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A Guide to Composting Horse Manure

There are several key factors in having a successful compost pile and how well you manage each one will have an effect on how quickly your manure composts.

Managing Air and Temperature

Build the optimum pile size. To achieve high enough composting temperatures to kill parasites, bacteria, and weed seeds, a pile must be at least three feet high. Otherwise, the heat generated in the initial stages will quickly dissipate before the pile can reach high enough temperatures. For best heating, try for a pile five to seven feet square on the bottom rising to three or four feet high.

Maintain airflow through the pile. After a pile is formed, keeping air in the pile is critical to prevent odors, achieve high temperatures, and to complete the composting process in a relatively short amount of time. If you have a tractor, turning the pile at regular intervals, especially during the first few weeks after building the pile, will speed up the decomposition process considerably. In general, the more often you are able to turn the pile, the faster it will decompose. Turning will not only help allow air to reach all areas of the pile, it will also ensure that material on the outside of the pile is turned to the center where it can be subject to high temperatures where pathogens, fly larvae, and weed seeds are destroyed.

If you are not able to turn the pile with a tractor, you can insert a couple of five-foot PVC pipes into the center of the pile like chimneys. Use a drill to put some holes into the pipes-approximately a half inch in diameter at six-inch intervals.

Another method of achieving airflow through the pile is the aerated static pile method described later in the Composting Methods section.

Monitor temperature. Temperature is an important indicator of how well the manure pile is composting. You can buy a long-stemmed compost thermometer at local nurseries or home and garden stores to monitor your compost piles. Most compost piles begin at a lower temperature range (about 50�F-110�F) then increase to the higher temperature range (110�F-160�F) and then gradually drop to ambient air temperatures over a period of several weeks. These high temperatures are necessary to speed up the rate of decomposition and to kill weed seeds and diseases. At least several days of temperatures between 135�F and 150�F are recommended. You also want to avoid overheating the pile, overheating can immobilize many of the beneficial organisms needed for decomposition. If you find your pile is reaching temperatures above 160�F, you may want to try reducing the size of your pile. Low outside temperatures during the winter months slow the decomposition process while warmer temperatures speed it up. On average, a well-managed pile can be composted in one or two months in the summer and three to six months in the winter.

Managing Moisture

Unsuccessful attempts at composting often result from a failure to maintain the proper moisture conditions. If there is too much water in the pile, the water will occupy the pore spaces needed for air to flow through the pile. Too much water also makes the pile heavy, increasing settling and compaction. When there is not adequate air in the pile it can lead to odors, slow the decomposition process, and make high temperatures impossible to achieve. On the other hand, too little moisture causes composting organisms to dry out which also prevents the pile from heating up.

Use the squeeze test. Take a handful of material from the interior of the pile (not just the outer shell) and give it a squeeze. A handful of material should feel damp like a wrung-out sponge, not dripping wet. If you pick up a handful of material and it drips without being squeezed, it is too wet. If the material appears dry and crumbles after squeezing, it is too dry. If the material retains its clumped shape after squeezing without releasing excess water and your hand is damp, then it is just right for composting.

Cover your pile(s). During our rainy season it is easy for an uncovered compost pile to become too soggy, inhibiting airflow. The end result is often a foul-smelling pile that is very slow to compost. Covering your compost pile allows you to regulate the amount of water and will speed up the process by not letting it get too wet in the winter or too dry in the summer. It’s much easier to add water than it is to remove it. Covering your compost pile also limits fly breeding and keeps rain from washing nutrients out of the pile. Using a tarp is one of the easiest ways to cover a compost pile. Stapling or nailing a board across the front of the tarp can make it easier to pull the tarp forward and back. A permanent structure with a roof also works well, especially for larger horse farms with larger compost piles.

Add water when needed. Heat and airflow generated during composting can evaporate large amounts of water from a pile and you may find that your pile may get too dry in the summer. If you turn your compost pile, you can water it down with a garden hose when you’re turning it. Otherwise, you can water down wheelbarrow loads before adding them to the pile.

