If you have horses, you have manure. The average horse produces 31 pounds of manure daily. Managing that manure properly is an essential part of good horse-keeping. Rather than view your horse's excrement as a detriment, think of it as a benefit. Composting the manure is the best way to deal with it, so it changes over time into a natural fertilizer. It's an environmentally friendly way of disposing of manure.
South Carolina's Clemson University Extension describes composting as "Controlling the natural decay of organic matter in a moist, aerobic (oxygen-demanding) environment." As the manure decomposes, microorganisms break it down to create compost. When complete, in about one to three months, the fecal material turns into dark, rich fertilizer.
Horse manure compost/fertilizer contains phosphorous, nitrogen and potassium, along with lesser amounts of calcium, sodium and magnesium. When added to the soil, this organic matter benefits soil permeability, water retention and the actual soil structure. Well-aged, quality horse manure compost is great for plants. You can use it on your own property or sell it to local farmers, gardeners and landscapers.
How to Compost
The Rutgers Equine Science Center advises that a compost site must be well-drained and a minimum of 100 feet from any water bodies. It should be level and contained on an impervious base. During the composting period, you must keep the pile moist and turn it regularly. Depending on the size of your property and number of horses, you can compost via the pile method, which are freestanding manure piles, or the shedrow method. The latter consists of several bins contained in a three-sided shed. You'll use the bucket on your tractor to turn and aerate the contents. If you only have one or two equines, you can use standard barrels or bins used for garden composting, adding your other household composting waste to the manure.
Particular types of bedding compost more easily and have more value as fertilizer. If it's worth it to you -- depending on the number of horses at your facility -- you might consider changing bedding types. Manure with no bedding, such as that picked up from fields and paddocks, composts most readily. Straw bedding composts well, but wood chips or shavings take longer to break down and make the composted manure's inherent nutrients harder for soils to absorb.
If you plan to use the compost on your own farm, spread it on your pastures, gardens or crop fields in the spring or fall. Avoid spreading compost in the winter, as it won't mix into frozen ground and could get washed away in snow.
- Clemson University Extension: Manure Management
- Texas A&M University: Composting Horse Manure
- Rutgers Equine Science Center: Ask the Expert - Farm and Pasture Management
- University of Connecticut: How to Properly Manage Manure
- Rutgers Equine Science Center: Best Management Practices for Horse Manure Composting on Small Farms
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Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.