Composting Horse Manure

Composting Horse Manure

Get information you need about how to compost manure to be a better steward of your land and reduce contamination of water sources and more.

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By Connie Lechleitner, for AQHA

Farm owners across the globe are working to reduce their carbon footprint and making changes to be more ecofriendly

So why are horse manure and pasture regulations important? Ann Swinker, an equine extension specialist from Pennsylvania State University, looks at holistic ways horse farm owners can improve air and water quality. She says that manure, when left to its own devices, will leach nitrogen and phosphorus into the soil – and the water supply. Mud, sediment and erosion all contribute to groundwater contamination. With proper management, these issues can be lessened. 

Composting Horse Manure 

When you consider that a 1,000-pound horse can produce 50 pounds of manure per day – as much as 9 tons of manure in a year – things begin to add up quickly. If you add in sawdust or shavings from bedding, you’ve increased the compost pile considerably.  

“The average fertilizer content of horse manure is 8 pounds of nitrogen per ton, 9 pounds of phosphorous per ton and 7 pounds of potash per ton,” Ann says. That’s a 8-9-7 fertilizer. And it can be a very useful and valuable commodity – if you’ve properly stored, utilized or composted it.  

Assembling a Horse Manure Pile for Composting 

Ann suggests when setting up your compost pile, make sure it is: 

  • A minimum of 200 feet from any water source, particularly drinking water.  
  • The surface for the compost pile could be concrete, or even crushed limestone covering bare ground.  
  • Composted manure can be turned with machinery, such as a skid loader. 
  • Or you can insert PVC pipe with holes in it into the middle of the pile to allow oxygen to infiltrate.  
  • The compost will heat up to 145 degrees F, which will kill parasites and weed seeds. 
Composting manure pile (Credit: courtesy of Ann Swinker)

Uses for Composted Horse Manure 

Horse manure compost can be spread on crops and pasture fields (if properly heated to 145 degrees F for parasite control) and can also be used in landscaping, in your garden or as footing in outdoor arenas. 

Mortality Composting 

Although no one wants to think about this, many states now outlaw burying dead horses. Ann suggests mortality composting as a natural alternative. 

“You want to make sure that the gut of the horse has been punctured. Place 2 to 3 feet of coarse wood chips or sawdust down, then cover the body with 2 to 3 feet of wood chips and sawdust and make it into a windrow,” Ann says. “The remains, when composted, will be gone in about six to nine months.” 

Odor Eaters for Your Farm 

Ann suggests paying attention to where your neighbors are located in relationship to your farm.

“Consider the topography of your farm and plant trees to absorb odors and reduce sounds, too,” she says. 

Dust is also becoming a bigger issue, as rural and suburban surroundings begin to intermingle more and more, she says. 

If you feel like horse owners are being singled out for additional regulation, it’s not your imagination.  

“When you look at all the livestock populations in the country, equine is the fastest-growing segment of the livestock industry,” Ann says. “Beef cow herds are at the lowest they have been since right after World War II. Dairy cow herd numbers are also down. The horse industry is the only livestock industry that is growing right now.” 

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