Choosing a good location for your compost pile(s). Select a level site that drains easily and that sits on fairly high ground so the pile never sits in a pool of water. A dry level area is especially important when it comes to accessing the pile with any kind of heavy equipment (a tractor, truck, etc.). Equipment needs dry, level ground for turning around and positioning. Choosing a location for your compost pile that’s convenient to your stall and paddock areas will make the chore of cleaning up easier and less time consuming. You’ll also want to have the pile in an area that you can reach with a hose so that you can add water during those dry summer months.

A buffer zone is also required between your compost piles and nearby streams, ditches, wetlands, and residences. Contact your local Conservation District for more information.

Turn to help dry out the pile. If a pile becomes too moist you can help it dry out by increasing the turning frequency. Turning the pile can release significant amounts of water.

Managing the Ingredients in the Pile

The organisms that do the decomposing in your compost pile need carbon for energy and nitrogen for growth. It’s important to supply both kinds of materials in roughly the right proportions. The ideal carbon to nitrogen ratio for composting is between 25:1 and 30:1, with carbon being the higher number. High carbon materials are plant materials materials such as straw, wood chips, shavings, sawdust, and leaves. Materials that are high in nitrogen often include animal by-products like manure and blood meal but also includes grass clippings and hay. On its own, horse manure is about the ideal ratio. But if you add a lot of bedding to your compost pile, you can end up with too much carbon and not enough nitrogen.

When you have too much carbon (bedding) in the pile more time is needed to complete the composting process. The less bedding you put in the pile, the faster it is likely to compost. A manure pile with a lot of bedding is also less likely to compost completely. When added to the soil, high-carbon compost “robs” nitrogen from the soil to continue decomposition, making it unavailable to growing plants. When this occurs, the plants usually show a nitrogen deficiency as a yellowing of the leaves.

Minimize bedding. By minimizing the amount of bedding you use you’ll save money and end up with a manure pile that composts faster. Most horses don’t need as much bedding as is often used, they just need enough to soak up urine and moisture. When you clean stalls, try to remove only soiled bedding so that less bedding makes it into the compost pile. You may want to consider using rubber mats in stalls to provide the same amount of cushioning with less bedding. Rubber mats have other advantages also: they prevent horses from ingesting dirt or sand when eating off the stall floor, make stall cleaning easier, decrease dust, prevent a pawing horse from digging holes in the stall, and provide an even surface for horses to stand on (uneven surfaces may cause or exacerbate leg problems).

Consider your bedding options. Different types of bedding will decompose at different rates so which bedding you use will affect the speed of the composting process. Straw and shredded newspaper will compost faster than sawdust or shavings because they contain less carbon. There are also wood pellets on the market that are much more absorbent than straw or shavings-as a result, you end up using less bedding and less bedding ends up in the compost pile. These pellets are more absorbent because they go through a drying process that reduces the water content. They also break down into finer material that composts faster than shavings and that makes it easier to remove only soiled bedding when cleaning stalls.

Add materials if necessary. If you have too much bedding in your pile and want to help speed up the composting process, adding materials high in nitrogen like grass clippings, chicken manure, and blood meal can help.

Horse manure: An easy guide to composting

Horses doing their business on suburban streets were rarely a problem, because plenty of householders were prepared to race out with a shovel to collect the bountiful baubles.

Horse manure contains plenty of fibre, making it an excellent soil conditioner. However, it doesn’t rate right at the top of the Pantheon of Poo. That honour belongs to chicken manure — indeed, any bird droppings.

Emeritus Professor of Soil Science John Walker says bird droppings are top of the heap for good reason. Horses — indeed all mammals — produce both urine and dung. Mammals secrete most of their nitrogen, potassium and sulphur through their pee, meaning their droppings are almost always deficient in these key elements.

Birds, on the other hand, excrete through one hole only, meaning all these essential exhaust nutrients are rolled into one neat product.

Horse dung may have its shortcomings, but it has also received some bad press. Sadly, society now moves way too fast for the humble horse poo.

The scenario is all too common: A grateful horse owner who is not in a position to use harrows finds a friend to take away a few bags of freshly collected horse droppings. They dig it into their garden, then complain to the horse lover a few months later that it was full of weeds. They rarely come back for more.

