Spreading manure at the farm
Spreading horse manure is a great way to reduce waste, get back to nature, and naturally fertilize your grazing areas. No brainer, right?
Not so fast. There are a few things to consider here, and I’ll start with the big one – worms. Not earthworms, but horse parasites.
The manure that you spread is really chopped up, and doesn’t take long to integrate with the soil.
Most of us are vaguely aware that intestinal parasites are transmitted from horse to horse via manure.
- Most of us (me included) are vaguely aware of fecal egg counts and a deworming schedule. So I’ll add a few commonly misunderstood points here. The fecal egg count is not the “end all and be all” of worm control. There are several different tests, not all fecal tests are designed for all worms.
- Fecal egg counts also must be conducted at the correct time in the life cycle of the specific worms you are testing for. Also, some worms (like pinworms) will never show up on a fecal egg count as their eggs are not passed in manure. Ideally, you are doing fecal egg counts in the spring and the fall.
- A regular worming schedule designed by your Veterinarian for your specific herd and your climate/region is a great idea. The entire farm’s worm load status needs to be monitored. It does no good to anyone if the low shedding horses are wormed regularly and the high shedding horses are not.
What do deworming and fecal egg counts have to do with spreading horse manure?
- Well, many farms spread horse manure on pastures to be a bit more “green” and to harness the natural fertilization powers of poop. And many farms avoid this practice because they fear they will “contaminate” the fields. Which can be avoided with some simple practices, as outlined below.
- Plan your spreading. Avoid rainy times, frozen earth times, and only spread in thin layers. Rain can cause runoff and can create an ideal environment for parasites if there are any.
- You can do this with tractor/utility vehicle tow behinds quite easily. These tag along spreaders also chop the snot out of the manure, so it easily spreads thinly and decomposes into the earth easily. Or you can manually chop up and spread for an extra calorie-burning bonus.
- Spread your horse manure on pastures that are resting (for a few weeks at least), or are being used by animals other than horses.
- Avoid spreading near water sources (wells, streams, run-off areas, etc.).
- If you are also spreading shavings or wood by-products from the stalls, be aware that this will take precious nitrogen from the soil which will defeat the whole purpose. You will need to add nitrogen fertilizer, or you can use composted wood and horse manure.
- Your local agriculture extension service also has lots of resources to help you with any soil questions you may have. This is also a great resource to tap if you need help with seeding and figuring out your soil and what will grow easily.
This is where the magic happens – in the back of the spreader!
I also chatted with the great folks over at Millcreek Spreaders, who added a few thoughts of their own:
- Many people believe “don’t spread fresh manure on actively-grazed pastures,” but we actually have many clients who do just that. It really is not a problem if you are diligent about worming and/or if you have a closed herd. Yes, rotating pastures is best but you can do it where horses are grazing as long as you’re smart about it.
- We strongly urge everyone to check for any local regulations regarding manure spreading before they start doing it. You don’t want to dump loads of manure somewhere only to have the environmental inspection folks turn up and tell you you’re not allowed to do it. In our own state of PA, there are very strict regulations regarding setbacks from “sensitive areas” and paperwork must be filed with the environmental regulatory folks.
- Spreading composted manure absolutely can’t be beaten for best fertilization. People also need to use caution and check regulations for manure storage before doing it, especially regarding run-off. They also need to make sure it’s done properly to avoid potential problems, including combustion (really bad) or not actually killing the worms or causing a nutrient breakdown.
Pick the paddocks, and let the spreader mix everything up.
AND, because I know some of you are wondering, it’s NOT ok to just let fresh manure piles rest in the paddocks. (UGH)
- Horses typically avoid grazing around them, so you end up with tall patches that are ungrazed and bare patches that are over grazed. Not to mention the new fly breeding micro farm that will pop up in each poop pile. The tall patches are also wonderful gathering places for ticks – and let’s be honest, no one really likes ticks.