Although all organic matter, including manure and bedding, eventually decomposes, it's worthwhile to kick-start the process by implementing some basic composting practices.
- Composting manure generates a tremendous amount of heat which destroys weed seeds, fly larvae, and pathogens that can otherwise stay persistent in your environment.
- The size of a manure pile will shrink by at least 50 percent after it's finished composting.
- Finished compost is a great soil builder, providing nutrients and organic matter to grow healthier plants. In addition, compost helps to maintain soil moisture levels, saving you money on watering bills.
- By composting, manure waste is recycled in a way that is beneficial, instead of possibly detrimental, to your environment.
1. Cover the manure pile. The type of cover is not important, but having one is.
- Covering manure keeps rain and snow from leaching good nutrients for your plants out of your compost.
- Covering keeps certain nutrients, like nitrogen, from seeping into places you don't want them, such as well-water, surface water, and other areas you want to stay "clean."
- Covering with a permanent roof has benefits: it saves labor (by not having to lift a tarp each time you dump manure, especially in windy areas), conserves resources (by not having to replace worn-out tarps with expensive new ones), and allows for more air circulation.
2. Get air into the pile. Without air, the composting process can stop. Beneficial microorganisms and bacteria need oxygen to breathe while they help break down manure. There are easy, to very elaborate, ways to accomplish this step.
- Set up a static, aerated system by using permanent pipes attached to a blower on a timer to constantly get air into the pile. This process is one of the fastest ways to make finished compost; there are companies that can help you set a system up.
- Place pipes with holes in them into the pile, you can start with a layer on the bottom of an empty bin and add more throughout the pile as it grows.
- Occasionally turn the manure pile with a tractor.
- Turn the pile as you add to it with a long-handled compost turner (these are surprisingly easy to use), or simply by using a manure fork.
3. Maintain heat and moisture in the pile. Proper temperatures will keep nasty fly larvae and weed seeds at bay, and maintaining consistent moisture in the pile will speed up the composting process.
- Keep an eye on the temperature in the pile by purchasing a long-handled compost thermometer. Maintaining a temperature above 135 degrees Fahrenheit for a minimum of three days will help eliminate weed seeds, larvae, and pathogens.
- Piles that are too dry will cool down and be slow to compost. It may be necessary to occasionally add water: either leave the cover off during a rain, or add water. Cleaning you water buckets over the pile is a good way to add water and recycle it at the same time.
- Keep a moisture level in your compost pile that's the equivalent of a wrung-out kitchen sponge.
These three composting tips will not only help produce some "black gold," they will help to keep your place looking great, smelling great, and provide your horses with a healthy environment.
For more information on creating great compost, check out our composting and manure management pages.