Through all this, nobody appears to have told horses that demand for their nifty nuggets has fallen away. They just keep on producing them at an average of 15 or so dollops a day. This has given rise to what economists call a glut. And, to use business parlance again, there’s nothing worse than an oversupply in a bearish market.

Horse dung has been much maligned because people are bypassing the one crucial step that every keen vegetable gardener knows about: Composting.

Scooping poop: if harrowing isn’t an option, you face the fun job of collecting the dung. The challenge is then to find something useful to do with it.

Composting is the process whereby naturally occurring microbes break down organic matter. A perfect compost is a soil-like material rich in nutrients and full of roughage which, when added to the garden, improves soil structure and plant health.

The critical thing is overcoming the weed problem. Yes, seeds do pass intact through a horse’s digestive system and will grow if given the opportunity. No self-respecting weed seed would ignore the opportunity provided by anyone who digs them straight into the soil.

The solution is heat. Your consummate composter is aiming to fry those pesky seeds. One of the byproducts of composting is heat, and, if enough is created for long enough, it will kill any seeds and pathogens, providing you with a weed-free compost.

Professor Walker says 80deg Celsius is considered the mark at which you’ll achieve this. However, he says it is not always easy to achieve, and some trial and error may be required to get your composting on a roll.

So what do you need to do?

Create a heap that’s got the right balance of material, moisture, and any added nutrients to encourage healthy growth in the number of micro-organisms that will compost it. Crucially, it needs to be big enough for the heat produced by this process to get to a critical temperature, and stay there for two, even three weeks. You’ve also got to allow air to get to the heart so your composting will occur with air (aerobically) and not without air (anaerobically).

If your heap develops an unpleasant smell, you should turn it immediately.

The unpleasant smell can attract flies that may lay eggs in your heap.

The usual cause is overwatering, or perhaps you didn’t pay enough attention to the layering of the material when you built it. The heat generated in turning the heap should be enough to kill any fly larvae.

If everything goes well with your heap, you should be creating pathogen-free compost. However, to be safe, you should always wear rubber gloves and a mask to reduce the chances of inhaling anything unpleasant. Better safe than sorry.

Let’s assume you’re not really wanting to invest in building or buying compost bins, nor be too scientific about how much fertiliser to add. After all, we’re making compost, not baking a cake!

Pick an area well away from anywhere where odour might be a problem. No neighbour wants a compost heap under their kitchen window. Having said that, a well-built heap should not generate an unpleasant smell.

You’re going to build a heap with a base about 2m across. Don’t put any covering on the ground, as worms and microbes will be prevented from entering your heap from the earth. Ideally, you need room beside it for a second, third, even fourth heap, for reasons we’ll explain later.

If you’ve got some old netting around, form 2m rings with that to contain your heap. You’ll get a better-shaped pile that way, with a bigger heart, which is where the greatest heat will accumulate.

Start shoveling in your horse manure. You’re aiming for a final height of over a metre. You need not build it all at once, but remember that the high temperatures you need won’t be achieved until your pile has a decent heart.

Build an even layer of about 15cm. If it’s dry, get your hose and spray water on until the dung is damp, but not soaking wet. If it’s too dry, the composting process will be slowed and the big heat build-up you need just won’t happen.

Get some general-purpose fertilizer, preferably with a healthy level of nitrogen, and sprinkle a handful over the dung. (Professor Walker’s personal favourite among general fertilisers is Nitrophoska Blue Extra). Eliminate fertiliser at your peril: A shortage of nitrogen is a common cause of slow or ineffective composting.

Now you need a layer of green matter. Lawn clippings are great, but you can use leaves, hedge clippings, vegetable scraps, old hay and the like. This layer should be a little deeper, as the final heap needs to be at least 50 per cent green matter.

Then repeat the layer of horse manure and a sprinkling of fertilizer, paying attention to the moisture content as you go.

If you’re tempted not to add any fertiliser, bear in mind that any deficiencies in your soil will show in your plant matter as well as your horse dung, and, ultimately, your compost. It’s a chance to break that cycle.

A sprinkling of fertiliser as you go, preferably one with a high nitrogen content, will help speed up the composting process and improve your end product.

