Horse Manure Management and Composting

Photo credit: Oregon State University Extension

While not the most glamorous subject associated with horse ownership, manure management is a very important and inevitable part of responsible horse ownership, regardless of how many horses you own or manage.

Manure is considered a valuable resource by many farmers for its nutrient values and soil amending characteristics. This summary addresses characteristics of horse manure as well as techniques for handling, storing, composting and utilizing horse manure.

For calculation purposes, the average 1,000 pound horse eats roughly 2% of its body weight and drinks 10 to 12 gallons of water each day. This will vary with individual metabolism, activity level and the weather. On average, that same 1,000 pound horse will excrete 56 pounds of manure (feces and urine combined) each day, which adds up to more than 10 tons annually. In fresh manure, there is roughly 0.2 pounds of nitrogen (N), 0.03 pounds of phosphorus (P) and 0.06 pounds of potassium (K) in each pound of manure.

Storing manure typically consists of: short-term stockpiling, permanent stockpiling, composting or spreading the manure. Stockpiling is a pile of solid manure that is left undisturbed and may or may not be added to. Stockpiling can occur on a temporary or permanent site. There are existing state guidelines for stockpiling manure that should be researched prior to establishing or constructing a manure stockpile.

Composting is managed, accelerated decomposition of organic materials by microbes (i.e. bacteria, fungus and molds). The goal of the composting process is to provide these microbes with an optimum environment that encourages manure decomposition quickly and efficiently. If left on its own, a manure pile will eventually decompose, but nutrients will be lost, and unwanted organisms may infest the remaining compost.

The article Horse Manure Management and Composting further discusses your options for using the manure on your farm. It also outlines items that should be addressed in your farm’s manure management plan.

Your local Soil & Water Conservation District (SWCD) is also a valuable resource for helping you understand local ordinances and regulations. They may also have programs in place to help you establish best manure management practices.

Summarized by Abby Neu, MS, University of Minnesota. This and other horse nutrition articles can be found at http://www.extension.umn.edu/agriculture/horse/nutrition/.

Trailer Checklist

It’s about that time, the temps are climbing and you’re ready to hit the road to the next show, event, rodeo or trail ride. But before that can happen, a well-operating horse trailer is a must. Here are some tips to make your next trailer trip stress-free.

Good Tires

Probably one of the most important considerations when hitting the road is the condition of your trailer tires. It may seem like a no-brainer, but proper tires are key. Make sure you are purchasing tires specific for trailer use, in order to support the heavier load-bearing requirements. A good reference when determining if it’s a tire made for trailer use is to look for a ‘ST’ or special trailer indication printed on the tire. Something else to look for on the tire is the load rating. Each tire will have a number printed on the side to indicate load rating, add the load rating of all the trailer tires to determine the weight capacity. That total should be equal to or greater than your fully loaded trailer weight.

Don’t forget that tire age should be considered as well, due to deterioration of tire structure over time. An easy way to check age of a tire is to look for a 4-digit number (i.e. 1215, built on the 12th week of 2015) which will indicate the tire build date. A physical evaluation of the condition of the tire goes a long way as well in determining age and wear.

Additionally, always check your tire pressure before a trip, as it’s an incredibly important step in safety and comfort in travel.

Checking Trailer Condition

It’s important to check all safety points before hooking up to hit the road. Look over floorboards, ramps, dividers, etc. for signs of rot, rust or deterioration. Also test hinges, springs and latches for secure closure and good working order.

Make sure the trailer hitch is kept well lubricated and checked for missing parts. Chains should also be in good condition. While evaluating the hitch, make sure your jack is working correctly.

Hooking Up the Trailer

Before you even hook up the trailer to your truck, make sure the vehicle is rated to tow the weight of the trailer. Determine if the trailer is balanced and rig is level, as well as test lights and breaks before hitting the road. Make sure to do a loop around your rig to make sure all doors are secured and hitch is attached correctly.

