Manure Management on a Horse Farm

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    Manure Management

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There are basically three ways to manage manure with some variation.  All ways should begin with daily collection.  Once the manure is collected, it can be spread immediately on a pasture, field, or arena, composted for later spreading or use, or hauled away.


Your Horse Barn DVD     Ms. Horseowner has from 40-60 horses in stalls, paddocks, and pastures.  The twenty stall barn and the various sized paddocks are cleaned daily generating three 139 cubic foot spreader loads each day.  Most of the collected manure is distributed immediately on commercial agricultural fields which fortunately are located near the farm.  To minimize the risks of parasite reinfestation, the manager never has manure spread on her own grazing fields.  Some of the shavings/manure mixture from the barn is used in the outdoor arena and on the mile-long driving track which goes around the entire farm.

     The manager has found this type of manure management labor intensive (six man hours per day) but feels it is unequaled as far as esthetic results and for preserving good neighborly relations.  Like many established farms, this farm has seen the city move closer each year.  It is now surrounded on three-and-one-half sides by the city limits.  In some instances, city or county ordinances could make manure management a potential problem due to fly and odor problems.  However, a manure pile just doesn't fit into the tasteful layout and management of a well managed farm.

Horsekeeping On A Small Acreage     If manure is to be spread daily, it must be distributed thinly and/or harrowed to encourage rapid drying, thus eliminating favorable conditions for parasite eggs and fly larvae.  It is best that such manure be spread on land outside of areas which will be grazed by horses during the current year.  Although few plant burning problems are encountered with applying fresh horse manure to established grass pastures (that are not currently being grazed), fresh horse manure should never be applied to a newly seeded field, a garden, or newly planted trees since burned plant tissues are likely to result.  Horse manure should age from six to eight weeks before it is added to gardens or shrubs.  For best results with new plants, add and work in the aged manure at least four weeks before seeding or transplanting.


     A recommended method of dealing with manure in a rural setting is daily collection and storage for later spreading.  Composting manure for one year yields a product that is a very welcome addition to our mountain pastures.  It is important to select a suitable site to store the manure.  We have a lot of naturally occurring rock slabs in this part of the country which make a perfect pad for the manure pile base.  We chose a slab in an area that is well-drained and down hill from the barn and pens which makes the tip with a full hand card easy.  Because we have an arid climate, I try to keep my piles as compact as possible so as to retain optimum internal moisture in the pile to aid fermentation.  I usually have two piles going at once.  I add to one pile from the first of the year until about September and then let that pile sit until January or February.  That's when the manure is suitable to spread, I have the time, and we have our customary stretch of sunny, still weather, a respite before the last onslaught of winter.  I go into my pastures when the ground is frozen so that I do minimal damage to the fragile terrain with my tractor.


     With the encroachment of cities on former rural areas, the pressure is on horse owners to maintain very high sanitation standards.  For many urban and suburban horse owners, paying to have manure hauled away regularly by a refuse company is the only answer.

     Some refuse haulers specialize in manure hauling and, in fact, recycle all of the manure. Fewer horse owners are composting manure themselves as they simply do not have the land to store it or spread it on.  Land is scarce and at a premium, so refuse haulers are very busy catering to the horse acreage owner as well as the large commercial stables.

     Refuse companies offer dumpsters from 4 cubic yards to 40 cubic yards and will arrange a pick up schedule to suit the clients needs.  One client on two acres with 2 horses bedded on shaving might use a 4 cubic yard dumpster and have it picked up once a month.  A larger barn with up to 160 horses might have three 30 cubic yard cans strategically located around the facility and have them dumped 2-3 times per week.  The charge is made per dump, the lowest fee being $XX (55-100) per dump for a 4 cubic yard can located within a town radius; the rate increases in $10 increments depending on the distance the hauler must travel.  The 30 yard cans average $200 per dump.  All cans are charged a predetermined rental fee if they stand idle.

     Areas with high density population in relation to land mass, has a growing number of restrictions on what can be dumped in the landfills.  Leaves have recently been outlawed; is manure next?  In addition, the dumping fees which refuse haulers in the east must pay are very high, such as $750 to dump a 30 cubic yard can of construction refuse.

     Those factors, coupled with the interest in recycling, are responsible for the increase in refuse haulers recycling manure.  If the quantity and quality of the manure is good, it might be used at a mushroom farm or to a certified organic vegetable farmer or a commercial farmer.  The rest can be taken to a composting farm to make humus for landscaping.  Sawdust bedding is preferred for the composting as it is easier to handle and breaks down more uniformly.  Manure with straw bedding can result in a finer humus provided it is not the type of straw with a high wax or glaze.


     Some refuse collection services are set up to haul manure and bedding along with other non-hazardous waste to landfills.  The costs for such a service vary greatly depending on the locale, size of the container, frequency of hauling, distance of farm from the refuse hauler and from the landfill, and the city, county, and state regulations which may govern refuse dumping.  At Horse Farm X, there are 12 horses on five acres: five in stalls with shavings and seven in lots.  Stalls and lots are picked daily.  A two cubic yard dumpster emptied four times a week works well for this size of operation.  The local disposal provides this service for $90 per month.

Stablekeeping     Large boarding facilities and horse shows must rely on companies that can handle larger containers and custom hauling services. Arrange for a thorough, reliable, accommodating service, not necessarily the one that gives the lowest bid.  Convenience and service to the exhibitor and their horses is a primary concern.  At a show or large barn, you don't want to have any problems with flies, rodents, bees, or overflowing dumpsters.  Cost, for example, at a five day 400 horse show would cost approximately $8 per head for manure hauling.

     Understanding the characteristics of manure and composting and the options regarding manure disposal will help you make the best manure management plan for your operation.

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