Eco-Friendly Horse Care
Call me a tree hugger if you want, but I care about the environment. I’m always trying to think of ways I can have less of an impact on it. Back when I was a middle school science teacher, I had the slogan, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, proudly displayed in the front of my classroom. Those are words which have long been imprinted on my brain.
I live in a very rural community where being ecologically-minded is not a value that many seem to share, but nevertheless, I take my re-usable shopping bags to the grocery store, recycle the products that are accepted at the small recycling center nearby, and use household products made with natural ingredients (many of which I make myself).
Lately, I’ve become more aware of the impact that keeping horses has on the earth. So in this post, I’d like to focus on some of the ways we can all help protect the environment when it comes to horse care–an area that hasn’t always been so eco-friendly.
Managing Manure and Protecting Water
Perhaps the most environmentally detrimental aspect of keeping horses is the manure they produce. You might be wondering how manure can be bad–it’s just natural waste, right? Well, true. But the problem occurs when it becomes concentrated in one small area. We all know that horses poop a LOT! When it piles up in certain areas or even when we clean it up and dispose of it in a manure pile behind the barn, we still need to be mindful of one thing in particular–water runoff.
When rainwater flows through areas with a high concentration of manure, the excess nutrients and contaminants from the manure make their way into ponds, streams, and lakes where they can wreak havoc on aquatic life.
Diverting water runoff so that it does not flow through compost areas or other places with manure build-up can make a big difference when it comes to keeping our water clean and healthy. Water is our most valuable resource and protecting it is everyone’s job!
Here are some tips for maintaining water quality around your area:
- Install gutters on barns and covered riding arenas;
- Create diversion berms to divert water runoff around corrals, compost piles, and other confinement areas;
- Create catch basins for contaminated water runoff.
(See this post for more on managing manure)
One great thing we can do with all that manure we collect is compost it. When manure is composted, the nitrogen is converted into a more usable form and actually becomes beneficial for soil and plants. We can use this compost in gardens, on lawns, and even on farm fields. Compost also helps to support essential soil bacteria, feeds earthworms (nature’s recyclers), and even balances soil pH levels. So don’t have that manure hauled away–compost it!
Protecting Soil and Plant Species
Healthy Soil = Healthy Grass, and the opposite is also true: Healthy Plants= Healthy Soil. Protecting and maintaining both the soil and plant life in our horse pastures should be a top priority. One of the biggest problems our pastures face is erosion caused from overgrazing and/or overstocking.
There are a couple of ways to help maintain healthy soil and healthy plants–one is using a sacrifice area to give pastures a rest. Another method is rotating horses among different grazing areas. Even if you only have one pasture, this can still be done by using electric tape fencing and sectioning off areas.
If your pasture has more weeds than healthy grass, then that is a sure sign of distress and steps need to be taken to restore the health of the pasture. (By the way, compost is great for replenishing nutrients in your pastures!)
Reducing/ Avoiding Chemicals
This is something I’ve been conscious of for a few years now. What happens when we spray our horses, pastures, or stalls with products containing chemicals? Where do the chemicals end up? In our horses and back into the environment, of course.
An example is cypermethrin, a common ingredient in many chemical fly sprays. This pesticide has a half-life (the time it takes for half the substance to biodegrade) of sixteen weeks and is extremely toxic to aquatic life. It may very well end up in the soil and water sources long after it’s been sprayed on your horse.
There are alternatives to chemical fly sprays (see this post and also this one) and we can use other methods of natural fly control such as fly predators, managing manure, and even encouraging pest-eating wildlife such as bats and barn swallows, flycatchers, purple martins. We can also avoid spraying chemical herbicides on our pastures by practicing better pasture management (i.e.- rotational grazing). I don’t know about you, but I just don’t feel comfortable spraying chemicals on my horses or in my pastures any more.
If you already recycle, then don’t forget to recycle your supplement containers and other plastics used around the barn. Plastic feed bags can even be recycled in some places. I often reuse my supplement containers for other supplements that come in bags. I also keep the little measuring scoops that come with most supplements as well because you never know when those could come in handy!
Chances are, you use way less electricity around your barn than you do at your house, so why not think about using alternative energy sources? If you use electric fencing, consider buying a solar-powered charger. This is what I used when I had my paddock paradise system installed. Also, remember the old wind mills? (maybe some of you still have them.) They can be used to run your well and provide water for your horses. If you really want to go green, consider using solar and/or wind energy to operate your entire barn.
So those are a just a few ways we can lesson our impact on the environment as far as horse care goes. My place is still a work in progress and my main focus for right now is improving my pastures. What tips do you have as far as eco-friendly horse care goes? Feel free to comment below.