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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

 

Posted in Sustainable Design | | Leave a comment >
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

 

Posted in Equestrian News | | Leave a comment >
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

Posted in Equestrian News | | Leave a comment >
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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Posted in Equestrian News | | 1 comment >
08.04.08

Keep Your Horses Safe: H.R. 6598, The Prevention of Equine Cruelty Act of 2008

Greetings equestrians and welcome to my Blog dedicated to the care and shelter of horses. While my expertise is the architectural design of equestrian facilities, I am part of the larger community of horse lovers dedicated to the humane treatment of horses and all animals. It is in that spirit that I’d like to call your attention to important legislation that is currently under consideration in the U.S. House of Representatives written to prevent the cruelty inherent in the horse slaughter industry.

As horse lovers who give the greatest care to your animals, you may not realize that despite the fact that the last horse slaughter factory in the U.S. was closed in 2007, that there is still a market for the transport of horses across our borders to Canada and Mexico for slaughter for horsemeat. I was surprised to learn that there were still horse slaughter facilities in our country as recently as last year and stunned to know that horse for horse, the same number of horses are now finding their way across our borders for slaughter.

The transport of horses across long distances in extreme temperatures simply adds to the degree of cruelty inherent in the horsemeat industry. According to Representative John Conyers, Democrat from Michigan, and Representative Dan Burton, Republican from Indiana, authors of H.R. 6598, The Prevention of Equine Cruelty Act of 2008, amends a previous section of U.S. Code that prohibits cruelty of animals for financial gain. That code, Chapter 3 of Title 18 of U.S. Code, resulted in the closure of the last horse slaughterhouse in the U.S. just last year. However, it didn’t anticipate that the market for American horses for slaughter would simply move across the borders to Canada and Mexico therefore increasing the suffering of horses destined for slaughter.

The new law specifically prohibits the transport of horses for slaughter and specifies punishment stringent enough to be effective. I hope you’ll join me in supporting the legislation—let your representative know that you think this is a crucial step to take to ensure the humane treatment of American horses. Here is a link to a form letter written by the Humane Society of the U.S. to make speaking out on behalf of horses as easy as possible:

If you’re interested in an eye-opening, in-depth history of the consumption of horsemeat, you should see the March 2008 issue of Horse Connection Magazine. Editor Geoff Young shined the light on this American taboo.

Please let me know what you think about this important issue.

Posted in Equestrian News | | 9 comments >
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