Anyone use composted horse manure?

twhgardenerOctober 6, 2007

Just curious if anyone else uses composted horse manure in their veggie gardens.

Lisa :)

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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

Horse, cow, goat, chicken, whatever I can get. ;) Several discussions/debates about its use over on the Soil, Compost & Mulch forum.

For me, the operative word is "composted". I know many use fresh manures but I prefer well-composted manures in the veggie garden. JMO


    Bookmark   October 6, 2007 at 6:42PM
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Yeah, I do. . Here is a .

It is from quarter horses, stabled and fed the best of feed, also had thin wood shavings for bedding material with lots of alfalfa hay bits in it.

I use some of it directly on the garden and use some of it to make compost out of with many shredded oak leaves and other ingredients.
Bill P.

    Bookmark   October 6, 2007 at 6:58PM
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zeedman Zone 5 Wisconsin

For many years when I lived in San Diego, my garden was 1/2 mile from a large horse stable. They composted their manure large-scale, using front loaders to turn it. It was on a military base, and since I was stationed there at the time, I was allowed to take as much as I could haul... several trailers full each year. The rest was sold to local nurseries.

Their stables were lined with sawdust, which along with the manure, made very high-grade compost. As I dug further into the pile, I could feel the heat still trapped inside.

My garden location began as packed hard clay desert, so I needed to add lots of organic material to make it workable. After 3 years of manure each Fall (about 3-4" over the entire garden) followed by Winter cover crops, the soil became loose black dirt. That garden was highly productive.

The advantage of horse manure is that compared to steer manure, it is nearly weed-free. In my first garden after moving to Wisconsin, I tried to repeat the process using large quantities of steer manure obtained locally. BIG MISTAKE. The following year, the weeds were nearly uncontrollable.

How much of this was due to weed seeds passing through, and how much was seeds being bulldozed off the barnyard with the manure, I'll never know... but regardless, I'll never make that mistake again.

Even the bags of commercial steer manure I used in large pots this year contained excessive amounts of weed seed, so I suspect that steer manure from any source is likely to have the same problem. If weed seeds are really killed during composting (I have some reservations in that regard) then a large number of commercial operations are composting incorrectly.

    Bookmark   October 6, 2007 at 9:25PM
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fliptx(Houston 9)

"The advantage of horse manure is that compared to steer manure, it is nearly weed-free."

Huh! I would have thought it was the opposite! Maybe I'm not getting my stuff from the right places. Last year I used composted cow manure and had very few weeds. This year I used the horse stuff and I have an invasion of different kinds of weeds that don't exist anywhere else in my yard. Maybe it wasn't composted properly, or weed seeds got picked up with it en route somehow.

    Bookmark   October 6, 2007 at 11:01PM
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Flip, I think that it has a lot to do with diet of the animals. A cow, Bull or steer have four stomachs so it stands to reason that weed seed would be more likely to be digested on the trip through them. A horse only has one. I have used lots of horse manure and never have weed problems, whereas many associate the words horse manure with a sea of weeds, and keep repeating that over and over.

Many horses do not have the opportunity to eat weeds with seeds on them now days. Feed and hay are big business so many take good care of their sources and the good quality stuff does not have a lot of seeds in it. Of course, there will always be low grade, poor quality feed, hay and pastures and that is where a horse could get some seeds to pass along to you. If the manure is composted, the heat will kill a lot of the seed. Others will sprout and expend their energy in the warm, moist environment without any opportunity to put down roots in your garden. Of the ones that do, they are usually easily pulled or hoed when they are little and before they become much of a problem.
That is my .02
Bill P.

    Bookmark   October 6, 2007 at 11:43PM
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zeedman Zone 5 Wisconsin

Interesting... and puzzling.

There could be a lot of variables at work here. FlipTx, in your warmer location, composting might be hotter & more effective at destroying weeds than here Up North. Then again, maybe Texas ranchers are just better at composting than the dairy farmers up here.

It was a stable worker who first told me that horse manure had fewer weeds. He claimed that it was due to differences in their digestive system. For manure collected from stables, where the horses eat a more controlled diet, that may be the case... or horses may eat different plants than cows when allowed to graze. Regardless, my own experience (and those of several other gardeners I know who swear by horse manure) is that it has few weed problems. I'll take your word for it, Flip, that you had the opposite experience... I just find it perplexing.

