“Mucking Out” Stables Gets Mechanized - Horses [Skip to Content]

Illinois Livestock Trail
“Mucking Out” Stables Gets Mechanized
by Ted Funk, Ag. Engineering Extension Specialist, University of Illinois Extension

It's called "mucking out" the stables and it's as unpleasant as it sounds. Mucking out is the job of cleaning manure from horse stalls--an essential job for the health of your horses and the protection of the environment.

The good news is that some stall cleaning can be mechanized today. A cart can be pulled behind a motorized vehicle through the working aisle of the stable or you can use a barn cleaner. A barn cleaner is a scraper that automatically moves the manure from the stall area to the stockpile area.

No matter the size of your facility, you must have a system in place that does not pollute the soil, surface water, or groundwater. In addition, your system should reduce odor and dust, control insects, rodents and pests, and comply with governmental regulations pertaining to manure handling.

Horse manure is almost always handled as a solid. Therefore, knowing the volume and weight of the manure in a facility aids in the proper sizing of the manure storage.

Your storage capacity should be based on the number and size of your horses, the type of bedding you use and an appropriate storage period. Because frozen or snow-covered ground makes it difficult to apply manure in an environmentally sound manner, colder climates require enough space to provide 180 days of storage.

Keep in mind that the moisture content of manure is typically around 85 percent, but the bedding used in stalls can lower that to around 40 to 50 percent. Good bedding absorbs liquids so that the area remains dry and it also minimizes odor and foot problems.

The mixture of bedding plus manure can account for an extra 8 to 15 pounds of manure per day and can sometimes even double the volume of "as-excreted" manure. Straw is the most popular choice of bedding material (and preferred by horses), but sawdust and wood shavings are also very absorbent material.

Manure can be stockpiled temporarily before it is used. A storage pad or structure aids in handling manure and minimizing its pollution potential. A well-packed surface with a stub wall backstop can be used for short-term storage, although a formed structure with three-sides might be less objectionable for long-term storage because it keeps manure confined to a small area and out of view. Any runoff should be drained to an approved disposal system.

It is recommended that short-term stockpiles be removed frequently to control odor and flies. If long-term storage is needed, consider introducing fly predators (tiny non-stinging wasps or parasites) to a manure storage area. If your facility has enough land area to apply manure, a management plan is essential to minimize the problem of surface and groundwater pollution. A good plan will calculate the nutrient content of the manure that is used and match it to the nutrients in the soil plus the estimated nutrients required for crop usage.

Another good practice is keeping a written log of application that includes application rates, date and location of application, temperature, sky conditions and wind direction and speed. This will demonstrate your compliance with government standards and could forestall having a complaint filed against you.

Composting is a good alternative for horse facilities that have limited land area on which to apply manure. When horse manure is well-managed, it can compost in four to eight months.

There are a variety of composting options:

  • Passive (Anaerobic)--Manure is piled and left undisturbed for up to a year.
  • Dynamic (Aerobic)--Manure is piled and turned regularly.
  • Aerated static piles--Fans and aeration tubes are used to aerate the pile.
  • Continuous bin composting-- Manure is piled and fresh manure is added to and mixed with the first six feet of the old pile. After six to eight months, cured compost is removed from the back.

Composting manure reduces its volume by 40 to 70 percent. Although composting is another operation to be managed daily, finished horse manure compost is more readily marketable than raw stall manure.

For a more comprehensive discussion on manure management, read the newly revised "Horse Facilities Handbook", written and published by the MidWest Plan Service. The book is available for purchase at MidWest Plan Service, or by calling (800) 562-3618.

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