While not the most glamorous subject associated with horse ownership, horse 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/.