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12.30.10

Composting Horse Manure: A Guide to the (very) Basics

Composting, or deriving decayed plant matter from manure into nutrient-rich soil-like material, may be as old as, well, dirt. Still, the practice of composting remains a relevant option for barn owners; especially as sustainable farming methods gain popularity.

Beyond sustainability, compost pros often cite sheer quantity as initiative: a single horse (1,000 lbs. or so) produces between 40 to 50 pounds of manure daily. That brings a phrase to mind that I won’t type, but you get the gist: horse owners deal with a lot of muck that can’t be ignored.

So you have the raw material to work with…now what? Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as piling it up and letting nature run its course. You have to turn (often literally) manure into compost—a feat that isn’t overly difficult, but involves a few steps. However, with a little effort, complete composting can occur within four to six weeks.

Most of what I’ve learned about composting comes from attending a seminar hosted by the Horse Outreach Workgroup (HOW) on soil management and land use issues and working with Peter Moon of O2 Compost – both are fantastic resources for more in-depth review.

According to Peter Moon of O2 Compost, controlling the composting process is the real challenge, since horse manure often contains a high wood content from bedding as well as even weed seeds—meaning it’s only garden-friendly if properly composted. Moon recommends inducing oxygen through one large compost pile using an electric blower, which stimulates microbial activity and jumpstarts the composting process. Known as aerated static pile composting, this may be an option to consider if you are dealing with a large volume of manure (more than four horses), as it eliminates manual turning. Another method is to manually turn windrows (elongated piles) using a shovel or front-end loader to tumble the manure to introduce oxygen throughout the mix. Regardless of method, the goal remains the same: naturally heated compost that ranges between 130 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit, a temperature that kills most internal parasites and weed seeds.

An aerated static pile on O2 Compost's website

The Horse Outreach Workgroup (HOW) identifies oxygen, moisture, and carbon to nitrogen ratio as measurable qualities essential to composting successfully. To calculate proper levels of each, I recommend the tools available through the Cornell Waste Management Institute.

Oxygen

Whether turning your compost up to three times a week manually or utilizing an electric blower, pipes, fans, or other tools, getting oxygen into the mix is paramount. Without oxygen, it’s just a smelly pile of manure. The process of introducing oxygen into compost is called aerating; aeration allows faster decomposition.

Moisture

HOW notes that compost piles should feel like a wrung-out sponge: not too wet and not too dry. Overly wet compost can be tampered with leaves, straw, or yard trimmings, while a little water can aid dry compost. Covering the pile with plastic can also help retain moisture.

Carbon: Nitrogen Ratio

While it can get much more technical, basically a compost pile should be carbon based with a touch of nitrogen. Various compost components contain different levels of each, so calculation tools such as the ones available from Cornell Waste Management come in handy. HOW lists the ideal carbon to nitrogen (C:N) ratio as 25-30:1. Horse manure itself is about 50:1 (a number higher still with bedding factored in), which is why leaves and other materials must be added to achieve the proper C:N ratio.

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Benefits

  • Enrich pastures and gardens
  • Improve soil structure, texture, aeration, and water retention
  • Lighten clay soil types
  • Increase water retention in sandy soil
  • Help control erosion
  • Increase soil fertility
  • Balance pH levels
  • Control odors, flies, and pests
  • Capture over 95% of industrial volatile chemicals (VOCs) in contaminated air
  • Reduce manure volume by about half

Tips

  • Switch bedding from wood shavings to wood pellets to improve the carbon to nitrogen ratio (C:N)
  • Start in late summer/early fall to take advantage of longer daylight hours and decent weather
  • Compost is worth about $20 to $40 per yard, according to Peter Moon of O2 Compost
  • Do not use treated wood scraps or yard trimmings treated with chemical pesticides in your compost pile
  • “Done” compost is about half of its original size

Resources

Above-grade muck pit at Kindle Hill Farm

Below-grade muck pit at Sheik Island Farm

 

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10.12.10

The American Horse Council: A Free Tax Seminar in VA

I’d like to pass along the following information from The American Horse Council for my Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, DC area readers.

The American Horse Council will be hosting a FREE Tax Seminar featuring Tad Davis on Thursday November 4, 2010 at 6 p.m. at the Tri-County Feeds in Marshall, VA.  This is an open invitation, so feel free to share it with other members of the horse industry so they can learn how current federal tax laws affect them and their equine businesses.  Please see the attached invitation for more details.

This invitation is also posted on the AHC website, so feel free to visit the Events Page on the AHC website for information.  We are asking that anyone that plans to attend please RSVP so w e can have an estimate of how many people to expect.   Please direct all RSVPs to Bridget Harrison at bharrison@horsecouncil.org or 202.296.4031.