Emergency Items

Below is a list of items to include in case of emergency as you take to that long stretch of highway:

  • Spare tires for the towing vehicle and trailer (inflated to proper PSI)
  • A jack and tire iron or lug wrench
  • Three emergency triangles or flares (triangles are best)
  • Extra supply of coolant/engine oil/transmission and power steering fluids, plus a funnel and service rags
  • WD-40 or other lubricant
  • Chocks to safely block wheels
  • Flash light and extra batteries
  • Tape (electrical and duct)
  • Spare fuses and bulbs for exterior and interior lights
  • A charged fire extinguisher
  • Sharp knife and wire cutters
  • Tool kit
  • Jugs of clean water (can be used for radiator or horses)
  • Jumper cables
  • Spare belts and hoses
  • Tow chain or cable
  • Portable compressor
  • Quick fix tire repair kit
  • Broom/shovel/manure fork and disposal bags
  • Vehicle registrations for the towing vehicle and trailer
  • Proof of insurance

Now that you’ve checked off all the to-do’s of trailer safety, it’s time to hit the road and enjoy the next equine adventure!

Improving Your Horse’s Topline – Why Exercise Alone Isn’t the Answer

A common misperception about topline is that it can be improved through exercise alone. Lack of exercise – or the wrong type of work ‑ is often blamed for a poor topline. While exercise will certainly alter existing muscles, building new muscles is a different story. The nutritional building blocks of muscle (essential amino acids) must be present in sufficient quantities and balanced with adequate calories to rebuild or augment muscle tissue. In fact, if a horse is worked hard but his diet lacks sufficient amino acids, existing muscle mass can shrink. This can be a slippery slope in some situations, and as muscle atrophy sets in, the belief is that the horse needs to work even harder when in fact the fuel is not present (in the form of nutrition) to help support and repair tissue that is broken down with exercise. Just like human athletes, athletic equine partners need more essential amino acids than maintenance horses to maximize the effects of training and allow the horse to look and feel its best.

Certain exercises are thought to improve topline include hill work, backing exercises, and those that encourage the horse to collect and arc the body. These exercises can help condition muscles, but only if the diet is supporting the muscles through proper nutrition. Before you put your horse into a conditioning program, be sure that your diet is in balance and you’ll be much happier with the results.

To determine what nutrition best fits your horse’s needs, take the Topline Balance assessment for a customized nutrition plan.

Ask the Expert: Large Round-Bales

Question: We are having a hard time finding small-square bales and as a results, are going to start feeding round-bales. How many small square-bales are in a round-bale?

Answer: It depends on the weight of both the large and small-square bales. For example, if the round-bale weighs 1,000 pounds, then 20, 50-pound small-square bales would be equivalent to 1 round-bale. If the large round-bale weighs 1,200 pounds and the small-square bales weigh 40 pounds, then 30 small-square bales would be equivalent to 1 round-bale. It important to know the weight of hay bales both for feeding and economic purposes.
Also keep in mind storage and feeding losses associated with round-bales are usually higher compared to small-square bales. Especially if the round-bales are stored outside and fed without a hay feeder.

This article is reprinted with permission from Krishona Martinson, PhD, University of Minnesota. This and other horse nutrition articles can be found at http://www.extension.umn.edu/agriculture/horse/nutrition/.

Calming Effects on Horses

Adapted horses have been found to have a calming effect on other horses in fear-eliciting situations. In practice, experienced horses are often used as companions when young horses are introduced to potentially frightening situations (i.e. loading onto a trailer). However, studies of social transmission of adapted in horses are scarce.

This study, conducted in Denmark, investigated if demonstration by an experienced horse influenced the willingness of young Icelandic horses to cross a novel surface. Young horses were allowed to observe the experienced horse being led five times across a novel surface. Immediately afterwards, the young horses were given the opportunity to cross the novel surface themselves to obtain food on the other side. Controls were allowed to observe the experienced horse eating on the opposite side of the novel surface but not when the experienced horse crossed the novel surface.

All young horses succeeded in the task, but horses who observed the experienced horses crossing the novel surface had significantly lower average and maximum heart rate compared to controls. This result suggests a calming effect of the demonstration, which could be implemented when training young horses in fear-eliciting situations.

Summarized by: Krishona Martinson, PhD, University of Minnesota

This and other horse nutrition articles can be found at http://www.extension.umn.edu/agriculture/horse/nutrition/.

