BY MOLLY MCMASTERS
The concept of composting has been rapidly expanding across the country with greater awareness of the benefits and ease of the process. Individuals and restaurants generally compost food waste and paper products, but horse farms can also get in on the action.
Manure. It can be a real pain. The collection and disposal of raw and uncomposted manure can be messy and time-consuming. Composting reduces the volume of manure by about fifty percent, which gives you more space and less of a pile to deal with. That pile can even be turned into a gold mine, as landscapers, topsoil companies, organic farmers and nurseries are always in the market for good compost!
Being “green” is now more important than ever as global climate change, more frequent tropical storms, the acidification of the seas, as well as countless other symptoms of a sick planet threaten the future of our environment. Composting, though it may seem a small act, is a great way to contribute to the global effort to combat climate change. By converting nitrogen into a less soluble (dissolved by water) form, composting keeps dangerous cancer-causing nitrates from leaching into surface and groundwater. Using compost instead of fertilizer both reduces harmful chemical runoff and lessens the consumption of nonrenewable fossil fuels, as two percent of U.S. fossil fuels go into producing chemical fertilizers. Soil derived from compost retains much more nitrogen (up to 97 percent,) which allows plants to use it for a longer period of time. If compost is added constantly to a garden or field, the need for fertilizers can be eliminated.
So you want to compost…
Great! Composting can be a very fun and rewarding experience, but you’ll need a few things before you get started.
Temperature: Your pile (or piles) should be enclosed within a bin, box, or fence. A 4×7 foot pile of fresh manure is optimal, as this size allows the compost to reach the bacteria and weed seed-killing temperature it needs while staying small enough to manage, but a larger or smaller pile will still work. During the first two or three weeks of the process, the pile could start to smell and dearly needs to reach high temperatures, so mixing the pile up or “turning it over” is important. This can be done with a tractor or a few people with shovels on larger farms, or one person with a shovel (and an affinity for horse poop) for smaller farms. In the first week, the temperatures should be between 50-110 degrees Fahrenheit (10-43 degrees Celsius) and then increase to 110-160 degrees Fahrenheit (43-71 degrees Celsius.) Temperatures will drop back to normal after two or three weeks.
Moisture: The moisture of your compost is also important. If you hold a handful of compost from the middle of your pile (watch out- it might be hot) and it drips without being squeezed, it is too wet. You can turn the pile over to fix this. If it drips a little when squeezed, it is perfect. If it doesn’t drip at all and crumbles it is too dry, so add water until the moisture is fixed. In the rainy season, put a tarp or cover the pile to keep it from getting completely soaked. This will help your compost decompose the fastest it can.
The Contents: Too much bedding can slow down the decomposition process. Hay and straw break down the fastest while wood chips and sawdust do so at a slower rate. If you use chips or sawdust, don’t get discouraged, you can speed things up by adding nitrogen-rich matter like grass clippings, blood meal, or chicken manure and frequently turning your pile.
That’s it! If you follow this guide, you’ll have all the compost your heart desires. Spread it on your pastures, sell it, give it away, or use it in your garden! Make sure you thank your horses for all they give you- in the ring and in their stalls.