months to a year will yield a relatively dry product that is easily handled and reduces the volume of the manure by as much as 40 to 60 percent. This also kills fly eggs, larvae, pathogens and weed seeds.

Aeration will speed the composting process. The rate of decomposition is dependent on how often the pile is turned. An alternative to turning the pile is to insert perforated PVC pipes into the pile to provide aeration. The composting process will take a little longer, but is much less labor intensive. A slow decomposition rate is usually due to a lack of aeration.

The compost pile should remain moist. It may need to be watered or covered to maintain moisture. If small moisture droplets appear when squeezing it in your hand, then the moisture content is sufficient. Compost should be sweet smelling. If an unpleasant odor is coming from the pile, it is too wet and should be kept under a cover to help keep the moisture out.

Composted manure acts as a slow release fertilizer and is a great soil supplement that can be spread on pastures. Manure that has not been composted should be spread only on cropland or other ungrazed, vegetated areas.

Hauling Off-Site

Landfills should only be used if no other option exists. And note, not all landfills will accept manure. Remember, your horse's manure is a valuable resource and is best used for recycling as opposed to disposing.

There are some refuse/waste companies who specialize in hauling away manure as well as recycle it. This is a good alternative for people who do not have adequate land where manure can be stored or spread. These refuse companies will provide a dumpster and will schedule regular pickups based on your needs.

Randall Holman, site owner of Front Range Frenzy and horse enthusiast, is the author of this article. You will find other easy and practical basic horse care information on his website: http://www.FrontRangeFrenzy.com.

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