Sunday, July 1, 2012

Bidding Adieu to Poo – Composting Horse Manure

If you have horses, you most certainly have an abundance of manure. Most horse folk probably look at dealing with this odorous offal as the price one must pay when having horses. The truth is, however, horse manure can be a beneficial resource for your farm and could possibly put some greenbacks in your hand as well.

There are many benefits to composting horse manure. The health of your horses can be positively impacted because flies and parasites are killed off by the high temperatures in the compost pile. Your pasture benefits as well because weed seeds cannot survive through the high temps as well.

Removing manure from your pastures and adding to your compost will provide more grazing capacity. Horses avoid grazing near manure piles (can’t say that I blame them); however, they don’t seem to mind the presence of composted manure when lightly spread over the pasture to encourage good grass growth by supplying rich nutrients to the soil.

The easiest way to compost is to build two composting bins which can be done easily and inexpensively, to store your compost. All that is required are landscape boards and lag screws to build a three-sided bin. Once the bin is full, it takes about two months for the composting process to be completed. It may be beneficial to build two bins where you can have a fresh compost bin and a completed bin.

When establishing your compost pile, you want to select an elevated spot that is not located near a water source. A well-managed compost pile will break down the manure quickly and will reduce the bulk that you would otherwise have on hand without composting. Odors are also diminished by composting, simply due to the natural process of the manure breaking down. It is important to try to keep foreign matter out of your compost pile. Some stall bedding (straw) composts quicker than others (sawdust).

The success of your compost pile relies on two important things: Heat and air movement. Optimal heating levels are achieved by having a pile that is at least three feet high. Heat is obtained from decomposition and internal combustion as the manure breaks down. Air movement is easily achieved by using your tractor to turn the pile and moving the outside compost to the inside of the pile. Moving the pile allows air to reach all areas and provides the fuel for combustion. If you don’t have a tractor, you can insert several PVC pipes, with holes drilled through them, down through the pile to provide air flow.

The temperature of your compost pile will vary through composting cycle. The range is generally between (100 degrees to 120 degrees on the lower end and rising to around 130 – 150 degrees to effectively kill off fly and parasite eggs. The temperature of the pile will drop when composting is nearing completion.

Water is also an important component for your pile; however, you don’t want too much of it. Too much water will limit the amount of air flow and will cause odors. Covering your pile may be necessary during any wet periods. You also don’t want your pile to be too dry. Compost should have about as much moisture as you might find in peat moss; somewhat damp, but not dripping.

Composted horse manure is a marketable commodity and can easily be sold to landscapers, plant nurseries, topsoil companies, or to your neighbors who want to use it to enrich their gardens. Contact some of these businesses to see if they may be interested in buying your compost. The money you make from it can then be put back into your horse operation. You will find that the work involved in maintaining your compost pile is minimal compared to the benefits you receive from it.

Happy trails!

By: Darlene M. Cox (