How to handle horse manure concerns

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(Last of a three-part series)
SALEM, Ohio – If you are going to care for a horse, what are you going to do with the huge amount of manure generated by your horse?
To be exact, a 1,000-pound horse produces up to 9 tons of manure a year, according to Ann Swinker, a Penn State University Extension horse specialist.
And that doesn’t even include the amount of bedding used each day.
“Horses generate a lot of manure,” agreed Les Ober, agricultural program assistant with Ohio State University Extension in Geauga County, “and somewhere along the line, owners realize what a problem it is.”
Landowners need to wary where they will pile the manure. But they also need to stay on top of issues like horse health, odor and fly problems, runoff, water contamination, aggravated neighbors and the law.
In short, horse owners need to develop a management plan for manure and soiled bedding.
If you have the land or means to do so, you can use it on croplands, arena surfaces, trail surfaces, and for landscaping.
Marketing. If you don’t use it yourself, there is also the option of marketing it to others. A marketing plan can be set to contract or donate compost to crop farmers, landscapers or nursery owners.
Pastures. Manure management in a pasture depends on the distribution of the manure across the pasture.
Swinker said rotational grazing is one of the best ways to achieve this goal, although owners with a few acres and horses usually don’t have enough pasture for rotational grazing.
Pastures can be split and the horse can be moved back and forth between the different paddocks, so that the manure is distributed uniformly.
What if you have water near the area your horses graze or where you spread the manure?
To avoid manure getting in or near any water bodies, landowners should restrict access to streams with fencing.
Don’t apply manure to land that is highly erodible, frozen or saturated.
Ober said owners with small acreage should not spread sawdust because it has a negative effect on grass. Owners can wait until the sawdust sits a while and starts to decompose.
Stockpiling. Manure is usually stockpiled until it’s ready to be used.
The right storage area allows for greater flexibility and use. Be sure you have a large enough storage area to accommodate the manure produced.
“For a small lot area, owners should get a dumpster or have some way of removal,” said Ober.
He also encourages owners to build some sort of structure to hold the waste, not simply pile it up.
Proper site selection for the storage area is important to safeguard against surface and groundwater contamination.
According to Swinker, stockpiles should be placed at least 150 feet away from surface water and wells.
Establish and maintain grass buffer strips between water bodies and manure piles. Construct a perimeter ditch or berm around the storage area, if needed, to prevent runoff onto or off of the area.
Pollution violations. If you pollute waterways, there are a range of possible actions the Environmental Protection Agency can take, depending on the number and seriousness of the violations.
You may get a notice of violation. This will inform you of violations and direct you to correct them.
For more serious violations or a history of violations, EPA may begin a civil suit, asking a court to require you to stop or correct the violation and to impose a penalty.
Such serious terms rarely apply to small farms, but all complaints must be investigated. In Ohio, for example, agencies like the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Soil and Water Conservation, and its local counterpart, county soil and water conservation districts, get involved.
Composting. Composting is a good manure management technique for the small and large farm owner.
When you compost organic matter, you create a combination of heat, chemicals, and beneficial bacteria that morphs it into a relatively dry end product that is easily handled and reduces the volume of the manure.
The upside to composting is that it can kill fly eggs and larvae; it leaves less of an odor compared to raw manure; it can be marketed; and it can be an excellent soil conditioner.
It takes an investment of time, money and machinery to do it right.
First, select a level, convenient site, away from property lines.
Next, decide how many bins you will need, at least two. One bin can be used for stall waste.
When the bin becomes full, allow it to compost and start filling the second.
The bin system can be built easily, but the cost of materials and design can vary.
Tarp the pile. Composting includes tarping, turning and watering.
Micro-organisms that break down the manure and bedding require air and water.
Cover each bin with a tarp to prevent the pile from becoming a soggy mess in the winter and too dried out in the summer. A tarp also saves nutrients from washing out into the surface water or causing other problems.
Laws. Recordkeeping is an essential factor in land application of manure.
In some states, manure land applications records must be kept for possible audit by state or local regulatory authorities.
It’s important to know how much manure was applied to each field and when it was applied.
Both Ober and Swinker said that the best thing for owners to do is get in touch with their soil and water conservation district so that experts can help them develop good, safe manure management programs.
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