If you’re putting in old stable bedding material, you’ve scored a bonus. Contained in this will be urine, which is rich in potassium, nitrogen and sulphur, so you may not need to correct for any deficiencies. However, if the stable material is sawdust or wood shavings, these use large amounts of nitrogen in breaking down and will nearly always create a deficiency. This being the case, add a rich nitrogen-based fertilizer as you go.

Some people like to add sprinklings of lime to their compost heap. This lowers the acidity, creating a better environment for the microbes to multiply. Others throw in a few shovelfuls of dirt to seed the heap with the right naturally occurring soil microbes

Horse manure, being quite light and fibrous, will help encourage all-important airflow through the pile. The heat generated by your pile rises and this encourages cooler fresh air to be sucked in from the base. Some people help air to get to the centre of their heap by drilling holes in a length of PVC pipe and placing it upright in the middle of their heap.

An even simpler way is to get a strong stick or crowbar and make three or four ventilation holes. See if you can push right to the bottom, work it around a little, and withdraw it carefully.

If all goes well, the centre of your heap should start composting rapidly. If the process seems sluggish, chances are your heap is lacking in either nitrogen, water, or both.

If possible, cover your heap with old sacks or horse covers. These will help retain heat, keep it from drying out, and prevent your heap from getting too wet from the rain.

Correct moisture is critical for success. Too much and you run the risk of your heap staying too cool and producing gloop. Too little and the whole process will be slowed and, again, you’ll have too little heat. If you can pick up a handful and squeeze water out, your heap is too damp. If it’s getting too dry, remove your covers and add water. Some trial and error will be needed to get it just right.

By now, your heap will be composting furiously in the centre, with air-breathing microbes working day and night on your behalf.

The outside won’t be composting near as well, as the heat cannot build up the same.

You thus need to turn the heap three or four weeks after you built it. This is why you’ve placed it somewhere with space beside it.

You shovel the heap across, ensuring that the outside of the old heap forms the inside of the new one. While doing this, make sure the material is not too dry, and add water if necessary. The material should now be much darker and showing clear signs of breaking down.

A mix of horse manure, grass clippings, and old hay well on the way to an excellent finished product. It’s light, with plenty of fibre, odour-free, and packed with plant nutrients.

Get your stick or crowbar and create new ventilation holes, cover it again, and the process will continue in earnest. About six weeks later, your magnificent compost will be ready to unveil to the world.

The results will be even better if you turn the heap a third time, at intervals of three or four weeks, but if you provide the right mix and conditions, you should get useable compost with one turning. Essentially, the more times you can turn it at these intervals, the better the end product. If you’ve got a tractor and bucket, you’ve got no excuse.

If you can’t use your compost straight away, keep it covered and a little damp.

So what should you do with your compost? Let your friends marvel at your creation of odour-free, fibre-rich living earth. Many will be so impressed they’ll want some for their own gardens, but only after they’ve gathered some of the raw material from your paddocks for the next batch!

Finally, a reminder that the dung you take off a paddock is gradually robbing the soil of its nutrients. Don’t forget to fertilise, even if you lease your paddocks. Otherwise, it’s your horse you’re shortchanging.

Is horse manure full of weeds?

The question is so important, that scientists in the United States have been given $NZ150,000 to investigate the question.

The heart of your compost heap needs air. The best thing to do is to get a crowbar or a strong stick and make several holes, preferably pushing to the base of the heap.

Most people who have ever dug fresh horse manure into their garden, only to be confronted by a sea of weeds, might consider this money wasted. But the question is important, with more than 700,000 horses a year crossing into national parks each year in California alone.
Authorities in the US are worried that horses taken into parklands and forests for rides might be responsible for the spread of invasive weeds. Concern about this growing problem is such that some states already require horse owners to feed their animals expensive certified weed-free feeds before using public lands.
A California university has started a year-long scientific study to get some answers. The question is not whether weeds and grass sprout from horse dung — rest assured they do — but rather whether the invasive weeds that pose the greatest threat, such as yellow star thistle, grow from the dung.
Preliminary findings indicate that horses may not be as big a culprit as first thought. Biology students collected horse-manure samples from paddocks and national parks. They mixed them with weed-free soil and left them in pots in a university glasshouse free of weed contamination.
Of 90 pots, 34 plants germinated in 21 of them. The most common plant was ryegrass, but several other plant species were identified. However, none of them was on California’s list of noxious and invasive weeds.
Regardless of the final results, expected early next year, halting the spread of weeds is considered nearly impossible in any case, with seeds able to be carried by the wind, and eaten and excreted by birds. They can also travel on animal fur, and be carried into wilderness areas on vehicle or mountainbike tyres, or on the soles of boots.

