horse manure compost mix

sgullJanuary 20, 2014

I have a pile of fresh horse manure, 33 five-gallon buckets of it, for composting. My plan is to allow it age for the next 3-4 months until time for springtime planting, hoping it should be good and ready by then to go ahead and add it into the flower garden beds. I am inexperienced and still very much in the learning process of composting and organic soil enrichment methods. I will be turning and working this manure pile frequently which I understand should make the difference to help "speed up" the composting process of the manure. Additionally, I have a separate compost pile which is comprised of a mixture of about 15 wheelbarrowfuls of old dry alder leaves (browns) and about 6-7 five gallon buckets of chopped up produce trimmings/waste from the local grocery store, only a few days old now. My hope/intent is to be able to incorporate both the manure and the leaf/produce mix compost into the garden soil this coming spring. My question at this point is whether it would be good idea at this time to mix my browns/greens mix pile in with the fresh manure (and still proceed with my plan of turning it frequently), or leave the piles separate to let them compost separately and maybe mix together at a later time. My concern is if I mix them all together now that perhaps it might significantly reduce the ability of the manure to heat up, but then on the other hand I'm thinking if the manure were added to my brown/green mix it could significantly help that break down faster. Any comments would be appreciated on what seems to be a reasonable approach here in this regard.

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Kimmsr(4a/5b-MI)

Mix the manure with the leaves to help capture the nutrients in both, better. Animal manure, piled up by itself, and stirred some, can loose significant amounts of nutrients to the atmosphere as well as leaching. 20 to 50 percent of N and 5 to 20 percent of P and K can be lost this way.
What causes compost to heat up is bacterial activity and they use the N in the manure as a food source to digest the carbon in the leaves.
Perhaps this composting tutorial might be of some help.

Here is a link that might be useful: Composting Tutorial

    Bookmark   January 21, 2014 at 7:33AM
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toxcrusadr(Zone 6a - MO)

I think I would mix them, since both seem to be just starting out. If your exisiting pile was older and closer to being compost, I might keep them separate, but since they are both starting out, why not make one big pile.

Also, if the manure is just manure (no straw/sawdust/wood chips etc.) it would need some browns added or it will be too high in N and the pile will be smelly.

    Bookmark   January 21, 2014 at 11:51AM
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sgull

Okay then thanks for those replies. I'll go ahead and mix them now then. I guess my my concern was whether by mixing that quantity of leaves and produce in with that quantity of the fresh manure that the pile might not get "hot" enough and break down sufficiently to turn to compost in 3-4 months, but based on the replies I suppose I shouldn't worry about that so much? Also, with the horse manure should adding the greens (produce trimmings mix as I mentioned) still be a good idea or should just adding browns (with no more greens added to the manure) be better? thanks

    Bookmark   January 21, 2014 at 1:25PM
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toxcrusadr(Zone 6a - MO)

It sounds like the leaf/produce pile was balanced since it was at a good warm temp but not too hot. All you need to do is make sure the manure is balanced with enough browns of its own. Fresh manure can get very hot, it's very high in N. That's why I mentioned whether the manure was just manure, or whether it came with some sawdust, straw, etc.

    Bookmark   January 22, 2014 at 1:26PM
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sgull

I've went ahead now and mixed the leaf/produce pile together with the manure pile. The manure by itself is (was) mostly just manure, but with some soft wood "pelletized" horse stable bedding (no actual wood shavings, sawdust, or straw otherwise) mixed in. I'm unsure whether the amount of browns mixed in now (which would consist at this time to be only the leaves and the relatively small amount of pelletized bedding I've mentioned) would be considered an adequate amount of browns to "balance" the manure. thanks for any further comments.

    Bookmark   January 22, 2014 at 4:35PM
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subk3

I have composted horse manure (a couple tons a month) using both pelletized pine an pelletized straw. One of the many advantages of pelletized bedding is that the stall cleaning process allows for the use and daily removal of the bedding/carbon to be at a much lower quantity than what is typically pulled out when bedded on shavings. (Wood shavings are probably the most common bedding used.) Leaving a very high ratio of manure to bedding.

However, my personal experience was that with the pelletized pine the carbon part of the equation was much higher than when I switched over to pelletized straw. (As there respective C:N ratio would indicate.) The finished compost made with the wood product still had some characteristics of sawdust--as if there wasn't enough nitrogen to finish out the supply of carbon. Not so at all with the straw product.

