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  • Mark McNabb

The Compost Blogpost

When the horses hit the property, so did the reality of dealing with all of their manure. My father-in-law, who transplanted the gelding and two mares to Clearly Hidden Acres from his farm in Illinois, had always scooped the stalls into a spreader. When it was full, he drove it around attached to his Kawasaki Mule. I had neither the mule nor the spreader, and just looking around at costs for both sent me looking for cheaper pastures.

I quickly settled on composting as an alternative. So I called my County Extension agent to guide me. He kinda looked at me funny and admitted he didn't know of anyone that did that around here. Pretty much an east/west coast practice (smaller parcels, more regulations). I plowed ahead anyway.

Doing online research, I came across O2Compost, which explained best practices for composting, particularly for horse farms. Their secret was blasting air into the bottom of the pile of manure, aerating it without having to constantly 'turn the pile' to keep the process of breaking down the manure into rich compost.

They even had a perfect 'starter' system, comprising of a blower, thermometer instructions to build composting boxes. From there, it's pretty simple. Collect the manure, let it pile up, kick the blower on occasionally, make sure it gets a little moisture from rain. Biologics takes off from there.

I only compost what's left in the stalls, or any that is close to the box. The stables have a spray system for flies and fans for the summer heat and they're protected from the cold wind during the winter, so those times fill the boxes fastest. Spring and Fall, they hang out in the fields, leaving little in their stalls.

Once the pile gets about halfway full, I'll start plunging the thermometer into the pile and get temperature reads. As long as the gauge shows it in the 'active' green range, I know it's doing its job. One thing I've come to appreciate is that, even though the boxes are just right outside the stalls, there's no odor and little 'fly' production. The heat from the pile kills both. In fact, as the next photo shows, you can actually see the results of the heat, with the manure turning white and smelling like charcoal at this point. During the colder months, you can see steam rising from the boxes.

Generally, during times of collecting the most manure, I'll fill one of the two 6' x 4' bins in a little over a month, and start filling the other. Once both are full, I'll move the two-month-old pile with my front loader to the edge of the property to continue the composting process.

The finished product is perfect for mixing with soil for gardens. And since I have friends that are much better gardeners than myself, I barter for produce with annual truckloads of free compost.

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