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Manure Handling on Horse Farms
Revised: July 28, 2014
Published: March 10, 2008

If you have a horse farm, manure is something that you have to deal with. When managed properly, manure can be a valuable resource as a source of nutrients and can improve soil quality. However, an extension service in New Jersey indicates that when manure is not managed properly, it can harm the environment as ground and surface water pollution due to nitrogen, phosphorus and carbon. Manure can lead to air quality concerns, pathogens in the water supply, odors, dust, and the increased numbers of vermin. The nutrients in manure can certainly be beneficial for the soil but application rates need to be based on plant growth needs. Applying excessive manure to the soil can result in nutrient leaching and increased losses to runoff, and this is a concern when manure may contain arsenic, copper and zinc. Also, nitrogen, phosphorus and organic matter can be major pollutants and reach bodies of water or wells, and these chemicals increase growth of algae. Algae and the decomposition of organic matter reduces the oxygen content of the water and leads to killing fish in farm ponds. Many pathogens in manure can infect people, such as bacteria and protozoans, and manure increases the fly and rodent problems on horse farms as well. Large amounts of manure can lead to a decrease in air quality for animals and humans alike as ammonia produced from the manure produces odors and the ammonia in the air can react with other compounds that can cause serious respiratory problems for humans and horses. So what are the best methods of handling manure on your horse farm?

The goal is to permit the efficient use of manure for crop production while preventing impacts to the environment caused by nutrient losses. A manure spreader ensures proper field application of stored manure, and you can get a small spreader that can be pulled behind an ATV all the way up to a spreader mounted on a large truck, depending on the size of your horse farm. Manure should not be spread in areas at risk for water pollution such as streams, ponds, or wells. Stored manure should be applied to the soil in a thin layer to encourage drying and decrease fly breeding. You should not spread manure on a horse pasture that has not been composted because it will contain intestinal parasites that can affect the horses. The amount of manure applied to the crops should be about the same amount the crop will use in that year and not any more. Usually a ton of manure will contain about 11 pounds of nitrogen, 4.5 pounds of phosphorus, and 9 pounds of potassium. Your county extension agent can help you determine the amount of manure to apply to each acre of a crop. Application of manure in the spring is the best time of year and if possible, removing shavings from the manure is advisable because the wood can tie up available nitrogen, making it unavailable for plants.

If crop application is not an option, off-farm manure disposal may be required, although selling the manure to gardeners or cropland farmers may be possible. If manure is handled in a correct manner, it can be an added benefit rather than just another problem on the farm.

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