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Green Horsekeeping

What's good for the environment is also good for your neighbors.

Environmental concerns are everywhere in the news these days, as all of us become aware of how our actions affect the entire planet. The choice to keep horses on your property is both a responsibility and an opportunity for stewardship of the land.

Horses can degrade the environment in a number of ways, but one of the largest concerns is the management of the prodigious amounts of manure they produce. The average 1000 pound horse produces 50 pounds of manure a day, or eight to ten tons of manure a year. Another 20 pounds of urine plus soiled bedding escalates the accumulation of waste material. From another perspective, the annual tally of waste material from one horse would fill at least one 12 by 12 stall to the depth of six feet!

How does something that can be used on the land as an enrichment become a problem instead? The same nutrients in manure that boost plant growth become a pollution hazard when amounts are excessive or they move from the soil into groundwater or other water sources. Too much manure can disrupt nutrient ratios in the soil, and the presence of nitrogen in horse waste stimulates the growth of algae and other underwater vegetation, destroying the natural balance of aquatic systems. Pathogens found in manure can also contaminate water supplies.

As housing developments infiltrate more areas where horses are kept, concerns about shared environment become more and more pressing. In the United States, 45% of horses are housed on private residential property, not on farms in agricultural zones. In addition to other health concerns, odors, insects, rodents, and visual impact are problems that need to be tackled in order for horse owners to remain good neighbors.

You probably spend a lot of time planning the feed that goes into your horse. At least as much planning should apply to what comes out the other end. A waste management program for your horse operation doesn't need to be elaborate, just functional.

•  Remove manure daily from stalls and paddocks with the objective of keeping them clean and dry.

•  Horses turned out in paddocks or exercise lots have usually destroyed the vegetation in the area, which is part of the cleansing soil filtration system. Maintain grassy strips bordering the perimeter of the paddock. These buffers filter sediment and nutrients from water flowing through them and reduce pollutants leaving the site. Clean surface water should be diverted from running into the paddock.

•  Maintain vegetated filter strips along ditches, streams, and ponds.

•  Manure piles in pastures are small pollution sources that can combine to become a significant cause of degradation of water quality. Drag or harrow pastures to break up manure piles and expose them to sun and air. Then, keep horses off the field for 18 to 21 days while parasitic larvae die. Remove, do not spread, manure from areas where horses congregateŚwater troughs, feeders, and shelters.

•  Design pastures and paddocks so that horses are fenced out of wetlands, streams, and ponds, and are at least 100 feet from wells.

•  Manure can be spread directly on cropland. Turning waste under immediately after spreading reduces loss of nutrients and decreases odors and insects. Do not overspread, and do not spread on soil with a high water table or near slopes draining into streams or ponds.

•  If you are not able to spread the manure, design a manure storage system to contain waste until it can be moved off site. The storage site should be located away from streams, ponds, or wells and out of the pathway of storm water runoff. Storage sites can be bins, dumpsters, or concrete or wooden bunkers. A cover or tarp will prevent rainwater from moving through the waste and creating leachate. Placing the storage area on a solid surface will also reduce the potential for seepage into groundwater. The storage area should be surrounded by a berm to guard against runoff.

•  Composting manure involves the breakdown of organic matter into nutrient rich humus. This process can result in a product that is a valuable resource for gardeners and landscapers. Composting can be a simple or sophisticated managed process, but remember that just throwing manure in a pile is not composting. Consult your county extension agent for more information on composting methods.

•  Eventually you will need to consider how the manure will be removed from your property, whether it is spread, composted, or hauled away.

The choices we make concerning our horses definitely have an impact on the world we live in. Responsible planning for the management of the manure and waste that horses generate will determine their long-term health as well as the health of your community.

For further information:

•  Contact your Cornell Co-operative Extension agent for information about drainage and composting.

•  Visit

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