Managing Manure in the Pasture
If you have horses, then chances are that you’ve spent a fair amount of time shoveling horse poo. The average horse can produce around fifty pounds of manure a day, so cleaning it up is a chore that most of us have just learned to accept.
I’ve always been a stickler about keeping my stalls clean. But in the past, I didn’t pay much attention to the manure outside my barn. Since this is where my horses spend the majority of their time, it would make sense to do some manure management out in the pasture, right? For some reason, I just didn’t seem to make this connection until recently.
I know what many of you are thinking right now. That’s just too much work. I don’t have time to clean poo from the pasture! Etc., etc.
Like I said, I never thought much about it either–that is until last year when I implemented a paddock paradise track system for my small herd.
On a track, it’s pretty much essential to manage your manure since space is so limited. So I bought a handy little cart and started picking up poo from the track every single day. I realized that yes, it takes some time and work, but it is manageable–even with four horses.
I’ve since dismantled my track because my older horses lost too much weight on it. I have my herd all together on pasture now, but the poo-picking habit has stuck. It’s now just become part of my morning routine.
While picking up manure from a pasture might seem a little overboard (which I’ll admit to being sometimes!), it’s actually a great idea. If you have a really large pasture (as in more than 5 acres per horse, it might not be as important, but with smaller acreages, it is. Let me tell you why.
First of all–more manure means more flies. Many species of flies, including stable flies, face flies, and house flies lay their eggs on manure. The flies are natural decomposers so they are actually helping to break down these piles of organic matter, but they also buzz around and bite, annoying the heck out of our horses, and us, too.
If we keep the manure picked up, we will have less flies, plain and simple. (By the way, I’m also using fly predators for the first time this year to help control the fly population around my farm.)
Secondly, and a very important reason to keep manure picked up is to help prevent the spread of internal parasites, aka worms. There’s a reason why we do fecal egg counts to help devise a deworming plan for horses. Worm eggs come out in manure and that’s how the cycle begins again. If we intercept these eggs by removing most of the manure from grazing areas, we can greatly reduce the probability that our horses will be re-infested.
Of course I don’t want to give anyone the idea that we can completely eliminate internal parasites in our horses–that’s just not going to happen. But managing manure in the pasture can help quite a bit.
A third and often overlooked reason to manage manure is to help maintain water quality. Yes, manure is a natural thing, but piles and piles of it in one condensed area is not. The excess nutrients and contaminants from the manure in our pasture will eventually make their way into ponds, streams, and lakes, leading to ecological imbalance and damage.
Specifically, phosphorus and nitrogen can be carried by runoff to the nearest body of water where they will fertilize aquatic weeds, accelerating their growth. The aquatic plants deplete oxygen levels in the water, reducing the amount of oxygen available for other aquatic organisms, including fish.
You might be wondering, If I pick up the manure and stack or compost it, won’t it still pose an environmental problem? Well, not so much. This is a quote from a recent article about manure management in Natural Horse Magazine:
“Valuable nutrients exist in unstable forms in fresh manure and are frequently lost to the air and water. These same nutrients become increasingly stable during the composting process and are therefore less likely to leach into nearby water supplies.”
Of course, I’m aware of the practice of harrowing (spreading manure out on your field), and I know many people would prefer to do this instead of picking it up. But I have my concerns about this practice. First of all, it needs to be hot and dry in order to kill all the worm eggs. I just don’t trust Oklahoma weather enough.
Also, if you’ve ever paid attention to your horses when they’re grazing, you’ll notice that they prefer not to graze near manure sites. If you spread the manure over the entire pasture, you may not be leaving any desirable grazing areas. (If you can keep the horses off the harrowed pasture for several months–that might be the ideal situation though.)
So while cleaning manure from the pasture may mean more work for you, I believe it is much healthier for our horses and the environment. What are your thoughts? Please share in the comments below.
Sources and Further Reading: