Remove, Store, Dispose:

Manure Management for the Boarding Barn Owner

Horse Manure

 by Aubrey Moore

Manure. It’s something that we’re all aware of as horse boarding barn owners, but when was the last time you actually considered your farm’s manure management plan? The truth of the matter is that a 1,000-pound horse creates around 31 pounds of feces and 2.4 gallons of urine in a single day, so whether you have one horse boarded at home or a 40-horse boarding stable, manure and waste is something you’ll need to really plan for. If you’re interested in learning all about how to make a great plan, as well as possible disposal options, check out our horse manure management tips below.

Why You Need a Plan

Having an effective manure management plan is a critical component of running a successful boarding barn. Not only will it show your clients that your barn is a safe and professional business, but it can also reduce the number of flies and rodents around your stable, and it can help save you money, time, and energy. An efficient plan will also reduce the amount of land you need for storing your manure, a major plus if you have limited space and acreage for your farm. It’s also worth it to have a plan since it’s something you will use day after day; anyone involved in barn management knows that horses never stop producing manure, so you’ll never stop having to take care of it! 

Key Steps to Keep Manure Management Under Control

There are a few essential items to remember to manage your soiled bedding and manure with the least effort possible. First, you want to plan on consistent, frequent removal. The more often you remove soiled bedding and manure from common areas, the less you’ll have to dispose of at one time. Routine cleaning will also discourage the congregation of flies or other pests in barn areas, as well as keep your horses cleaner in general (we’ve all had that one gray horse with a permanent green poop stain!).

You can encourage regular removal of waste products by making it easy for yourself and any of your barn staff to do. For example, you may try staging manure forks in easily accessible locations throughout the barn and arenas, keeping waste buckets where staff and owners can discard manure without trekking out to a compost pile, and making sure your wheelbarrows are in working order. Even better, utilize small pull-behind trailers for tractors/ATVs to carry larger amounts of waste, saving your staff repeated wheelbarrow trips.

You also may want to have a backup plan for “surge” times (such as when your barn hosts a show) or have alternate disposal means available in case of inclement weather. For example, suppose it’s difficult to get to manure storage areas in the mud or snow. It may cause manure to pile up around your barn space, causing horse health and environmental concerns (not to mention causing a big stink in your barnyard).

Once you have a management plan set, take the time to walk through each step (the removal of waste, temporary storage of products, and means of disposal), and think through whether each step is safe, efficient, and easy for your workers. If not, make changes as needed, and don’t be afraid to adapt your plan as you and your horse staff learn more about the process of horse manure management. 

Ways to Dispose of Manure

You’re likely already clear on why you need to remove bedding and waste from barns and arenas, and you probably already have a place in mind to store the waste until it can be dealt with (unless you’re just getting into the boarding business). But what about disposal? Poor disposal can affect horse health, contaminate local water sources, and grow a whole host of flies in only 7 short days. Therefore, it is vital to have safe disposal practices, no matter how many or few horses you may be in charge of.

Luckily, you’re not the first barn to deal with horse manure management, and there are a variety of options out there to get rid of manure and waste. For example, if you have a large amount of bedding, you may pay a company to haul it away. You’ll be provided a dumpster-like receptacle to place your waste, and once it’s full, it will be removed for you. You’ll need space for the container itself, but you won’t need to devote significant amounts of land to composting or require additional equipment to spread it. The downside is the receptacles can be stinky, difficult to dump wheelbarrows into, and may encourage fly growth, requiring frequent pickups or the use of fly predators to eliminate larvae.

If haul away isn’t an option (and you use straw as bedding), you also may be able to work with local landscaping companies or mushroom farmers to give waste away to use as compost. You may still need alternate disposal options, however, if you have more manure than they require.

For smaller amounts, you can work with local gardeners or utilize it in your own personal garden or compost piles. You may need to change your bedding type, as certain materials make better compost than others (like peat moss or newspaper vs. wood shavings). You can also spread manure thinly in fields and naturally compost unused pastures. This also aids the waste in drying out, interrupting the life cycle of flies (which lay eggs and grow in the top few inches of moist manure).

Composting can work great for both small and large amounts. However, the downside is you’ll require extra space for waste to sit, and you’ll need to manage the pile w/frequent turning in the first few days and weeks that you establish it. You’ll also need to monitor the pile to ensure a proper mix of nitrogen, carbon, and moisture, the key to creating actual compost instead of just a pile of stinky horse waste.

On the plus side, the high heat that compost produces will prevent fly growth, and (with a properly managed pile) waste can be transitioned into compost in just 4 weeks. Composting also reduces odor, a major plus when running any animal barn. When selecting a location for your compost pile, ensure that any runoff will not affect groundwater or local streams and creeks.

With effective management and proper planning, your horse manure management can be done quickly, cheaply, and with surprising ease. Good manure management goes a long way to ensuring your barn is full of happy horse staff, content owners, and, most importantly, healthy horses.

About Aubrey Moore:

Over the years, Aubrey has dabbled in a variety of equestrian activities such as eventing, dressage, Pony Club, and one epic safari ride across Africa. When she isn’t busy freelance writing for such publications as Horse Network, she can be found at home with her pony Khali and pony-sized cat, Frankie.