Proper handling of manure can produce rich compost. Photo courtesy of David Tobin.

On average, a single horse produces 50 pounds of waste per day in manure and urine. This output is a blessing and a curse:  It dense nutrients are valuable to enriching soil but too much of it can result in odor, damage to water and soil, flies, unhappy neighbors and, in some areas, significant fines.

Effective manure management is critical to sustaining any farm, ranch or horse facility.  It is important to understand the full range of options for handling manure. Any manure management plan should reference local best practice standards, which are available for no cost from local Agriculture Extension offices (found here and here) and county soil and water districts.

Properties with pastures or farmed land often choose to spread their manure. Well-managed spreading can dispose of manure while also enriching soil. Before spreading, it is important to understand the nutrient content of the manure, the composition of the soil, and the crop targeted by the manure. Extension offices and soil and water districts provide low-cost testing.

Haul-away is a common solution for horse facilities in urban and suburban areas. Many landfills accept manure, though they usually charge a tipping fee. Community composting centers also frequently accept manure as well. Manure hauling companies provide dumpsters and haul-away services on a schedule or a fee-for-service basis. Fees vary greatly by region.

Depending on its construction, on-site storage provides short-term storage for haul away, composting or permanent storage for manure. Replanting short-term stockpiles sites within a year will protect soil and groundwater. Permanent storage sites require a solid surface like concrete or asphalt. Requirements for temporary and permanent stockpiling vary by state and county.

Composting is an increasingly popular tactic for managing manure. Composting kills worms and larvae, reduces the amount of waste to handle, and creates a useful output. Low-cost designs for composting facilities are readily available. Local soil and water authorities or Agricultural Extension Offices have information on design option as well some resources to help fund these types of improvements.

A manure management plan is necessary for any horse facility. Develop a plan by answering the following questions:

  • How much manure does your facility produce every year?  (# of horses x days of occupancy x 50 pounds per day)
  • How do you collect your manure?
  • How do you store your manure?
  • What would you do in the event of flooding, storms, mudslides or other environmental emergency that might cause your manure to leak or spill?
  • If you are going to spread the manure, what is the content of the manure and soil and how much of these nutrients does your selected crop or groundcover need?