Horse Manure Management

"Horse manure management is important to the health of your horse."

You need a strategy for using or disposing of horse manure.

Horse Manure Management, Manure Spreader

You can't do anything about the amount of manure your horse produces. Therefore, practicing appropriate horse manure management is essential, from the largest to the smallest of farms. Manure management is important for the health of the horse and your family, avoiding controversy with neighbors, and to comply with state and county regulations. Horse owners have a responsibility to manage their horse's byproduct.

You will need a strategy for using it or disposing of the manure. Horse manure is a valuable resource. A large percentage of nutrients fed to your horse will pass directly through into the manure. These nutrients can be returned to the soil and made available to pasture, lawns, landscaping, crops, and gardens.

An average 1,000-pound horse will produce 9 tons of manure a year or 50 pounds per day, not including bedding. You get about 2 cubic feet per day of manure and bed waste or 730 cubic feet per year 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.


The Importance of Horse Manure Management

Stalls and small exercise areas or paddocks will need manure removed regularly to prevent surface water contamination and to assist with parasite control and fly breeding. Stable flies breed in moist horse manure. An important factor in keeping the fly population down is horse manure management.

The lifecycle of horse parasites begins with eggs in the manure, which develop into infective larvae that exist in the pasture vegetation. Consuming grass, feed, or water contaminated with infective larvae infects horses. Parasites are a significant threat to the health of horses and can cause irreparable internal damage. Horse manure management is an important part of controlling parasites.

Prolonged standing in manure and wet bedding can be damaging to your horse's hooves. The moisture causes a softening or breakdown of the hoof structure and along with the proliferation of bacteria can cause serious damage.

So What Are Your Options for Managing Horse Manure?

Your choices are basically:

  1. Use it on-site
  2. Give it away
  3. Haul it off-site

If you don't plan to use the horse manure yourself, you should develop a marketing plan so others 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.

On-Site Horse Manure and Bedding Management Options1

  Unprocessed Composted
  • low cost (need only a cover for pile and means of spreading)
  • low labor input
  • nutrient content usually higher
  • improves soil structure
  • easier to spread on land
  • poses lower water quality risk
  • less likely to contain weed seed and/or pathogens
  • less odor
  • slow release form of nutrients
  • compost is a superior soil amendment for improving soil structure
  • can reduce volume of material to spread by approximately 50%
  • can be difficult to spread
  • poses higher water quality risk
  • more likely to contain weed seed and/or pathogens (aggressive deworming program may be necessary for pastureland)
  • odor can be a problem
  • may need to add nitrogen source to pile if bedding content too high
  • composting requires more time, labor and money than storing and applying raw manure
Considerations and additional information
  • must have adequate land upon which to spread manure (raw manure volume is approximately twice that of composted manure)
  • pathogens are a human health concern if material is handled improperly
  • serious water quality hazards and regulatory violations can result if composted or raw manure is piled/stored on-site indefinitely
  • the herbicide clopyralid will not break down during animal digestion, storage of manure or composting.

Off-Site Horse Manure and Bedding Management Options1

  Give away or sell raw manure Give away or sell compost Haul manure from premises
  • avoid time, labor and costs of composting while getting rid of manure
  • finished compost is easier to give away or sell than raw manure
  • quite possible to make profit on initial system investment
  • easiest and quickest management option
  • system may necessitate meeting and helping people interested in acquiring manure (easy access to pile can eliminate this need)
  • composting requires more time, labor and money
  • same as for raw manure
  • higher expense (pick-up, rental, disposal fees)
  • county and state regulations exist regarding transportation of these materials off-site -please check with your local county health department for current regulations
  • pathogens are a human health concern if material is handled improperly
  • may require loading and transport equipment
  • good advertising important towards success of system
  • check with your local conservation district for manure share programs and farm management plans that include manure management
  • check to verify manure is hauled to permitted facility licensed to compost manure
  • reducing the amount of bedding material you use results in less used bedding for you to dispose of and reduced hauling costs
1Washington State University Cooperative Extension. Strategies for Livestock Manure Management. 2002.

Horse Manure Collection

Horse manure is typically managed in one of the following ways: 1) removed daily and stockpiled for later use; 2) removed daily and spread on cropland.

Manure that is spread daily needs to be thinly distributed and should be chain harrowed (dragged) to breakup manure piles and to expose parasite eggs to the elements and to encourage rapid drying. If spreading on pastureland, it is best not to do it on pasture that will be grazed by horses during the current year.

Ideally, manure should be removed from stalls and spread daily, but that is seldom feasible. So alternatively, manure is often stockpiled and accumulated until it can be disposed, or composted for later use. An adequate storage area will allow for greater flexibility in timing of manure use.

Horse Manure Management, Manure StockpileA 144 square foot enclosed space will contain the manure from one horse for a year. Over time, the manure shrinks from decomposition and moisture loss, and may accumulate to 3-5 feet in depth. Storage areas should be easily accessible for loading and unloading.

Proper site selection for the storage area is important 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. Construct a perimeter ditch around the storage area, if needed, to prevent runoff. Covering the storage with either a roof or tarp will also help prevent the contamination of both groundwater and surface water.

You might want to consider a wood shaving or sawdust alternative bedding product to straw. Some newer bedding products are more absorbent. Less bedding is required and you have less to manage. Also, don't use too much bedding and only use the amount necessary to soak up urine and moisture to reduce the amount you have to manage.

Composting Horse Manure

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 speeds up the composting process. Turning the pile regularly to expose material to oxygen. 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, but not too wet. It may need to be watered or covered to maintain moisture. If the compost glistens and small moisture droplets appear when squeezing it in your hand, then the moisture content is sufficient. The compost should be sweet-smelling. If an unpleasant odor is coming from the pile, then it is too wet and should be kept under a cover to help keep the moisture out.

The composted manure acts as a slow release fertilizer and an excellent 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.

Do not apply manure/compost to land that is highly erodible, frozen or saturated. To protect water sources from runoff, do not spread manure within at least 150 feet of a water source (such as a well, creek or pond). The manure should be incorporated into the soil as soon as possible to reduce loss of manure nutrients due to runoff and to reduce odor problems.

Hauling Horse Manure 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 those who do not have the land on which to store or spread manure. As part of the service, the refuse company will provide a dumpster and will schedule regular pickups based on your needs.

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