First published on Horsetalk.co.nz on June 25, 2006

9 thoughts on “ Horse manure: An easy guide to composting ”

Many thanks. Very helpful. Just had about 90 tons of horese manure delivered to our allotments in Liverpool (U.K.) and you give good advice. I do tend to add lime (ground limestone rather than hydrated lime) to my normal compost heap. Hadn’t thought of doing that with the horse manure, but will do so.

so can i just mix the horse waste in with my vegetable compost. it has lots of grass clippings and leaves. or should i start a seperate pile of compost for the horse manure. thanks

Just add them together.

I’ve just been given some newish horse manure in plastic bins with lids..can I leave it in them to compost as its a bit whiffy and I don’t want flies everywhere..or is it best tipped out/mixed with other stuff..I had thought of top dressing as have very claysoil but its too smelly/hot yet..

What would adding a 1000 worms do ? I am trying to make it the most fabulous, I have mini (5) horses and need to do something with the poop but am interested in worm posting too.

I am composting with horse manure, oak leaves & grass, but I have no heat…What do I need to do?

“Potassium 2 phosphate” you can buy online -“[email protected] ” good for flowering promotion.
I don’t know about Nitates if one does not have a farming licence – easy to make explosives !.

Remember, if you don’t have fertiliser, you can use urine. It’s sterile and a great source of nitrogen.

Solve the Horse Manure Pile Problem

Not long after Anna and Brian Smith of Camden, North Carolina, built their barn in 2007, they realized they had a problem. With four horses in residence, "The manure was really piling up," says Anna.

Keeping horses will drain your checkbook, steal your time and sap your energy but horse manure is one item you're sure to have in ever-increasing amounts. An average horse produces about 50 pounds of the stuff every day, or more than eight tons a year. Add a few more tons of soiled bedding, multiply the total times the number of horses you keep and just try not to feel overwhelmed. What will you do with it all?

"Unless it's properly managed, horse manure can pose risks to the environment and to health," says Virginia Cooperative Extension agent Carrie Swanson, who co-authored (with fellow agent Crystal Smith) an Extension publication on manure management (online at www.ext.vt.edu). Here, with Carrie's help, we'll outline the top options for making your horse manure pile disappear.

Why It Matters

Back in the bad old days, most horse barns had a mountain of manure out back or, sometimes, out front. You don't see that so often now, for reasons that include:

  • Parasites. Manure can contain the eggs of strongyles, roundworms and other internal parasites. If it's not properly handled, the eggs (or larvae that hatch from them) can contaminate pastures, feed or water and infect other horses.
  • Pests. Manure piles are prime breeding grounds for stable flies, face flies, houseflies and several other types. They can also become cozy burrowing sites for rats.
  • Water quality. Excess nutrients and other contaminants can leach from poorly managed manure into streams, lakes and ponds, upsetting the ecological balance and causing environmental damage.
  • Regulations. There are federal regulations pertaining to manure management and water quality, as well as state and local regulations, Carrie says. "These may or may not affect horse operations, depending on the location," she adds. "The regulatory agency also varies from state to state, but the county Extension agent should be able to explain local requirements."
  • Aesthetics. The sight of a manure pile won't do much for your property value or your relations with neighbors, and neither will the smell. A typical pile produces nasty byproducts like methane gas as the manure slowly molders inside it.

You can avoid or at least minimize these problems with a good manure management program. And because horse manure is a source of nutrients for plants, it can be a valuable resource. Managing horse manure can be complex, though, and what works for one barn may not work so well for another. Tailor your program to your situation.

