Composting Manure

There are various reasons; of course the obvious is fertilizer for your lawn and garden. But unless you have a farm or huge property composting isn’t much good unless you have a source for its usefulness.

Even with only a few horses I can’t possibly decompose all of the manure in a timely fashion. Especially being a small ranch within the city limits, piling it sky high is unmentionable, so I have most of it hauled off the ranch every week. However, my reason for composting has little to do with fertilizer and everything to do with replacing dirt! That might sound strange to some, but dirt is quite precious here in the desert, and by no means comes cheap to buy.

It’s almost impossible to clean horse pens twice a day and not have valuable footing dirt get shoveled out with the manure. Same with the chicken yards, they get stripped down to nothing but hard ground every few weeks. By composting horse manure I can replace valuable dirt to my pens and chicken yards. I use it to fill holes, as potting soil, and twice a year to fertilize my yard and trees.

If you’re wondering, after a compost pile is decomposed, it is nothing but beautiful clean dirt with the pleasant aroma of, well…. Earth!

Below are the basics to starting a compost pile. There are many compost bins available on the market, but they are going to give you quite a work-out. They are difficult to turn and depending on what your composting for, may not be of adequate size. Keep it simple, one thing I doubt you need is another chore.

The Basics of Composting

Building the Pile:
The initial size of the pile should be no less than three feet high and at least five feet square. This will provide high enough composting temperatures to kill parasites, weed seeds, and bacteria.

Airflow:
Keeping air in the pile is critical to achieve proper temperature and prevent odors. Also, this will aid in the process of composting in a relatively shorter time. Turning the pile is imperative, especially during the first few weeks. The more you turn the pile the faster it will decompose.

Temperature:
It’s normal for temperatures to vary. Most compost piles start at lower temperatures then increase, and then gradually drop over a period of several weeks. The pile should reach 135 to 150 degrees for several days, this is important not only to kill weed seeds and disease, but to speed up the rate of decomposition. If the pile temperature exceeds 150 degrees you may want to reduce the size of your pile. You can buy a compost thermometer at your local nursery to best monitor temperatures.

Moisture:
Keep your compost pile damp, not soggy. You may have to cover it during rainy spells, or add water to maintain the proper moisture. If the pile lacks moisture, composting organisms will dry out and prevent the pile from heating up. If the pile is to wet it will restrict airspace and cause compaction, also a factor in the pile’s inability to produce heat. If the compost becomes too wet increase the turning frequency.

Location:
Choose a convenient location, with access to a hose. Select level ground with good drainage.

What’s in the Compost Pile:
Organisms need carbon for energy and nitrogen for growth. High carbon materials are plant materials such as straw, shavings, sawdust, leaves, and wood chips.  Materials high in nitrogen are animal by-products like manure, but also grass clippings and hay. The best carbon/nitrogen ratio is nitrogen, 25:1 and carbon, 30:1. Too much bedding such as shavings will raise the carbon and you may have to add grass clippings or chicken manure. Without the proper carbon/nitrogen ration the compost pile will take longer to decompose.

Time Frame of Completion:
A well managed pile can be composted in about two months in the summer, and three to six months in the winter.

Tools:
A four or five tined pitch fork for turning, a garden hose, and a compost thermometer. You can also insert a metal pole into the pile, as a heat indicator of activity.

A partial list of what you can put in your compost pile:

• Hay
• Coffee grounds
• Leaves
• Crushed egg shells
• Feathers
• Fruit
• Fruit peels and rinds
• Peanut shells
• Garden debris
• Straw
• Grass clippings
• Vegetable scraps
• Grass clippings, fresh
• Tea grounds and leaves
• Lettuce

*Never put meat or fatty food in your compost pile.

amy elizabeth, TBN Ranch

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About tbnranch

amy elizabeth, writer, author, antique dealer. Lives in the northeastern reaches of the Sonoran Desert on a small hobby farm.
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3 Responses to Composting Manure

  1. Pingback: Chicken Coop Housekeeping « tbnranch

  2. tbnranch says:

    I’m sure there are horse folks out there that would love to give you manure – free. Maybe you could find a small area in your yard to start composting. There are many compost bins on the market and some are quite small. It would cut down on your trash too!

  3. Great information. I’ve always wanted to try composting but don’t have much space. We have very hard clay in our yard and fertile dirt could help.

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