Effective Horse Waste Management

Woman mucking stall.
Woman mucking stall. Jo Rissanan

Proper equine waste management

Whether you have one horse, two, fifty or one hundred, proper waste management is essential to keep neighbors happy, horses healthy, and meet zoning restrictions and health regulations. An effective waste management program includes collection, storage (temporary or long-term), and disposal or usage.

By nature, most horse owners want to be good neighbors.

A 1,000 pound horse produces approximately 31 pounds of manure and 2 1/2 gallons of urine per day. Soiled bedding removed with the manure while cleaning the stall varies widely depending on management practices but usually amounts of 8 to 15 pounds of waste per day. As one horseman puts it: "Annual waste from one horse would fill a 12' x 12' stall about 6 feet deep." You need to be prepared to handle this waste!

Important considerations for the horse barn

In planning proper waste storage and disposal, 5 important factors need to be taken into consideration:

  1. Distance to neighbors - Barns, paddocks, waste disposal areas, and composting piles or bins should be located so that the effect on neighbors is minimized.
  2. Prevalent wind and breezes - Locate waste disposal areas where only the least prevalent wind will affect neighbors
  3. Topography - Any ground slopes should not be greater than 3% to prevent surface water run-off from the collection site and possible influence on existing ditches, ponds, streams
  4. Sun exposure - Paddocks, pens, and stall runs located on southern or western slopes usually receive more direct sunlight which means that they dry more quickly and generate less odor
  5. Proximity to streams, ditches and wells - Barns and other facilities should be located to avoid pollution of streams and ditches by stable and paddock run-off.  Animals should not be housed or maintained within 75-100 feet of a well head to prevent water contamination

Solid waste

A clean stall

A clean stall

Daily cleaning avoids the buildup of ammonia and helps reduce the fly population.

All stalls and paddocks need to be cleaned on a daily basis. Once manure and urine-soaked bedding has been removed, wet areas should be treat with lime or another sanitizing, odor-eliminating treatment and fresh bedding should be added to insure safe, clean, dry and odor free conditions.

You may want to consider the type of bedding material you use to lessen the amount of soiled bedding that must be removed daily. You don't want to reduce stall bedding at the expense of your horse's health, but you should consider the horse's.

Horses by nature are used to sleeping on hard surfaces such as the ground. They don't need a huge cushion of shavings or straw to sleep comfortably. Rubber stall mats work very well for many horse owners. They make clean-up easier and are healthy for hooves.

A stall mat offers a firm, level surface that allows you to scoop up manure and wet bedding easily. By using disposable bedding such as shavings or straw only in spots where the horse urinates frequently, you can minimize bedding use and the amount of stall waste that has to be disposed of.

Manure disposal can be a major concern for the horse owner since fresh manure should not be applied to horse pastures. It needs to be stored for 6 to 10 weeks before spreading on a pasture to insure that adequate heat is generated to destroy parasites and weed seeds.

One of the most productive and environmentally sound ways to dispose of manure and used bedding is by composting. If you decide to compost your manure and soiled bedding, choose an area that will not lead to pollution of a stream or a well and will not be offensive to neighbors.

Through composting, the total mass of manure and bedding can be reduce by about one-quarter to one-half. In other words, six tons of manure can be converted to 1.5 to 3 tons of finished compost which can be used in greenhouses, gardens, and nearly anywhere fertilizer would be used. (See articles about composting and use of compost on this site.)

The manure pile

The manure pile

With patience and space, the manure pile can be converted into valuable compost.

If you don't choose to compost manure and used bedding, you will need to provide temporary storage for the waste and arrange to have it hauled off on a regular basis.

Locate the storage in an area convenient for loading and unloading. Grade the area to prevent all surface water from running into the storage and keep any leaching from the storage from reaching streams, ditches, or ground water.

If the storage cannot be emptied weekly, provide a fly-tight, odor-controlling cover or enclosure.

Dust and odor control measures

Although not considered part of waste management by many horse owners, the control of dust and odor in your horse operation is important not only to your neighbors and horses, but also to people in authority who enforce zoning and health regulations.

Often "nuisance ordinances" are enacted to keep neighborhoods pleasant, and fines are imposed on those that violate these ordinances. Many of these ordinances relate to noise, pollution, and odors.

During hot, dry weather, dust from horse operations can create a local nuisance. It can be detrimental to the health of horses, riders and anyone else in the area. Dust can cause eye and respiratory system irritation.

The application of sprayed water is a safe and effective method of dust control in most cases. If the weather is especially hot and dry several applications of water daily to pens and arenas will ensure adequate dust control.

Steaming pile of manure

Steaming pile of manure

Odors do not respect property lines. Position your manure pile so as not to annoy your neighbors.

Strong odors characteristic of some stables can be offensive to neighbors. The best method of odor control is to make sure that an effective sanitation and waste management program is in place. Horses that are healthy and fed a proper diet tend to create fewer obnoxious odors than horses that are unhealthy or improperly fed.

Unpleasant odors often occur in dirty stalls or in paddocks in high moisture areas. Manure piles can be a fire hazard in addition to creating obnoxious odors if not managed properly. In addition to keeping the premises clean and following rules of good sanitation, odors may be controlled by masking agents and deodorants when necessary.

By nature, most horse owners want to be good neighbors. By taking care to have an effective waste management program, you are well on your way to not only being a good neighbor, but also to being a sought-after member of the community because of your expertise and your caring ways.

About the Author

EquiMed Staff

EquiMed staff writers team up to provide articles that require periodic updates based on evolving methods of equine healthcare. Compendia articles, core healthcare topics and more are written and updated as a group effort. Our review process includes an important veterinarian review, helping to assure the content is consistent with the latest understanding from a medical professional.