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Composting Horse Manure – Horsekeeping Mountain Style! #2

It just cannot be avoided – what goes in must come out.  One of our local horse folks has been successfully turning the manure from her two horses into a valuable resource.  Some work is involved, but not much more than what we already do.  At the end of the process you have nutrient rich compost while significantly cutting down on your overall landfill waste.  Composting reduces manure volume by half, stabilizes the nitrogen and phosphorus compounds to prevent water pollution; in addition to minimizing fly problems, odor, dust, parasite re-infection, spread of insect-borne diseases and fire danger.

To get started, location, pile size, and moisture content are key aspects to consider.  Find your location by establishing a small, warm, but not too windy area of your yard away from wells and water sources, but near the manure source.  The pile must be at least one cubic yard to be able to heat up enough to kill weed seeds and pathogens.  This person in our area decided to use three bins to allow each bin enough time to rest before new manure was added.  Another method is to make a windrow that is at least 3’ high and wide, shaped somewhat like a bread loaf and then the new manure is always added to the same end.  Finally, have a water source in reach in order to keep the water content around fifty percent, or about the consistency of a wrung out sponge.  Too much moisture emits an unpleasant odor and too little does not allow for proper decomposition.  Ann also had some ant issues when the pile became too dry.

In addition to manure, which is considered a “green” component rich in nitrogen, “brown” components rich in carbon are required to make compost.  “Brown” materials include dried leaves, straw, sawdust/shavings, waste hay/feed and dried grass clippings.  Other sources of “green” or nitrogen rich materials are green leaves, fresh grass clippings, green plant waste, and fruit/vegetable waste from the kitchen.  The best carbon to nitrogen ratio for compost is 25-30 parts carbon to one part nitrogen.  Layering the native soil with the green and brown components adds in the natural microorganisms needed to decompose the compost pile.

In addition to the moisture and materials, heat and air are essential.  When your pile is the proper size and moisture content, the core of the pile will reach a temperature of 140 degrees F.  Once that temperature is reached and then decreases, it is time to turn and aerate the pile in order to oxygenate and mix the materials.  Our local has been using a pitch fork to aerate and/or turn the piles or you can of course use heavier equipment if available.

The temperature will rise and fall several times in the process.  You can also add ventilation pipes through the bottom of the pile to allow passive aeration.  Once the compost pile temperature stabilizes, the composting is ready to cure.

Curing is done by the mid-temperature microorganisms and takes 1-2 months.  For curing, keep the pile moist, but not over 50% moisture.  During curing the pH returns to neutral, the soils natural microorganism’s recolonize and give disease suppressing qualities.  The result is homogenous, humus-like, dark compost with that deep, earthy aroma.

The end product can be added to your pasture, lawn, garden, tree and shrub soil to increase organic matter, fertility and water holding capacity – all qualities that we need in our rocky soil!  It can also be used as stall bedding or turn a profit by selling to landscapers – Instead of poop in the pasture, you will see dollar signs!  Start composting your horse and organic waste and learn a new way to manage your manure and care for the earth’s land and resources – make a pile and just keep in mind the general principles of composting:  moisture, materials, heat and air.

Other things to consider in our climate:  In the winter, tarps or plastic can be utilized over the pile to hold in the heat and moisture.  The smaller the pieces that are added to the compost pile, the quicker the process.

A plug for worms (red wigglers or red worms in particular) – Vermicomposting or using worms to compost has great perks including year-round composting, expedited composting process, no aeration required because the worms do the work, the compost tea they produce is a great liquid fertilizer and they make easy to care for, hardworking family pets.

For more composting information go to the Colorado State Extension Service -www.ext.colostate.edu and www.manuremanagement.com

Heather McWilliams © 2013.


Fencing, Pasture & Hay Storage – Horsekeeping Mountain Style! #1

If you keep your own horses at home in our mountain area, you know that we don’t fit into the average book on “horsekeeping on small acreages”.  Of course even from property to property the technicalities can vary greatly because of geography, covenants, flora and fauna.  This is the first installment in a series of what to consider while you enjoy having your horses at home.

Fencing and Pasture

Fencing is a very broad topic and varies from neighborhood to neighborhood with what the covenants dictate, what the ground will allow and of course what you can afford.  Whatever you do, consider the wildlife that we enjoy and share the mountains with along with your horses.  The Division of Wildlife has a “must read”, excellent brochure on many types of fencing and specifications that work for wildlife and livestock – go to www.wildlife.state.co.us and find “Fencing with Wildlife in Mind”.   In general, elk and deer need to be able to safely jump the fences and calves and fawns need to be able to safely crawl under.

With our arid climate and in order to protect your land from erosion and being picked down to dirt fairly quickly, it is always important to have a sacrifice area, lot or runs to keep your horses off of a larger turn-out area for periods of time.  Maybe you only have enough for a small lot, but if you have an area that is larger, it is worth some cross fencing to allow a little grass to grow for your horse to enjoy and feel like a horse.  The fencing on your lot or runs should be made of very safe, secure and sturdy materials since the horses will be in there for longer periods of time and will likely be using it for itching, leaning, and reaching.  Other things to consider are the level and space between the fence to prevent a leg, head or other body part from being stuck or rubbing their mane out.  The Colorado State Extension Service at www.ext.colostate.edu has great resources for managing local small acreages and they would welcome your call or email.

For fencing materials, there are many options that can be aesthetically pleasing and fairly inexpensive to obtain.  Look for local resources that are readily available to save money on the freight and materials.  Beetle kill wood is one example of this in Colorado, whereas in Texas it may be pipe and cable.   One application is “Zig Zag” or “Worm” Fencing that uses long straight trees, is attractive, requires no post holes, is relatively easy to install and if you or someone you know is mitigating Lodgepole Pine off of their property, it can be quite inexpensive or even free.

For the majority of the properties up here, there is just not any way to get around feeding horses some amount of hay year round.  Our grass just does not get enough moisture to recover that quickly.  There are a few properties that can and the rest of us suffer from pasture envy.  The stocking rates are around one 1,000 pound horse per 30 acres of dry pasture, but a water source can improve that number.   Using rotational grazing by cross fencing sections or cells of your pasture will increase the grass production and pasture health, but not your stocking rates.  The principle used on this land is called “take half, leave half”- Your horses eat down half of the forage and then you remove them from that portion for about 30 days to let it recover.   Many people in our area limit the pasture turn-out time of their horses to a number of hours that works for them, their land and grasses.  One disadvantage of this is that the horses may only eat one type, their favorite type of grass during that period, making the recovery for that grass difficult.  It is important to mention that when your pasture or lot has trees in it, it critical for the horses safety to trim any dead branches off from ground level to a couple feet above their eye level to keep them from poking eyes, legs and other body parts.

Hay Storage

Hay Storage and fencing can be related if you don’t have a place in your barn or a hay barn to keep it from other hungry hooved animals.  If elk and deer get into your hay, it is not only costly to you, it is not good for them.   Refer again to the above DOW brochure on “Fencing with Wildlife in Mind” for great hay storage solutions.  Some options include fencing in a storage area that must be 7-8 feet high to keep elk and deer from jumping in.  Panels, similar to large wooden pallets, are also functional and can be moved around to different locations.  While in use, the slats on the panels should be vertical to prevent them from being climbed and also secured together to create a complete barrier.   Of course, hay should be kept securely tarped (remember the wind!) and off of the ground.

Copyright 2013 Heather McWilliams, MtnHomes4Horses.com.