Recovering Bare Ground

Use stall shavings to encourage growth in your pasture’s bare spots.

The American Quarter Horse Journal

When you have stalled horses, there are byproducts: manure, soiled bedding material and uneaten hay. So what do you do with them?

Some people who live near populated areas sell the byproducts as compost, which is highly desired by organic gardeners. Other people might not have landscapers or gardeners interested in purchasing the manure and shavings mulch. Whatever the case, every horse owner needs to develop a manure management plan.

Trainer Chris Littlefield of Henrietta, Texas, decided to use this nutrient-rich manure compost to help some of the bare ground in his pastures recover from previous overgrazing and high traffic.

“I figured if gardeners could use this manure compost to grow healthy gardens, then I should be able to use it to grow healthy grass out in my pastures,” Chris says.

When you think about it that way, he has a 50-acre “garden” where he is trying to grow thicker stands of Bermuda grass. He has a plentiful supply of manure mulch as close as his barn door.

Earn rewards for doing what you love. The Horseback Riding Program is designed to reward AQHA and AQHYA members who spend time riding American Quarter Horses as well as other horse breeds.

His 14 stalls are cleaned every day. He takes the used pine shavings, manure and bits of old hay out into the pasture, one wheelbarrow load at a time.

“I pick out a spot in the pasture that needs some help growing grass, and that’s where we concentrate the compost,” he says. “Sometimes the area is bare ground; other times, it is an area that has excessive weed growth.”

He encourages new grass growth by applying the entire wheelbarrow contents in the bare areas, starting next to some existing Bermuda grass stands. He just leaves the used shavings in a pile, but usually his roping steers or barnyard chickens come along behind and help spread it out as they scratch and search for some tasty tidbits. He takes care to put the mix only on flat areas because he doesn’t want residue to drain into his stock pond or other water sources when it rains.

Roll It!

It’s not just a ranch; it’s the King Ranch. King Ranch has been an innovator in the ranching industry for more than 150 years and Wimpy P-1, bred by King Ranch, became the first registered American Quarter Horse. King Ranch also influenced the cutting industry with legends Mr San Peppy and Peppy San Badger. Learn about his fascinating place in a special America’s Horse episode.

“I had a large area right by my main pasture gate that was completely bare last summer,” Chris says. “We started applying the manure compost to it, and by last fall, the runners from the Bermuda grass had started creeping into these piles. Then by late spring, the piles had completely decomposed, and the area was covered in thick, green grass.”

The manure compost works into the ground as organic matter, insulating and protecting the soil and helping the soil retain moisture. The pine shavings, decomposing manure and bits of hay make the compost rich in organic matter and nutrients.

“Not only has he recovered grass and reduced erosion problems in the pasture,” says Nathan Haile, soil scientist for the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, “he has essentially created a manure management system that uses the natural fertilizer nutrients in the manure without polluting the environment.”

According to Nathan, this manure mulch – which contains urine, feces and bedding – produces nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, all nutrients plants need to grow. In fact, some people buy commercial fertilizer with calculated amounts of these nutrients and have it applied to their pastures.

Chris did some cowboy math to figure out how much of the manure mulch to put out because if he gets the mixture too concentrated, he could wind up with over-fertilized soil and yellow patches of grass.

Earn rewards for doing what you love. The Horseback Riding Program is designed to reward AQHA and AQHYA members who spend time riding American Quarter Horses as well as other horse breeds.

Nathan recommends getting a soil sample to determine current nutrient levels and how much to add. You can get soil sample kits from the NRCS or Extension Service office in your county.

In general, a 1,000-pound horse will produce about 8 tons of manure per year. After accounting for storage and spreading losses, the manure from a 1,000-pound horse will provide about 32 pounds of nitrogen, 40 pounds of phosphorous and 72 pounds of nitrogen in a year. Once you have the results from your soil test, you can adjust your manure compost application accordingly.

So those aren’t just manure piles you are looking at in your stalls. It’s organic mulch that contains an effective slow-release fertilizer to improve your pastures if used properly.