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April 21, 2014: Manure Management: Spring has Sprung

I took most of the five gallon buckets out of the greenhouse three weeks ago. This was during a pseudo breakup. I thought that it was spring and I began filling them with horse, goat, and chicken manure. I was prompted to do this because I’d gotten a call from a fellow who said that he wanted manure, as much as I had on hand. I filled thirty or so buckets full of shit, in anticipation of his April 10 visit. Then two things happened. It snowed. And the fellow, in a follow-up phone call, indicated that he only wanted compost. (I told him that this was impossible because the compost was frozen. And, I added, that the area around it was muddy, so we had to wait on moving the tractor.

Andre's manure trailer

I resumed filling the sled and hauling the manure up behind the hoop house. (We’ve been putting the winter dregs there for the past three years, in an attempt to fill in a major depression.) Then, around April 8, breakup began happening for real. This one wasn’t as bad a breakup as in previous years because we didn’t get as much snow as in the past. There was mud, water, drainage – but it was not as bad as last year. It also wasn’t anything that I could not deal with. Once the snow melted and the ground appeared, I could no longer haul the sled to the winter dump site. So I filled our remaining buckets, and then topped off those that were not yet completely full.

What to do? There, adjacent to the pen were 50-or-so buckets of manure. What next happened was what usually happens. We found a taker for our supply. Every year I fret that this won’t happen because we’ve finally exhausted our supply of takers. Every year we set aside the buckets for area gardeners. We let people know by word of mouth that we have it on hand. And they come.

About two weeks ago we ran into our friend Karen Hoppe, who, with trekking poles in hand, was coming down trail. We were going up trail. For some time she, Pete, and I talked about a variety of topics. A light went off above my head when she began talking about her gardening endeavors. “Will you be needing manure this year?” I asked. “Sure!” she said.

Yesterday afternoon, after search and rescue practice, Pete called her and asked if she was up for taking a load of manure. She said yes, and immediately came over and helped us load up Sputnik. We then drove to her place and dropped off a load. I then asked if she wanted a second load, to which she said yes. So, we took a second load to her place. So, for a few hours at least, we had no excess manure on hand. And Karen also lent us additional buckets which we can use until she returns the ones she now has on hand.

It’s always a good feeling – that is that brief moment in time when the pen is clean, and there is absolutely no extra manure on hand. But this moment is fleeting, because horses being horses, they continue to poop. (An aside, a horse that isn’t pooping is a sick horse. So in a way, seeing the tails go up and the poop tumble down is in itself reason to rejoice.)

Now some may wonder why I bothered to write about this subject when so much else is going on in my life. The answer is that I consider manure management to be an integral part of animal care. Many who have horses on their property either ignore it or pile it up someplace, like in a corner of the pen. (The one exception is my friend Fran, who has an excellent system. She has two compost piles going – one’s at her home, and the other is at her summer residence).

And many who board their horses go by the adage “out of sight, out of mind.” This is because they see manure disposal as being the barn owner’s responsibility. And they are right. I suspect that many who do board either clean their stalls themselves, or pay a bit more to have the barn manager to do it for them. However, I suspect that very few ever ask if they compost their manure, or have it hauled off by someone who does the same.

One problem is that animals suffer the consequences of not moving manure out of their range. They can get thrush, a hoof-related bacterial infection. Nibbling on manure also increases the parasite load. And everyone has to deal with flies. Plus, standing around in shit lowers equine moral.

Another problem is that haphazard manure disposal is a real waste of waste. Manure is good stuff. Compost it and you have a soil amendment. Not just soil, but something on hand that’s even better than soil – a soil amendment that’s teaming with microbes.

The above reasons are why I continue to obsess about what to do with our manure. And my actually doing something about this acting upon it has taken considerable time away from doing other things, such as riding.

There is a subtext to this dispatch and this is that spring has sprung. In winter the manure either goes in the compost facility or up behind the hoop house. But in the spring we have to deal. And there is no better time for this than now.

112. 4/22/14: Spring Cleaning and the Corresponding Matter of Literary Hardship