 

Ask the Expert: When to Blanket a Horse

Question: I’m confused about blanketing my horse during the winter. I grew up with horses happily housed outside and un-blanketed during the winter months. The horses had access to shelter. I’m now boarding my horse and everyone at the barn blankets their horse and thinks I’m crazy not to! The horse does have access to shelter while outside. Can you please give me some advise on blanketing during the winter?

Answer: Most horses are blanketed for various reasons (i.e. show schedules) or due to personal preference of the owner. However, blanketing a horse is necessary to reduce the effects of cold or inclement weather when:

  • There is no shelter available during turnout periods and the temperatures drop below 5°F, or the wind chill is below 5°F
  • There is a chance the horse will become wet (not usually a problem with snow, but a problem with rain, ice, and/or freezing rain during cold weather)
  • The horse has had its winter coat clipped
  • The horse is very young or very old
  • The horse has not been acclimated to the cold (i.e. recently relocated from a southern climate)
  • The horse has a body condition score of 3 or less

A horse will continue to develop a natural winter coat until December 22 (Winter Solstice), as days are becoming shorter. Horses begin to lose their winter coat, and start forming their summer coat, as the days begin to get longer. Blanketing before December 22 will decrease a horse’s natural winter coat.

Author: Marcia Hathaway, PhD, University of Minnesota. This and other horse nutrition articles can be found at http://www.extension.umn.edu/agriculture/horse/nutrition/.

Winter Is Coming – Are You Ready?

As many regions of the US are still experiencing fairly mild conditions, the inevitable is coming…winter. But with proper preparation and foresight, the extreme conditions can be slightly more bearable. Read on for some handy tips to keep you and your horse warm and cozy.

  • Blanketing:  In general, horses adapt well to decreasing temperatures by growing an insulating hair coat.  As long as they have shelter to get out of wind and precipitation, and are able to meet their increased energy (calorie) requirement, they do quite well and can tolerate sub-zero temperatures.
    • Keep in mind, the insulating value of the hair coat is compromised if it gets wet.  As temperatures drop below the critical temperature which is around 50°F on average, horses require more energy to stay warm, which is best provided by increasing the forage in their diet, not grain.
    • Blanketing may be a good option if:
      • There is no shelter during turn out
      • The horse’s hair coat is clipped
      • You have a very young or very old horse that might not be efficient at maintaining body temperature
      • The horse is under-conditioned or under weight
    • Finding a blanket that fits well, is waterproof, breathable, and the proper weight (light, medium, heavy fill) based on the conditions are important considerations.
    • If you already own blankets, dig them out before you need them and check to ensure they are clean, in good repair, and still fit your horse properly.
    • Never blanket a wet horse, or put a wet or damp blanket on a horse.
  • Don’t forget to periodically remove the blanket and assess body condition, and check for any rub marks that the blanket may be causing.
  • Winterizing the barn and trailer: Fall is a good time to prepare your barn and trailer for colder weather.  Cleaning, installing or checking insulation, replacing screens with windows, ensuring ventilation is adequate, insulating water sources, cleaning and safety-checking heaters and electrical systems, are recommended.
    • In the barn:
      • Check the roof for structural integrity and leaks
      • Clean gutters and install snow slides if needed
      • Plan for snow removal and de-icing walkways, if applicable.
    • In the trailer:
      • Check the floor, lights, brakes, and tires and replace or provide maintenance as needed.
      • Put together an emergency kit for you and your horse in the event of a break-down in winter weather.
      • If you are on the road frequently, consider road-side-service for equestrians in the event of an emergency.

Good luck, stay safe, and take a moment to enjoy the site of your horse playing in the snow if you are lucky enough to see some!

Ask the Expert: Estimating Winter Hay Needs

Question:  We recently purchased a farm and will be housing our two quarter horses over the winter; they will not ridden during the winter. Because I’ve always boarded my horses, I’m not sure how to estimate how much hay I will need for the winter.