If the horses were mostly range-fed, it's possible there might be little difference. Now I'll have to hang out on the Soils Forum, and delve into it more deeply... Flip, see what ya started? Thanks a lot! ;-) Don't know how to experiment with this one, though... not sure I really want to "dive in" to horse manure. (lol) Maybe ignorance is bliss.

    Bookmark   October 7, 2007 at 12:41AM
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fliptx(Houston 9)

I've been thinking about this (that's right, I spent my night thinking about horse poop!). The place where I got it lets the horses roam free in a pasture and eat what they want in addition to their feed, so that could be one thing. And then the compost pile is kept out in the open where weed seeds can blow onto it. It could be that since I got my haul from the outside of the pile, I also picked up a bunch of stray seeds that had landed there.

    Bookmark   October 7, 2007 at 7:29AM
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jimster(z7a MA)

Aside from the weed seed issue, how do the two manures compare? Is one better than the other in nourishing the plants, for instance?

Zeedman likes that the horse manure contained sawdust from the bedding. I had been told that manure from horse stables was poorer because of that. I don't know.

The primary sources of manure around here are riding stables. There are no dairy farms that I know of.


    Bookmark   October 7, 2007 at 11:22AM
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It all depends on what the animals are eating for horses/cows and what time of year you're getting it.

Animals that graze on nothing but corn and bales of hay living in "mud squares" aren't likely to be eatting grasses in various stages of seed.

If its properly composed and not fresh it shouldn't matter or be minimal anyway, though.

    Bookmark   October 7, 2007 at 3:32PM
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zeedman Zone 5 Wisconsin

"Zeedman likes that the horse manure contained sawdust from the bedding. I had been told that manure from horse stables was poorer because of that."

Thinking like a composter, that would make sense. Sawdust (as high carbon) requires a substantial amount of N to break down, and needs to be mixed with large amounts of green material to decompose. It is _not_ something you would add directly to the garden, without first composting it.

But now, think like a stable boy. What is one of the reasons that they use bedding in the stalls? Because it absorbs urine - which is high-N. Combined with the N from the manure, this provides enough nitrogen for decomposition, and it burns hot. I would dig a foot or two into the pile before loading, to get material that was fully decomposed; and the residual heat radiated by the pile would have me sweating. (That, and the fact that my kids & I were shoveling & spreading several tons of manure!)

The resulting compost is very good for soil building. It may not be very high in nitrogen - but then, as many threads on GW have shown, adding large amounts of N to the entire garden can actually have a negative effect. Fruiting plants (especially beans) will tend to have lush foliage, but few blossoms... or will flower only when the excess N has been depleted.

When I used full-coverage horse manure on my garden, it was (except for the first year) followed by a Winter cover crop. Had there been excess N, the cover crop would likely have depleted it by the time it was turned under. I would add a little more at that time (about 1-2 inches) turned under with the cover crop, to speed decomposition.

At the time, other than adjusting the pH (chiefly with the organic matter) I was not doing soil testing... but looking back, there were no symptoms of excess nitrogen. My beans, while lush, produced normally.

I don't have a source of horse manure now, so I use steer manure for feeding my N-hogs like squash & corn. I'm just not happy with the barnyard weeds it introduces to the garden.

    Bookmark   October 7, 2007 at 3:59PM
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This has become quite an interesting topic LOL! I have 6 Tennessee Walkers, and they are not free range. We only have 5.25 acres, so you can see why. I give them good quality alfalfa, Timothy, and Orchard, along with their grain rations. I do not have a barn, so there are no shavings. The composted manure has sat for a year, and I just now am using it. Has broken down quite nicely. My main concern is whether it has the necessary ingredients to make for a healthy veggie garden. I'm not exactly sure what percentages of minerals and stuff like that the horse manure would have.

But, with their good diet and no chemicals, I figure it's got to be better than most composts I could purchase at Home Depot!