Spread It

Manure contains nutrients for plant growth and can improve the condition of the soil so why not put it to work?

Good if: You have a lot of land, a tractor and a manure spreader.

How it works: Manure can go directly from your stalls to your fields, where over time it will break down and nourish the soil. Here are some dos and don'ts:

  • Spread thinly. Apply only what you need to improve your land, based on soil tests.
  • Spread manure in spring and summer, not when the ground is frozen or in rainy seasons when it may just wash away. (This means you'll need to stockpile stall waste at times).
  • Don't spread fresh manure on pastures where horses will graze anytime soon. It may contain parasite eggs that can survive for weeks or months, depending on conditions. It'll do no harm on pastures that are being rested or grazed by other species, though. (A good deworming program, with fecal egg counts to monitor success, will minimize this risk.)
  • Don't spread on floodplains or other areas where water runs seasonally or after rains, near wellheads and other groundwater sources, in areas where the water table is high or on slopes bordering streams and ponds.
  • Apply a nitrogen fertilizer if your fresh stall waste contains sawdust or wood shavings. Microbes that break down the wood products draw nitrogen from the soil, and that can stunt plant growth. Nitrogen fertilizer counteracts the effect. Or, to avoid the problem completely, compost manure before spreading it.

Tip: Contact your local Cooperative Extension office for advice on testing soil and developing a nutrient management plan, a plan that outlines your farm's manure production, soil fertility and recommended manure application rates. Local soil and water conservation districts or a local branch of the Natural Resources Conservation Service can help you identify seasonal wetlands and other sensitive areas where manure shouldn't be spread.

Compost It

Composting turns stall wastes into a ready-to-use, nutrient-packed soil enhancer.

"It's the best green' disposal option," Carrie says. "This manure is a valuable resource and can reduce or eliminate the need for commercial fertilizer applications. Plus, properly composting your manure will kill weed seeds and parasite eggs." You can use it directly on your land, and you'll have no trouble giving away or even selling the excess to gardeners and farmers in your area. Setting up a composting system may cost some money (how much depends on the size and type), but it can generate income.

Composting is essentially managed decomposition, Carrie says. You get aerobic (oxygen-using) microbes to break down stall wastes quickly without smelly byproducts, generating heat that kills parasite eggs and weed seeds. These microbes, which are everywhere in the environment, can't work their magic in a typical manure pile because the pile shuts out the oxygen they need. But they'll work for you if you provide the right materials and conditions.

Good if: You want a low-cost, environmentally sound manure-disposal method and don't mind investing some time and labor. Composting is an especially good choice if your land is in an environmentally sensitive area, a big consideration for Brian and Anna Smith in coastal North Carolina. "Our land is on the edge of a swamp, and we knew runoff from the manure pile would leach into the wetlands," Anna says.

How it works: Compost systems can be designed for any size farm. Large farms often compost manure in windrows (long, freestanding piles). A three-bin system works well on many small horse farms. New stall waste goes in one bin while the microbes do their thing in a second, and finished compost cures in a third. Then you empty the third bin and start piling stall waste there, while the microbes get to work in the first bin and the contents of second bin cure.

How you build and maintain your compost system is key, Carrie says. These are the essentials:

  • Critical mass. As a rule, the base width of the pile should be twice its height–10 feet across and 5 feet high, for example. A pile must be at least 4 feet square and 4 feet deep to reach active composting temperatures.
  • Temperature. The microbes are active between 110 F and 150 F, and sustained temperatures of 130 F to 150 F in the pile interior will kill parasite eggs and weed seeds. A gradual drop in temperatures tells you that the microbes have finished their work. Monitor temperatures in the pile with a compost thermometer (from a garden store or online).
  • Oxygen. Introduce air by turning piles with a pitchfork or a tractor, weekly or when the internal temperatures fall above or below the active composting range. Or build static piles with perforated PVC pipes laid across the base, ends protruding, to draw in air. Composting takes longer this way, but static piles don't need turning. Another option is an aerated static-pile system, with automated electric blowers that move air through perforated pipes under the piles. The initial cost is higher for this method, but it makes compost faster and takes less work than turned piles.
  • Moisture: Compost piles should be about as damp as a wrung out sponge; not soggy or dry and crumbly. Covering your piles will help keep moisture levels consistent. "Folks in very dry climates may need to add water to their compost piles," Carrie says.
  • Carbon-to-nitrogen ratio: The amount and type of bedding that ends up in your piles determines this ratio, which affects composting speed. A good carbon-to-nitrogen ratio for compost is between 20:1 and 40:1. Horse manure with no bedding has a ratio of 25:1; oat straw, 48:1; wood products, 500:1. If you put lots of wood shavings in your piles, you slow down the action. With enough oxygen and moisture you'll still make compost, but you can speed things up by using less bedding, switching to another type or adding nitrogen (in the form of urea) to your piles.

