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Got Horse Manure? UF/IFAS Program Offers Composting Solution

Horses may be beautiful animals, but like everyone, they poop. A lot.

“A 1,000 pound horse can produce 10 tons of manure and stall waste each year,” said Mary Lusk, assistant professor of soil and water sciences with the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

For many horse owners in Florida, the sheer amount of waste can become a seemingly insurmountable problem, said Carissa Wickens, assistant professor of animal sciences at UF and a state Extension horse specialist. “We saw a need to educate owners about ways to safely deal with it,” she said.

So Lusk and Wickens, along with Francisco Rivera, small farms agent with UF/IFAS Extension Hillsborough County, teamed up to create a program to teach horse owners how to compost manure in a way that protects the environment and benefits them and their property.

On March 7, horse owners are invited to learn how to implement a three-bin composting system at the Keystone Civic Center in Odessa. The demonstration will start at 6 p.m.

Funding for the program comes from the Environmental Protection Commission of Hillsborough County, which was looking for ways to prevent the nutrients and microorganisms in horse manure from entering the environment.

“If manure isn’t managed or disposed of properly, the nutrients and bacteria have the potential for leaching into the soil or washing away during a rainstorm,” Lusk said. “In our composting system, manure is composted in a designated storage structure , that can be covered to help reduce leaching and runoff of nutrients.”

The process of composting horse manure is much like that for composting other organic matter, such as food waste, Wickens said.

“In addition to reducing the volume of waste by up to 50 percent, composting also reduces the amount of pathogens, parasites, and weed seeds in the manure,” Wickens said. “Once the manure is fully composted, it can be used to add organic matter back into pasture soils, which benefits horses and their owners.”

The three-bin system was designed by one of Lusk’s undergraduate students, Walsh Nichols, who is majoring in agricultural education and communication. His degree program is based at the UF/IFAS College of Agricultural and Life Sciences’ Plant City location and includes both in-person and online classes.

“Dr. Lusk conducted a survey of our stakeholders’ needs and also of the equipment they currently have available to them for composting,” Nichols said. “The survey revealed that most horse owners keeping horses on smaller acreage properties had pitchforks and shovels, rather than tractors, so the aim became to come up with something that could be put together easily, and was small and inexpensive. Through a bit of research and working with a few different designs, I found wood pallets to be the best solution.”

The March 7 demonstration will also include information about options for marketing composted manure.

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The mission of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is to develop knowledge relevant to agricultural, human and natural resources and to make that knowledge available to sustain and enhance the quality of human life. With more than a dozen research facilities, 67 county Extension offices, and award-winning students and faculty in the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, UF/IFAS works to bring science-based solutions to the state’s agricultural and natural resources industries, and all Florida residents. Visit the UF/IFAS web site at ifas.ufl.edu and follow us on social media at @UF_IFAS.

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