December 25, 2009

Texas AgriLife experts: Composting horse manure easy, beneficial

By: Kay Ledbetter, 806-677-5600  
Contact(s): Kevin Heflin, 806-677-5600, kheflin@ag.tamu.edu
Dr. Brent Auvermann, 806-677-5600, bauvermann@ag.tamu.edu
 
AMARILLO – Over the years, more than one child has wished for a pony for Christmas. And if that wish was granted, a quick reality learned was: What goes in, must come out.

More than one horse in a stalled situation can create a heap of unwanted manure. But owners can turn that daily chore of mucking stalls into a pile of “green” compost material, according to a Texas AgriLife Extension Service specialist.

Horse manure is the easiest type to compost, said Kevin Heflin, an AgriLife Extension associate in Amarillo.

While creating windrows may be the traditional way of composting manure, Heflin said, in a setting where multiple horse owners are cleaning their own stalls, it might be easiest to build a specific location for them to dump the manure.

A set of livestock panels can create a specified dumping area that remains cleaner and easier to manage, he said.

“Multiple owners will inevitably start stacking the manure everywhere they shouldn't,” Heflin said. “They typically will not make a nice neat windrow. If there is a specific location for them to dump the manure, and there are sidewalls or fence panels, it will probably be much cleaner and easier to manage.”

Plastic fencing, such as that used for snow fences or on construction sites, can be added as a lining for the livestock panels to keep the manure contained and neat, he said. Another option is round hay bales, although they do degrade over time, so fencing would be better looking and more functional.

“People will take the composting more seriously if you have a clean looking site," Heflin said.

He suggested keeping the structure as small as possible, utilizing two or three smaller bins if needed. Limiting the size to no larger than 16 feet by 16 feet will make it easier to clean and for people to collect the material from inside.

“It won’t take long for you to get an idea on how much material you are going to produce and how big a bin you really need,” Heflin said.

Making a U-shaped bin and leaving the front open will also cut down on building material, make it more functional, and allow for removal of large amounts of material without damaging the structure.

He said the manure should be piled no higher than five feet if possible, and the pile should be turned at least once during the nine months to a year it takes to make compost.

A cautionary word Heflin offered is that, under certain conditions, compost can catch on fire if it reaches temperatures higher than 172.

“We use a long-stem thermometer to monitor the temperatures to help reduce the risk of a compost fire,” he said. “I would not place the compost next to a building or any other structure that could burn if the compost did catch on fire.

“But if you are not adding supplemental water and you don't get excessive amounts of rain, you should be just fine,” Helfin said. “I don't want you to think there is a high fire danger, but you should be aware that there is the potential.”

When monitoring the compost pile, if temperatures hit 160 and are still rising, hose down the pile and turn it with a front-end loader to allow the water and air to cool the core and restart the composting process, said Dr. Brent Auvermann, AgriLife Extension agricultural engineering specialist.

Auvermann has put together a detailed AgriLife Extension bulletin on making compost from horse manure that can be found online at: http://tammi.tamu.edu/pdf%20pubs/compostinghorsemanure.pdf .

Once the composting is complete, Heflin said, the easiest way to get rid of it is by spreading it on pastures, cropland or the landscape if the equipment and land area are available.

“The other way to get rid of it is to advertise free compost/horse manure,” Heflin said. “I would not try to sell the compost unless you put the extra effort into making good finished compost.”

Finished compost would require supplemental water, regular turning and temperature monitoring, he said.

Another suggestion Heflin offered is if there is an AgriLife Extension-sponsored Master Gardener program in the area, they will often take all the free horse manure/compost they can get.

He said it is a good idea to set specific times and date for collection, as well as outlining details on how they are to collect the material up front. “An example might be: Free compost every Tuesday 12-5 p.m.; bring your own shovel.”

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