Smelly Gold: Manure Management for Equine

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Manure. It’s the least talked about, but also inevitable, aspect of horse ownership. On average, a 1,000 pound horse makes between 31-50 pounds of manure a day, and up to 9 tons annually! However, the amount collected depends on a variety of factors – from how much time your horses spend on pasture, to how well you pick their stalls. Bedding, soiled or not, can add considerably to the amount collected each day. Horse manure can actually be a valuable resource due to its soil amending properties and nutrients. On average, 1 ton of horse manure has 12 pounds of Nitrogen, 5 pounds of Phosphorous, and 9 pounds of Potassium making it a great fertilizer for pastures. In addition, managing your horse manure can dramatically increase your pest control – meaning less time swatting annoying flies! The two methods we’ll discuss in this article are stockpiling and composting.


Composting horse manure

Photo taken by USDA, NRCS

Stockpiling is the most common and least expensive manure management system. Stockpiling is exactly what it sounds like – simply piling, and leaving undisturbed, solid manure and bedding in a convenient location. If you have 1 or 2 horses, the stockpile site can be relatively simple. A level, compact surface  (well-packed soil or crushed gravel and stone dust) to prevent nutrients from leaching into the soil and a plastic tarp to cover the pile with to reduce odors and flies. However the more horses you have the more sophisticated your stockpile site should be.

For 3 or more horses, a dry stack facility – a facility with 3 walls to contain the manure – is recommended. The floor of a dry stack facility should be impervious to water – poured concrete or asphalt are the most common – while the walls can be made from a variety of materials – concrete, cinder blocks, wood, ect. Just make sure your walls are sturdy since the manure will be exerting outward pressure as the pile gets higher. To keep the fly population under control, it is recommended that you keep your stockpile covered, whether with a tarp or a roof, to reduce the amount of moisture in the manure. Flies cannot lay their eggs in manure that is less than 50% moisture. In addition, fly-predators (tiny, non-stinging wasps) works more efficiently in dry manure.


composting pad

Compacted clay composting pad. Picture taken by University of Minnesota Extension.

Composting is gaining in popularity, and the finished product is often much more marketable than raw manure. A compost pile has less odor, kills pests and pathogens, and reduces manure volume. However, composting requires attention and management. Composting requires a balance of nitrogen, carbon, oxygen, and liquid to make the perfect home for the compost producing microbes. See the table below for common compost ingredients.

Ingredients Examples
Carbon Straw, Saw Dust, Wood Shavings, Wood Chips, Dried Leaves
Nitrogen Manure, Urine, Lawn Clippings, Vegetable/Kitchen Scraps
Air 2/3 of the pile should be air. Wood chips can be used to facilitate air flow.
Water Should be moist, but not sopping wet, similar to a wrung out sponge.

Where you compost can be critical. A convenient location that is not prone to flooding on compacted ground or gravel is best. However, if such a location is not available, you can build it. Similar to a dry stack facility, you will need an impervious floor. It can also be elevated as extra protection against flooding.

Horse manure, with it’s associated bedding, is almost perfect for composting because of its high carbon:nitrogen ratio (20:1 to 30:1). Ingredients for compost must be mixed well and “turned” – either by hand for smaller piles or by a front-end loader for larger piles – to keep the pile oxygenated. When managed correctly, the compost pile can reach up to 140 to 160 degrees Fahrenheit (killing any fly larvae or weeds) and maintain that temperature for 3 weeks. See more detailed information about composting livestock manure.

Manure management is just another aspect of responsible horse ownership. Though it doesn’t make the job of picking a stall anymore glamorous, having an end product and use in mind makes it more worthwhile!