The average horse creates almost 10 tons of manure in a year; add that to the 50 pounds per day of wet bedding produced and (whether you have one horse or 51) you need a plan!
The first part of any plan to deal with manure in a way that is less damaging to the environment should be to reduce the bulk of the material. Composting manure and bedding products will reduce its bulk by as much as 80% and people will come to your stable, buckets in hand, to collect the remaining organic fertilizer. Also, unlike an unmanaged manure pile, composting manure actually becomes too hot to be hospitable to fly larvae and other parasites.
A backyard barn owner can make composting bins of wood pallets wired together at the corners. The slats of the pallets provide important air circulation and each side can be easily removed for access to the pile. Having several smaller boxes makes them easier to handle, increases the oxygenation and speeds the composting process. Add non-protein kitchen scraps, lawn clippings or a few shovels full of already ripe compost to begin the ?cooking? process. Water the pile if necessary and occasionally pitch the composting material from one bin into the next to re-oxygenate it and speed up the composting process. In just a few months the composting material will be reduced to less than half its original bulk and will have been transformed into valuable fertilizer that is ready to be re-used.
If you have enough property to spread collected manure in a thin layer each day, it dries more quickly rendering it uninhabitable to parasites and fly larvae and making it virtually odor free so it doesn?t annoy non-horsy neighbors. It also breaks down much more quickly so it is less likely to run off into local waterways where it can create problems for plant and fish life. A few words of caution: Fresh (un-composted) manure, WITHOUT bedding, should only be spread in a very thin layer where the grass is at least 6 inches high. Manure with bedding material needs to be composted before spreading.
Alternate fields so that one is being used for pasture, one is receiving manure and one is resting or has been reseeded. For backyard stables and more modest facilities, small manure spreaders can be hauled behind lawn and garden tractors that have been outfitted with a power take-off to activate the auger. Large show barns and stables in densely populated areas can have their manure re-used by professional services that collect manure and haul it to facilities that process it into rich, organic fertilizer. [See also: ?Turn Your Manure into Money,? by master composter Josh Nelson, in Holistic Horse Issue #50, summer 2007]
Consider using recycled paper bedding in your stable. Not only does it make good use of a commonly disposed of product but it offers improvements that wood shavings and straw can't duplicate. Paper bedding breaks down more quickly in the compost pile or when it is spread in the field, so it is ultimately recycled a third time to enrich the soil.
Each bag of recycled paper bedding contains fibers of various sizes and textures that create layers when it is spread in a stall. Smaller pieces of bedding sift to the bottom to provide excellent absorbency while larger irregularly shaped pieces provide loft, softness and insulation that other products can?t match. Easy to handle bags are free of mold spores, contain very little dust and use up several weeks worth of newspapers that might otherwise end up in the landfill.
Dirty stalls and paddocks can create a host of health problems, they harbor bacteria that break down hooves and irritate skin, release dangerous ammonia vapors and encourage the proliferation of parasites. Safeguard your horses' health, your relationship with your neighbors and the environment by integrating a Reduce, Re-use and Recycle strategy for dealing with your manuRRRe pile.
A frequent contributor to Holistic Horse, Brenda Thoma is a freelance writer with publishing credits in a variety of areas. Horse health assignments are her most rewarding. Brenda competes in dressage with Cricket, her horse partner of 15 years, and supports her daughter with her 3-Day Event horse Citi Lights. Always interested in what lies beneath the exterior of horses and people, Brenda is interested in alternative health therapies and psychology, and enjoys yoga and distance running. Brenda and her husband David live in Minnesota with their son Grant and daughter Lauren.