Compost decomposes more efficiently if the mix is uniform, Carrie adds. This is especially important with static piles, which aren't turned. Some farms use a temporary storage area to mix material before adding it to the pile. "In very cold climates, composting in the winter months will take longer, and farms may have to allow for larger storage areas," she says. "But the basic principles are the same."

Tip: State and local regulations can affect composting operations. You may need to meet local planning and zoning requirements and get a state permit to sell compost commercially. Check with the local planning office and with your state department of agriculture, environmental protection or natural resources. Your Cooperative Extension office can also give advice on setting up a composting system for your farm.

Haul It Away

Trucking manure off site is the easiest solution, although it may not be the cheapest.

Good if: You have a number of horses but not much acreage or time to deal with manure.

How it works: You can load manure and stall waste into your own dump truck, if you have one, and then haul the full load to a commercial facility that composts manure. Some facilities charge a drop-off fee; others will take the load for free.

No such truck? Commercial services in many areas will provide a roll-off container for the waste and haul it away when the container is full. The service will help you determine how large a container you need and where to place it. Containers that hold 12, 20 or 30 cubic yards are typical. Fifteen to 20 horses will fill a 20-cubic-yard container in about a month. Fees vary, but the service can run several hundred dollars a month for containers that size.

Before you contract with a service, be sure the manure will go to a facility licensed to compost it. "Most of the time manure that is hauled off by commercial operations is composted and reused," Carrie says. "Generally it does not end up in landfills."

Tip: Contact conservation and environmental groups in your area to see if there are other haul-away options. These groups may be able to link you up with farmers who take manure, or biomass facilities that turn organic waste into energy–a new but growing use for stall waste. For example, Mid-Michigan Recycling picks up used shavings and manure for delivery to the Genesee Power Station in Flint, a facility that processes wood waste to produce electricity. (Details are online at www.mid-michiganrecycling.com.)

What's Best for You?

It depends on your herd size and your resources, your acreage, equipment and budget. "If you've got one acre and two horses, you're going to be generating more manure than the land can handle," Carrie says. "But if those same two horses are on four acres, composting and applying manure back to the land might work well. If you've got twenty acres, you could probably skip the composting, apply directly to the fields and rotate the horses among several paddocks." Your local Extension office is the place to go for individual advice, she adds. You can find more information and submit individual questions through the national Extension website, www.eXtension.org.

For Brian and Anna Smith, the answer was an aerated three-bin composting system designed by O2Compost (www.o2compost.com), of Snohomish, Washington, that also provided how-to advice. The system is sized to handle manure output from six horses. To get the right mix for their compost, the Smiths use wood-pellet bedding in matted stalls. "The pellets aren't as aesthetic as shavings," Anna says, but they're made of fine sawdust that breaks down much faster. She picks paddocks daily and adds that manure to the bins. (Only organic products are applied to the fields, so chemical herbicides and other long-lasting chemicals don't wind up in the compost.)

It takes about 30 days to fill a bin. Then the blower system is switched on, and Brian monitors the temperature as the pile cooks for 30 days. After it cures for another 30 days, it's moved to a storage area. The finished compost has a soil-like texture and an earthy smell. The Smiths sell it as Carolina Compost in tractor-bucket loads, recycled feedbags and cheesecloth packets that gardeners use to make "compost tea" for watering plants. Manure on their farm is no longer a polluting eyesore. It's a source of income.

This article originally appeared in the December 2011 issue of Practical Horseman.