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Manure Management as a Component of Equine Wellness and Health

Managing manure might not be the most enjoyable part of a horse owner’s job, but it's an unavoidable aspect of horse maintenance. If you run a horse farm, you must be familiar with the daily challenge of dealing with manure.


by Dr. Keaton Massie



A typical 1,000-pound horse can produce nearly 50 pounds of manure and about 2 gallons of urine each day. That adds up to a staggering nine tons of manure per horse in just one year! With multiple horses, you can imagine the scale of the job you’re faced with.


However, manure management involves more than just regular stall cleaning. To operate an effective manure management system, you also have to pay attention to its storage, disposal, or utilization. 


I have seen many horse owners and caretakers struggle with the issue of manure management. In this article, I will go over the essentials and explain how to implement the best practices for your horse farm.


What is Manure Management?


Manure management is a continuous practice that involves capturing, storing, treating, and disposing of animal manure. Failure to properly manage your horse’s waste can negatively impact their health and the environment.


It is not just manure that needs to be removed from stalls during cleaning. Wet and soiled bedding material must also be removed, which can often be twice the volume of manure itself. 


Horse farm owners should employ effective manure management strategies suited to the number of horses they care for and the layout of their farm.  With proper planning, manure management can be beneficial to both the horses, the farm, and the environment.


Why Manure Management is Important for Equine Health 


* photo credit American Association of Equine Practitioners

Manure management goes beyond mere aesthetics. It’s important for several reasons:


Reduces the Chances of Diseases: Decomposing manure emits ammonia, which can compromise the respiratory health of horses and lead to breathing conditions like heaves or inflammatory airway disease (IAD). Prolonged exposure to soiled bedding and manure can also predispose horses to hoof ailments such as abscesses and thrush.


Prevents Spread of Parasites: The primary intestinal parasites of horses, such as roundworms, tapeworms, and small strongyles, thrive in moist environments where manure is left unattended. Removing manure from stalls, paddocks, and pastures reduces the likelihood of horses ingesting infective larvae and getting sick. 


Reduces Pest Infestations: Accumulated manure attracts pests like flies, mosquitoes, and rodents, which can irritate and distress horses. These pests are also potential carriers of diseases. Therefore, promptly removing and treating manure will deprive pests of breeding sites and reduce their population. 


Preserves Water Quality: Manure contains high levels of nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus. When left untreated, these nutrients leach into the soil and contaminate groundwater and surface water bodies. Effective manure management practices is helpful in preventing this contamination.


Minimizing Odors: Proximity to residential areas makes odor control important for many farms. A proper manure management ensures you maintain good relations with neighbors.


How to Practice Effective Manure Management


The first piece of advice I give horse owners is to understand how much and what kind of manure their horses produce. Manure production depends on the diet, age, breed, and activity level of your horse. Knowing the quantity and quality of your manure helps you optimize your storage and disposal methods.


Sometimes, you may need to adjust the diet and water intake of your horses, as well as the bedding material and frequency of stall cleaning, to reduce the amount and improve the quality of your manure.


Here are effective manure management practices you should implement on your horse farm:



Manure Capturing 

Collecting the manure is usually the first step in effective management. This involves removing manure from stalls, paddocks, pastures, and turnout areas on a scheduled basis. When doing this, use appropriate tools such as pitchforks, shovels, or mechanized manure collectors for efficient collection.


High-traffic areas like stalls, should be cleaned daily to prevent accumulation, while areas with less traffic, like paddocks or riding arenas, can be cleaned less frequently. The key is to maintain a consistent schedule that prevents buildup and ensures a clean environment for your horses.


Manure Storage

On farms where direct pasture application is not practicable, you might need to have a manure storage site. These sites should be close to the stalls but far from water sources. Manure storage areas should have a solid structure with an impermeable floor and proper covering to prevent leaching and runoff.


Manure storage methods include:



Dry Stacking: Involves piling manure in a structure with a concrete floor and walls. It is suitable for short-term storage and allows easy access for loading and hauling when needed.


Stockpiling: Similar to dry stacking, stockpiling involves creating large piles of manure for temporary storage. This method doesn't require a structured facility but should be done on compacted ground to minimize environmental impact. It's often used when composting options are limited or when manure is intended for use as fertilizer on fields.


Composting: Composting is an eco-friendly, natural process that transforms organic waste like manure, into a nutrient-rich product called compost. To compost, you have to pile your horse’s feces and bedding materials in a heap, and allow the microbes present in the waste to decompose them. Composting can reduce waste volume by 40% to 70%, eliminate pathogens, and destroy weed seeds. The resulting compost is much more marketable as manure than raw stall waste. It nurseries, golf courses, etc., as a soil amendment or fertilizer. 


Effective composting requires:

  • Mixing manure with carbon-rich materials like straw or wood shavings

  • Regularly turning the pile to promote aeration and decomposition

  • Maintaining sufficient moisture levels and temperature throughout the process.



Manure Disposal

Responsible disposal of manure helps to prevent environmental pollution. The most common disposal methods include:

  • Field application: Spreading manure on agricultural fields as a natural fertilizer.

  • Offsite disposal: Transporting manure to an offsite location, such as composting facilities or landfills.


When disposing, ensure that the manure is not dumped or spread near water bodies or wetlands to avoid contamination.


Manure Utilization

Treated manure can be a valuable resource for farmers. You can use it as a fertilizer on your own land or on nearby pastures and crop fields to recycle nutrients and improve soil quality. With some creativity, you may be able to sell your manure for a profit or donate it to support environmental projects.


Managing Manure in the Pasture



Horses often ingest parasite eggs and larvae found in pasture manure. The manure also attracts flies and rodents and reduces the quality of forage. While following up after your horses to remove manure can be laborlabour-intensive, proper pasture management can mitigate these issues. 


The best practices for managing manure in the pasture are:


  • Rotational grazing - Involves dividing the pasture into smaller sections and moving the horses from one section to another periodically. Rotating pastures allows previously grazed areas to recover and disrupts the parasite life cycle.

  • Harrowing or dragging - Involves breaking up and spreading the manure piles across the pasture, which exposes parasite eggs and larvae to sunlight. Harrowing should be done during hot and dry weather conditions, and the pasture should not be grazed for at least two weeks afterward.

  • Manure vacuum - This is a spendy option but well worth the investment. I recommend the Greystone pasture vacuum products. We use them on our property with great success. Check them out!


If you can, try as much as possible to remove manure from pastures. You should also implement a regular deworming program based on fecal egg counts to control parasite populations. 


Conclusion


Manure management is as important as grooming your horse, because it affects their well-being and the environment. In this article, I’ve outlined effective manure management techniques, including regular collection, proper storage, and responsible disposal/utilization. By implementing some of these practices, you can optimize your manure management process, save time and effort, and ultimately enjoy more time with your horses. If you need more guidance about equine manure management, reach out to me below. I love to hear from you.







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