If you care for horses on your own place then at some time you probably have wondered what to do with that huge mound of manure piling up behind the barn. Did you know that one horse produces about 50 lbs. of manure per day and over eight tons per year? Add to that the 8 to 10 gallons of urine and the wheelbarrow or more of bedding and in no time at all you have a virtual manure mountain. All that stall waste takes up a whole lot of valuable space that you would probably enjoy using for far more interesting things than manure storage!
I am a big advocate of having a manure management plan for your horse place. It makes a place more chore efficient (sooo much easier to take care of and enjoy!) and it reduces fly habitat as well as the chance of your horses getting re-exposed to parasites. Environmentally speaking, runoff from soggy manure piles can cause serious water quality issues for creeks and wetlands, even drinking water. Plus, many areas of the country now have ordinances that strictly control these types of water quality issues.
There are many useful ways to manage manure and stall waste, but composting is by far my personal fav.
The heat generated in the compost process kills worm eggs, fly larva, disease pathogens and weed seeds. Composting also reduces odors as well as the sheer volume of material piled up; the composting process will decrease the size of the pile by about 50% (this takes about 2 to 6 months.) Plus, it provides us with a free, easy source of compost, an important soil amendment. I think of compost as black gold and have so many good uses for it on my property-I never have enough of it!
When we moved onto our new property in southern Idaho this summer, one of the first things I did was walk the property to decide where to place our compost. Choose a site for composting based on ease of access (there's that chore efficiency thing again!) both for cleaning stalls as well as for getting the finished product out. And make sure the location isn't in a wet or low area where it'll collect too much water in the winter and is well away from creeks, ponds, wetlands or other water bodies.
The site I chose was under a roofed structure used for equipment storage. Some sort of cover for a manure pile is important as it keeps the pile from getting too soggy in the winter and aids in keeping it moist in the summer. The roof on our building is helpful, but because we have so much moisture-robbing sun in our location I also added a tarp. A cover is critical from an eco-standpoint: it keeps the valuable nutrients in the compost so they don't wash out and become a water pollution problem.
You can learn more about composting at TheHorse.com or on my Horses for Clean Water website.
Composting is simple, requiring only air and water. Too much or too little of each can cause problems. I like my compost material to be about as damp as a wrung out sponge. In the summer I add water to the stall waste in the wheelbarrow before dumping it in the pile. As for air, we occasionally turn the pile with a tractor.
Compost is a rich soil enhancement that improves the health of both plants and soil and helps to retain moisture. You will know when your compost is ready when it looks evenly textured, dark and crumbly like dirt. We spread compost in our pastures during the growing season in about a ½ inch layer. It can be also be used to top-dress lawns, gardens or flowerbeds -- or shared with horseless neighbors.