TaxSeminarVA

 

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09.03.10

Arena Design – Tips and Considerations

Size & Scale

When designing, I’m often concerned about maintaining proper scale and proportion. In equestrian design, arenas in particular pose a challenge simply because they are such large structures. An arena is never small, but since different riding styles determine the amount of space required, it’s important to first understand how much space you need. Once you gauge the room necessary to ride, you may consider some of the following elements to design a proportionate and functional arena.

Lower the Stakes

Arenas of all sizes benefit by lowering the structure within the site. Push the structure into the ground and the visual height is greatly reduced. Typically, I recommend lowering the arena four to five feet into the ground. That way you can create an observation area on one or more sides, that has visibility over a kick wall or fence, with an on-grade entrance from the exterior. The “bird’s eye view” observation area is excellent for spectators and the lowered grade takes full advantage of the site without increasing the structure’s bulk.

If there are several facilities on your site, carefully placing the arena amongst the facilities you have—or the ones you plan to build—can help to break up the arena’s large scale. The slope of the roof is often overlooked in prefabricated arenas; often too-low roofs of these structures offer only a massive, box-like look. If, however, the roof is sloped at five in 12 or greater, the arena can appear smaller and fit more naturally into the landscape. Sometimes you’ll run into zoning or code restrictions with height, so lowering the arena into the ground can literally give you more working room.

Covered vs. Enclosed

Geographic location is everything when considering an enclosed, covered, or open arena. An enclosed arena is probably necessary in cold or windy climates. Roll-up garage doors with translucent or clear panels on all sides of the arena can provide an indoor-to-outdoor feel; just open it up when the weather permits or, alternatively, close it up during inclement weather.

Lighting

We try to take advantage of natural light in all of our designs—from equestrian to residential—because natural light really can’t be beat. A continuous ridge skylight is the most effective method to achieve this, and the technique also increases natural ventilation within the arena. Operable louvers can further contribute to natural light and ventilation while maintaining control as you adjust them accordingly. Any glazing used should be translucent to avoid creating shadows that might confuse a horse. While a large skylight is a more expensive option, various materials can reduce its cost. A naturally lit arena doesn’t rely on electric lights during the day, which is another bonus for horses and riders.

The arena at Glenwood Farm

View from the inside at Glenwood

Arranging the farm to minimize the arena's impact at Winley Farm

An example of an observation/lounge area in a private facility

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07.07.10

Heat Wave: How do you keep your horses cool?

It’s 10 a.m. here in Washington, D.C. and the temperature has already reached 89 degrees. In no time, I’m sure we’ll have reached the expected temperature for the day of around 100 degrees. While it’s easy enough for most people to hide out in air conditioning all day (and really, if it’s this hot where you are–I hope your time outside is minimal), horses most likely aren’t afforded that same luxury. So how are you helping to keep your horses cool this summer? How early (or late) do you turn them out? I’ve read that towels with ice or cool sponge baths can help comfort your horses, along with plenty of water, but how else do you manage?

I think a break in the weather in the form of thunder storms is coming our way later this week. In the meantime, I’m thinking cool thoughts for you and your horses.

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05.04.10

Barn Party Deux at Ketchen Place Farm: Some Photos

I posted these photos on our Facebook Page (so many social mediums, so little time!), but want to put them here as well. Blogging is my method of choice, in any case.

Over the weekend, some of my staff and I had the opportunity to visit our friends at Ketchen Place Farm, a Blackburn project in Rock Hill, South Carolina. The farm is located just south of Charlotte, North Carolina, and is simply beautiful this time of year. Ketchen is family-owned and family-run, and they couldn’t be a nicer or more generous group of folks. I’d sincerely like to thank each and every one of them for their hospitality and for inviting us to join the festivities. I’d also like to thank them for asking me to give a short speech about the barn and its design—while I could go on and on about barn designs and this project in particular, I tried to keep it short and sweet.

The party was a tribute to the new barn, a couple of birthdays, an anniversary, the Kentucky Derby, and the birth of a new foal. To celebrate, there were plenty of Derby-hat wearers, equestrians of all ages, friends, family, and the stabled horses at Ketchen. It was really nice to hear the family talk about the history of Ketchen (it’s been in the family since the 1800s), watch a jumping demonstration by a young rider, walk around the barn, and ooh and ahh over the adorable foal.

[slideshow]

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04.20.10

Blackburn Greenbarns- Happy (Almost) Earth Day!