All of that just to say that I would not assume that horse manure with any amount of wood product bedding mixed with it is high on the Nitrogen side of things as my experience was quite the opposite.

    Bookmark   January 24, 2014 at 9:21PM
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sgull

Thanks subk3 for that information. Actually I'm not certain the pelletized bedding used with the the manure I've been obtaining is wood for sure. I was told by the stable person they use pelletized bedding and I had just made the assumption it was pelletized wood, which it may indeed be, although I'm curious now and will probably inquire further as to whether the pellets may in fact be the pelletized straw as you described.

    Bookmark   January 24, 2014 at 10:17PM
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Kimmsr(4a/5b-MI)

The C:N ratio of wood chips, pellets, sawdust, is in the 400:1 range while that of straw is around 75:1.

    Bookmark   January 25, 2014 at 6:37AM
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subk3

sgull, most likely the pelletized bedding you are getting is wood/pine as that is the most commonly found and is available in most markets. I had to find a supplier to ship straw pellets in just for me.

You are lucky to find manure with pelletize bedding even if it is pine. I think it makes a superior compost compared to the more common pine shavings and I had great results with it. I use my compost to top dress planting beds similarly to how I would use mulch--so no nitrogen tie up issues if the carbon content was still high. But the pelleted straw has been by far the best bedding option for compost for me.

    Bookmark   January 30, 2014 at 4:10PM
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seysonn(8a WA/HZ 1)

Horse manure as compare to chicken and cow manure is not that strong/high in nitrogen in pure form, IMP. And when it is already mixed with lots of wood shaving, saw dust, straw, hey, .. it is already diluted more. I would use that partially composted in the garden by mixing it in real good, say one cubit fit (8 gal) per 20 sqr-ft area (roughly. This way you can get a better bang out of it without losing the nitrogen and other nutrients. I think manures are good additive for compost pilles that are very high on C:N ratio.. JMO

    Bookmark   January 30, 2014 at 7:00PM
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oliveoyl3

After turning it a few times for up to 2 weeks you can quit & just spread 4-6" on top of the planting beds = sheet composting. As it composts further in place the rain washes the nutrients down. Worms mix it up, too. I don't bother mixing it in anymore. It will be easy to plant in spring.

I've done it for years just spreading out & not turning piles of it. I still add the complete organic granular fertilizer since horse manure isn't enough fertilizer for vegetables. It made a big difference when I started using the fertilizer granules instead of just manures.

    Bookmark   January 30, 2014 at 8:58PM
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compo7

Corrine
I agree, although there are many ways and reasons people compost the way they do, different sized gardens some flower some vegetable ect, I till raw organic matter into our 60' x 60 garden' and add a 10 lbs of high nitrogen fertilizer with added water and find that this method is much quicker than piling it up.

Like I said my reason for adding organic matter is different from some others. Its fun to read what others do.

    Bookmark   January 31, 2014 at 6:38AM
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golfer_2008(7)

I would really like to know how folks that use horse manure in their compost deal with the fact that commercially grown "horse hay" virtually always has been sprayed with some kind of herbicide that passes thru the animal in the manure. Do you always do bio assay testing?

    Bookmark   February 4, 2014 at 11:19AM
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paleogardener(9)

golfer_2008,
This is where it helps to know the source of that manure & anything that you are putting into the compost pile.

    Bookmark   February 4, 2014 at 11:31AM
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sand_mueller(z 7a, oklahoma)

Putting in leaves with hot manure and calling them browns is a totally incorrect approach because leaves break down totally differently than manure which is from grasslands not forests. Manure should only be composted with straw or forbs. The urine is more important than the feces and real compost material is from the animals bedding. And yes the herbicide grazon has poisoned almost all horse and cow manure.

    Bookmark   February 5, 2014 at 1:17PM
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sgull

Dang. I had been trying to compost the manure mixing it with with dead dry alder leaves, thinking the dead dry alder leaves would be an appropriate "brown" to mix in. Apparently though (according to the last post) that's totally incorrect? I had read many articles that seemed to mention leaves as a good brown item to incorporate into compost. But apparently not for manure compost?
I don't have access to any straw, or forbs (that I know of). So if leaves are no good and I don't have straw or forbs then what other brown should I try to get to compost with the manure?

    Bookmark   February 5, 2014 at 1:31PM
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paleogardener(9)

Leaves are just fine for composting. If that is the browns you have use em.
They are a significant portion of my browns & I gather & horde them just for composting.