Answer:  An adult horse at maintenance will consume between 2 – 2.5% of their bodyweight in feed (hay and grain) each day. For example, a 1,000 pound horse fed a 100% hay diet would consume 25 pounds of hay each day (using the 2.5% recommendation). From October 15 to May 15 (when there is no pasture in MN), the horse would consume about 5,350 pounds of hay or 2.7 tons. This would equal 107, 50 pound small square bales or six, 900 pound round bales during this time. For two horses, this amount would be doubled. It is critical to know the weight of the hay bales; not all bales weigh the same.

If the same horse was receiving five pounds of grain each day, their hay needs would be reduced to 20 pounds each day. From October 15 to May 15 the horse would consume about 4,280 pounds of hay or 2.1 tons. This would equal 86, 50 pound small square bales or five, 900 pound round bales during this time. Again, double this amount for two horses.

These estimates assume good quality hay is fed in a feeder to reduced hay waste. When feeding small squares-bales, hay waste when a feeder was not used (hay fed on the ground) was 13% compared to only 1 to 5% when a feeder was used.  When feeding large round-bales, not using a feeder resulted in 57% hay waste compared to 5 to 33% when a feeder was used. It’s always best to purchase extra hay to account for waste and because horses may require additional hay during the cold winter months.

This article is reprinted with permission from Krishona Martinson, PhD, University of Minnesota. This and other horse nutrition articles can be found at http://www.extension.umn.edu/agriculture/horse/nutrition/.

The Buddy System – Horses and Hens as Companions

Have you ever wanted to diversify your farm with companion species? If so, do you find yourself wondering, ‘What species go well together?’ Well that answer can be as simple as horses and hens! Horse owners can find multiple benefits in adding chickens to their operation. Not only are they fun to watch, but the chickens can serve a purpose!

  • Chickens are opportunists. When a pellet or kernel falls, they’ll be there to pick it up. This saves your horse from mouthing around on the ground to find bits of feed (a practice that can lead to ingestion of dirt and sand) and it reduces the amount of feed that is wasted.
  • Chickens are good horse trainers. A horse that has had exposure to poultry won’t “have his feathers ruffled” by sudden movements, loud noises, or the occasional appearance of an egg…
  • Chickens help prepare your horse for the trail. If you plan to take trail rides where wild turkeys, partridge, chuckar, etc. populate it can be beneficial to have your horse used to the patterns and noises of fowl by keeping a few chickens around. A little exposure to flapping, squawking and scurrying can go a long way to desensitizing your horse to those types of events out on the trail.
  • Chickens are nature’s fly traps. You and your horse hate bugs – but chickens love them. Chickens eat flies, worms, grubs, bees; if they can catch it they’ll nibble on it, which means it won’t be nibbling on you or your horse.
  • Chickens are low maintenance. Provide them with a cozy place to sleep, fresh clean water, free choice oyster shell for strong eggshells, grit for digestion and some layer feed and they will be happy and healthy.
  • Chickens help with the chores! One of a chicken’s favorite things to do is scratch the ground for hidden treasures. Give them a pile of horse droppings and they think they’re in heaven! They’ll have the manure broken down, spread around and out of sight before you can even think of grabbing a pitchfork and wheelbarrow!
  • Chickens are pets with benefits. Besides being a colorful and entertaining addition to your stable yard, chickens provide one thing your horse can’t – breakfast! Now if they could only cook it and serve it to you in bed…

A few words of caution about keeping chickens with your horses – make sure that your chickens are fed separately from your horse and that your horse can’t get into their feed. This will eliminate the risk of your horse consuming layer feed that is not designed for his digestive system. Also, provide roosts for your chickens that are away from your horse’s feeder if they are not put into a coop at night to eliminate waste of feed and hay due to chicken droppings. Make sure both your horse and chickens have fresh, clean water that is easily accessible to them at all times.

 

Tips on Growing and Selling Horse Hay

Five horse hay growers in Minnesota share their tips on growing and selling horse hay, including how they monitor moisture throughout the baling process, how they work around the weather, what types of forages they grow and the investment it takes to grow and harvest hay. The farmers also share their advice for individuals wanting to grow and/or sell horse hay and their greatest challenges associated with growing and selling horse hay.

This video was shared with permission from Krishona Martinson, University of Minnesota. This and other horse nutrition articles can be found at http://www.extension.umn.edu/agriculture/horse/nutrition/.