Quickest Way to Compost Your Horse Manure
Manure is a problem. An unavoidable problem, especially with horses. If you have a stable full of horses, we are talking about pounds and pounds of refuse daily. This refuse needs to go somewhere, and you can’t exactly flush your horse’s waste down the toilet, as nice as that would be. The solution is compost. You can stack the manure in one massive pile on its own, but that will result in a giant stink heap that will break down extremely slowly, and most farmers or stable owners don’t have the time for that. Besides, you would be welcoming parasites and flies by the truckload. What you need is a pile of manure that will reach high temperatures to burn away the toxic components and break the poo into a dirt-like substance that you can use in your garden or soil.
Some people choose to use the “spread” method. This means they take the manure and sprinkle it throughout the pasture. The manure will compost eventually, just like any organic material will, but this process is slow and can prove hazardous. If your horses are grazing in a pasture sprinkled with their own waste, you are begging for problems. Flies, larvae, weeds, and any number of pathogens. It is a great way for your horse to get sick or infected with something nasty.
The most common practice of composting is really the best, the fastest, and the easiest. I’m talking of course about a compost pile. By creating strategic piles of compost, mixing the horse manure with other specific materials, you are going to quicken the compost process. You will manage to heat the poo to a high enough level that bacteria, fungi, viruses, and even worms won’t survive. What you’re left with is a recycled organic material that can be used to enrich your garden and your soils. You can even package the compost if you have enough and sell it locally. Many nurseries, farmers, topsoil companies, and landscapers are dying to get their hands on healthy compost.
Thermal Aerobic Composting: Oxygen and Heat
There is no way around it, with a well-designed compost pile you are going to reduce the bulk of your horse manure and non-composted waste by anywhere between forty and sixty percent. This means weight, too. Your compost is going to be significantly lighter than the original manure you dumped into the pile. This is done through a process called “thermal aerobic composting,” also known as hot composting.
Hot composting is the art (or rather the scientific process) of breaking down organic material with oxygen and heat. This is by far the quickest and most effective way to compost your horse’s waste. The heat works by killing all the nasty stuff that is in your horse’s manure, from seeds to pathogens. The oxygen works by keeping the microscopic poop eaters functioning, ensuring the microbes have the life and energy they need to do nature’s magic and break down the stinky manure. But it’s not quite as easy as just pouring poop into a pile.
How to Hot Compost
There are a few key components to hot composting, and how you manage your pile and juggle the different components will determine exactly how successful you are with your compost, and how quickly you can rid yourself of all that stinky poop. The two main components are air and temperature, also known as heat and oxygen.
The first step is to create the perfect pile. You can have one or many depending on how much manure you need to compost. The goal here is to create a pile large enough to generate bacteria-killing temperatures, and so you want to have your pile no less than three feet tall. This is the sweet spot. In terms of width and length, you want to make your poop pile between five and seven feet square. That said, it is not only a poop pile. You want to put as much organic material in there as you feel comfortable, but not just banana peels and rotten old apples. You need a balance of carbon and nitrogen. Try adding straw, shavings, sawdust, leaves, and wood chips in with your horse manure to speed up the composting process. Keep in mind that the formula must be balanced. Too much carbon-based material won’t decompose properly with the manure.
Now that you have your pile, you can’t just leave it to fester. You need to cycle oxygen inside the hot bundle of poop and other material. This is what they call “turning the pile.” Just think of a bedroom with the doors and windows closed; the heat builds and the stink comes with it. You need to bring air into the pile, keeping it relatively stink-free and allowing it to maintain optimum heat. This can be done with a tractor or a pitchfork (we don’t recommend using your hands). You should turn the pile roughly 4 times regularly. This is especially true during the beginning, in the first couple of weeks, as It will drastically speed up the whole process of decomposition. As a rule of thumb, the more often you take the time to flip and turn your manure pile, the quicker it will hurry up and turn into compost.
Keep it dry. Moisture, obviously, is going to kill the heat in your pile. If it’s rainy season or wintertime, we suggest a tarp to keep the compost as dry as possible. It’s not always possible, but definitely try to keep your compost dry.
The absolute quickest your 4-foot manure pile is going to degrade into usable compost is about one month. This is with extreme care for your pile, turning it often and ensuring the ingredients are perfect (the manure and other materials). The environment must also be ideal, so a one-month guess would be in the summertime. The perfect conditions in winter will keep you waiting about three months for the compost to be healthy and usable, six at the very most if it’s especially wet or you don’t put in the time.