    Bookmark   February 5, 2014 at 2:20PM
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sgull

Yes the alder leaves are the browns I have, and was intending/hoping to continue to use, and gather and horde, as the primary brown mixed in with my horse manure because the leaves happen to be plentiful and easily available for me, unlike straw or forbs which was mentioned as the "only" thing that should be composted with manure.

    Bookmark   February 5, 2014 at 2:34PM
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subk3

"I would really like to know how folks that use horse manure in their compost deal with the fact that commercially grown "horse hay" virtually always has been sprayed with some kind of herbicide that passes thru the animal in the manure. Do you always do bio assay testing?"

The most commonly used herbicide in my area of the country (by a very large margin) used on hay crops is 2,4-D. 2,4-D by itself does NOT contain pyridine carboxylic acids such as aminopyralid, picloram, clopyralid and triclopyr which have the much longer half lives that are causing the problems with hay and livestock manure. Most herbicides have a half life much shorter than the time frame between being sprayed to being eaten. So no, not all herbicides end up in the manure in any active form.

I get my horse manure compost from my own horses and most years buy hay straight from a grower I know. I usually know exactly what herbicides and how much have been used on it. On the occasions I need to supplement my usual hay, I buy any additional from a local source (a farm store/co-op) and it is always locally grown. Any hay containing legumes (alfalfa or clover) is most likely fine as you wouldn't use these types of herbicides on those crops. Since I know about local growing practices I don't worry so much. But if I just ask my seller and they can make a quick phone call and ask the grower about the herbicides used if they don't already know. It's not been a big deal.

If I lived in some areas of the Mid West I might be more suspicious. As I understand it one of the big culprits is something called "ditch hay." Or grass hay that has been harvested from roadsides and managed in coordination with a local dept of transportation. While hay is and can be shipped to different regions ditch hay would be of a lower quality and be the least likely for it to make economic sense to ship to other regions.

If you were looking at local stables for manure compost if you found one that fed their horses hay that had alfalfa or clover it in you are probably in good shape. Thoroughbreds and high performance horses would the the most likely to be fed these legumes. If you are interested, a good search would bring up a post I wrote outlining the questions to ask a local stable that might help you determine the quality of compost coming from that source.

    Bookmark   February 16, 2014 at 3:48PM
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poaky1

Make sure the PH is not too high, I have read that some stables add lime too poo in stalls. If this was mentioned already sorry, I scanned down the posts quickly, and did not see it mentioned.

    Bookmark   February 16, 2014 at 8:03PM
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subk3

Yes, some stables use lime in their stalls to counter act odors/ammonia caused by urine not being properly removed from stalls. Lime is most often used in stalls with dirt floors where the urine soaks into the floor and can't be removed with the soiled bedding.

Over the last couple of decades most stables that I know of have either been built with rubber mats on the stall floors and/or have had them retro--fitted into existing stalls. With rubber matting and absorbent bedding (and good basic stable management practices) the need for lime has dropped and while some people still use it what once was a pretty standard practice has become much more unusual.

Hope this helps. I can get a bit lost on the details of the science involved in composting, but I know my horse poop! ;-)

    Bookmark   February 17, 2014 at 12:43AM
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robertz6

I did not get a clear idea from the OP if the material was plain manure, or if it was mixed with something like straw.

The manure should be mixed with the mentioned leaves or woody material if it was just manure.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2014 at 2:43PM
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sgull

It's plain manure, not mixed with straw or anything. My plan/intent was to mix this plain manure with the mentioned leaves to compost together, but wasn't sure at first whether I should compost the manure and leaves separately because I thought maybe the manure/leaves mix wouldn't get "hot" enough to decompose enough to be considered composted enough to be used in 3 months time for spring planting.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2014 at 3:15PM
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toxcrusadr(Zone 6a - MO)

Definitely mix them, they will both benefit from that and you will get the best product in the shortest time.

    Bookmark   February 20, 2014 at 11:56AM
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sgull

Ok thanks toxcrusadr. Will mix, definitely.

    Bookmark   February 20, 2014 at 7:20PM
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Kimmsr(4a/5b-MI)

The reason bedding is used in animal stalls is to absorb the urine, the fecal matter does not need bedding. If lime is spread that should tell you that the person tending those animals is too lazy to properly clean up after those animals, spreading lime will keep the maggots that hatch from eggs laid on that manure from growing because it is a desiccant.

    Bookmark   February 21, 2014 at 7:03AM
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