Manure should be looked at as a tremendous resource, not a daily nuisance to throw in a pile behind the barn. Year-round manure and organics management helps protect the environment in a multitude of ways.
Those of us who own and manage animals still need to process manure and organic barn residuals during the cold weather months, whether it be spoiled hay, stall gleanings or food leftovers hiding in the refrigerator from that last barn party.
Composting is and will always be one of THE most important tools we all need to adopt for a sustainable planet. Why? This planet continues to lose 27,000,000 acres of valuable top soil annually. Every morsel of organics needs to be kept out of landfills, recycled through composting and put back into the soil. Let’s try to think long term, not what is easy (the trash).
Winter composting is much easier than many people realize. If you have a containment area where you can strategically place, turn and work organics with a tractor bucket, fantastic. Make it a part of your monthly routine. If you have a forced aerated system in place, better yet. You can manage with minimal material handling and tractor time.
Even if you are on a small plot with multiple animals, composting is do-able.
Horse manure has a tendency to be on the dry side, especially if you bed your stalls heavily. Turning compost during colder months is very beneficial because it allows fresh oxygen in (which the microbes need) and moisture from rain, snow or urine soaked bedding to be more evenly distributed throughout the pile. Microbes need moisture and air to break carbon back down into compost that plants need. If you manage your compost pile effectively, fresh material added will stay hot. This will help snow that settles on top to melt and seep in, keeping moisture levels where they need to be. Even if it is below freezing, don’t panic. The new moisture will kick microbes into high gear, quench their thirst and get them active again.
Anyone can compost.
The simplest option includes finding a proper site (at least 100’ from a well head or waterway) where the ground stays firm enough to accumulate material that you systematically turn. Maybe you’re ready to make a small investment in a “forced aerated system.” Several models and systems are commercially available, depending on your budget. Aerated systems push oxygen into piles from below, utilizing fans on timers. These systems are modular and are generally designed to accommodate the waste from an average of four horses, per 8’x8’ bay, over a 30-day period.
If you are a true green, futuristic thinking manager looking to reduce energy dependence, heat capture systems are available for farms with 35+ horses. The heat generated by the barn residuals will reach temperatures of 140-150 degrees.
This heat is captured and deposited into a large insulated water reservoir where, when needed, it is pumped into your hot water heater, baseboard or radiant floor systems. This technology will really make you smile with pride on cold winter nights when you contemplate how your horses are really contributing to global sustainability and doing their part to reduce energy costs.
Another great reason to continue composting throughout the winter months is that, come Spring, you can proudly use your finished compost on turnouts, hay fields, and gardens or sell it for cash to the neighbors.
If you need guidance and help to get started, feel free to email me or log in to the Holistic Horse website Forum. Let’s get a good dialog going. We can then share the questions and responses.
Josh Nelson started Beaver River Associates in 1987 and it soon became the largest worm composting operation in New England. Beaver River is the main supplier of worm composting supplies to Washington State University and Josh actively consults with municipalities in the northeast on organic waste recycling. Join Josh’s interactive Forum at HolisticHorse.com