OK, so I have to once again spread the word about Blackburn Greenbarns®, our pre-designed line of sustainable barns. We just issued a press release, which you can check out here. We are really excited to share these new barns with you in a “ready-to-construct” format. We really feel that all equestrians (and their horses too, of course) deserve to have sustainable barn options that are easy to modify, protect the health and safety of your horses, and are ready to construct quickly and efficiently (with the help of a licensed professional, of course).

We are sending out virtual invitations to all our friends, clients old and new, and family to take a look at our new website this Thursday when it will be complete. However, please feel free to visit the site before then at www.blackburngreenbarns.com. We hope you’ll like it and we hope to hear from you if you have any feedback, questions, or interest.

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04.15.10

Prince George’s County Maryland: Horse Industry Task Force

An associate of mine runs a great email list that features news and happenings in the equestrian community. The other day, the email contained an article from Maryland’s Prince George’s County section of The Gazette. Written by Zoe Tilman, the article is about a horse industry task force up for vote in Prince George’s County. With several states adding slots venues (such as Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Delaware), the pressure is on the equine industry to take advantage of its potential revenue power, especially in regard to racinos—the combination of a casino with thoroughbred racing.

Tilman’s article points out that Prince George’s County isn’t necessarily well known for its equine industry, but that the County is interested in spreading the word in order to garner interest and recognition throughout the state. If approved (a vote is expected sometime this month), the horse task force will bring together “state and local equine industry groups and economic development agencies.”

While I believe racinos are fun and have their time and place, I do wish there were more public equestrian facilities and parks. However, it seems that many states are becoming desperate to get out of the red, so to speak, and look at slots/gambling as a way out.

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04.08.10

Feedback Requested: Horse Barns and Equestrian Design

Hello Readers,

At the Blackburn office, we’ve been busy developing Blackburn Greenbarns®, a line of pre-designed barns that are sustainable, provide a healthy and safe atmosphere for horses, and are more affordable than custom design. We first introduced this line of barns last April, but the overall construction costs for the barns were a little higher than we would have liked. So, we decided to go back to the drawing board (literally) in an attempt to streamline the process without compromising our values. We are almost ready to relaunch Blackburn Greenbarns® (with a new and improved website on its way!) with a “kit barn” option, but I would really love to hear from you as far as what’s most important to you when building a new barn.

I know that cost is a huge factor—as it should be—for most barn owners. However, I also know that being a horse owner is quite an investment in and of itself—and that most owners just want a facility that protects their horses when they are in the barn, knowing full well that the horses would rather be lazing about in the paddocks.

What is the most important factor when building a new barn? Affordability? What about the style or look of the barn? Are you interested in sustainable products or incorporating green design?

[polldaddy poll=3054182]

I hope you’ll comment on this post and share your thoughts. Maybe there’s something that all the barn builders (or architects) forget to include/consider and it drives you nuts? Or maybe there’s a particular service (like site planning) that you’d find valuable but aren’t sure you can afford or truly need and would like to know more about it.

Hope to hear from you! More on what we’ve been up to soon.

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10.19.09

A Must-Read in the NY Times: “New Homes and New Hope for Some Neglected Horses”

If you haven’t yet, please read this article by Joe Drape for the New York Times about the malnourished and neglected horses found at Ernie Paragallo’s farm in upstate New York. In April of this year, the thoroughbred breeder and owner Paragallo was arrested and eventually charged with 35 counts of cruelty to animals. Since then, horse lovers across the county have come to the rescue for many of these animals. While that doesn’t change what these horses went through, it’s comforting to reaffirm what most of us already know: that the horse community is filled with people who are willing to go the extra mile to help a horse in need.

EscapedFromNewYork is one of the horses saved from Paragallo's farm.

EscapedFromNewYork is one of the horses saved from Paragallo's farm.

http://www.kentuckyhorsephotos.com/EsacapedFromNewYork.html

http://www.oldfriendsequine.org/

http://www.racehorsetrust.org/

http://www.anotherchance4horses.com

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04.27.09

Blackburn greenbarns: visit our new Web site!

In recognition of Earth Day, my firm announced a new division in design called Blackburn greenbarns. Starting with four ready-to-build horse-barn designs, we hope these barns are an affordable alternative to custom design. Of course, as the name implies, all the designs are green–in three ways: through passive design solutions, green materials and finishes, and additional design services to implement green systems such as solar panels. 

I’d love to hear your thoughts about greenbarns and our new Web site at www.blackburngreenbarns.com. Please visit it and let us know what you think!

John

We call this model "The Hickory." It is designed for warm climates to provide natural cooling and ventilation

We call this model "The Hickory." It is designed for warm climates to provide natural cooling and ventilation

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