Lisa :)

Here is a link that might be useful: Firewalkers Ranch

    Bookmark   October 7, 2007 at 6:28PM
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jimster(z7a MA)

Thanks for the well written reply, Zeedman. The information I had came from other gardeners whom I suppose were passing along the conventional wisdom, as is often the case with gardening theories. It sounded OK so I just accepted it without much thought.


    Bookmark   October 7, 2007 at 10:20PM
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zeedman Zone 5 Wisconsin

Jimster, don't feel lonely... I may also have accepted something as "fact" that will prove to be incorrect.

The stable hand who told me that a horse's digestive system would kill weed seed was most likely wrong. I have been looking for articles on the Net regarding that topic, and found some that recommend feeding range-fed horses seed, so that they will re-seed the meadows with their droppings as they wander. There's plenty of bad info on the Net, so I don't take this as gospel either... but if true, it disproves the theory of "weed-free" horse manure.

Of course, those kept in pens & fed a controlled diet might still produce weed-free manure... so provided that the manure was not later contaminated, composted stable manure could still be a good choice.

    Bookmark   October 8, 2007 at 12:24AM
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ediej1209(5 N Central OH)

I don't actually "compost" my girls' fertilizer offerings, but we do pile it up until fall, then after we yank the dead stuff out of the garden, we spread it over the garden and let it sit all winter. Then we cover it in the spring before we plant the new garden with a good layer of new soil and mulch well around the plants. We haven't had many weeds, mostly what we do have comes later in the year after DH has mowed a few times and blown weed seeds into the garden (GRRRR).

    Bookmark   October 8, 2007 at 11:14AM
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Here's my input to this interesting subject. On my mother's garden, we used only composted horse manure. By composted I mean the horse manure that had been on the bottom of the manure pile for at least a couple of years. The horses were boarded by us for their owners, we rented out the stable space and did all the upkeep. We used oat straw for bedding, the resulting manure, after several years was dark brown and powerful. The horses were "out to pasture" all summer and winter, except early spring after the frost was out of the ground. They could do a lot of damage to the turf if not kept off the pasture when it was soggy.

We suplimented the pasture with hay that was bought where ever we could get it, it often was NOT the best quality.

When hauled to the garden, then tilled deeply into the black loam we had, it would sometimes be too much fertilizer.I planted jalapeño peppers in that soil, huge plants with minimal yield. But growing onions in that resulted in some huge ones!

I never noticed any excess weeds, more than normal. I think the secret to my success was getting the manure from the bottom of the pile resulted in the weed seeds being killed by the heat of decomposition. Frequently steam could be noticed coming out of the pile in colder weather!

Sadly, that was 20 years ago, the folks are gone, so is the land. I'm stuck using a community garden now.

    Bookmark   October 22, 2007 at 11:33AM
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Quote:"Sadly, that was 20 years ago, the folks are gone, so is the land. I'm stuck using a community garden now."

Wow that makes me want to cry...

    Bookmark   February 11, 2011 at 12:34AM
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I'm in the coastal SC region where coastal bermuda grass is the main pasture grass in this area. My horses free range on coastal bermuda hay which contain very little seed. In fact, coastal bermuda grass must be sprigged to be planted due to the lack of seeds. So my composting manure bins contain trace amounts of seed to begin the composting process, and then next to none as a finished composted product. This may explain some of your success with horse manure compost vs. the steer compost. Steer grazing on coastal bermuda should give the same weed-free product.

    Bookmark   March 22, 2011 at 3:47PM
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I just got back the Manure Sample Analysis Report on my composted donkey manure.
NPK is 1-.70-1.7
I have over applied it in the past and stunted my vegetables. Now I spread it 1/2 inch deep the fall and till it in.

    Bookmark   July 23, 2013 at 5:16PM
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Horse manure is the only fertilizer I have used on my garden for the last 50 years.

    Bookmark   July 23, 2013 at 6:54PM
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cugal(5b-6a NE Ks)

My experience was like zeedman's when he first used cow manure......... I've always used pine shavings/chicken manure from my hen's until this spring when I bought a large load of composted cow manure to use on a new garden spot. The weeds were freaking unbelieveable!!!!! Sure hope this get better with age!!

    Bookmark   July 23, 2013 at 8:07PM
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