Composting Horse Manure to Protect Water Quality

The Winooski Natural Resources Conservation District (WNRCD) received an Ecosystem Restoration Program (ERP) Grant from the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation to develop and pilot a horse manure composting program. WNRCD worked with horse owners in its district area (Chittenden County, Washington County and the towns of Orange, Williamstown, and Washington) to improve water quality conditions by preventing manure and manure runoff from entering local waterways.

Even small horse farms can produce a significant quantity of manure; each day one mature horse can produce up to one cubic foot of manure. When horse manure is not managed properly it can leach nutrients and pathogens to surface and groundwater. Horse manure is often piled in easily accessible and convenient locations on the farm and landscape. However, a horse owner may be unaware of how snow melt and rain may interact with the pile to cause manure-laden runoff to enter local waterways.

WNRCD visited 12 small horse farms to share information about Vermont’s Accepted Agricultural Practices and to work with horse owners to find suitable locations to store and compost manure that are both environmentally friendly and convenient for the landowner. Composting manure breaks down bedding material and animal waste to create an extremely valuable resource to be used again. The composting process also contains the manure and prevents nutrients from running off the landscape into local waterways.

Of the 12 farms visited, 6 small horse farmers agreed to participate in WNRCD’s program. WNRCD worked with the farmers and the Intervale Conservation Nursery to install 15 manure compost bins that are capable of storing 2,656 cubic feet of manure and bedding material. The 6 farmers signed stewardship agreements with WNRCD agreeing to use and maintain the bins for manure storage and composting purposes for at least the next 10 years. These horse owners now have a better method for managing their manure, are preventing water quality impairments and are creating an important soil-building resource.

WNRCD received a great deal of interest about the project from other horse owners in the district area. The WNRCD intends to continue to work with and reach out to the horse-owning community to protect water quality.

Unprotected manure pile prone to rainfall and runoff less than 200 feet from surface water

Unprotected manure pile prone to rainfall and runoff less than 200 feet from surface water. ERP grant funds provided opportunity to build a two-bin manure compost system for the small horse farm (see featured photo).