Management Practices for Horse Operations in Suburban Communities
• Site Planning
• Pasture Management
• Animal Waste Management
• Nutrient Management
• Integrated Pest Management
Water quality concerns everyone.
No matter where you live or what kind of work you do, clean water is
vital to sustain life. By implementing practical and economical
management techniques, suburban stable operators can reduce nonpoint
source (NPS) pollution that threatens the quality of water in our ponds,
streams, lakes and rivers. Furthermore, stable operators can save money
and create a more aesthetically pleasing environment.
NPS pollution refers to
contaminants that do not come from a definite point such as an industrial
pipe or a sewage treatment plant. Rather, NPS pollution is the result
of sediment, nutrients, bacteria, and organic debris that are washed into
streams and rivers primarily by storm water and snow-melt runoff over
land surfaces. NPS pollution is responsible for more than 50 percent
of the pollution in our nation's surface and ground waters. Reducing NPS
pollution is vital to protecting invaluable natural resources such as
those found in our neighborhoods and the Chesapeake Bay.
Agricultural Best Management Practices (BMPs) are highly recommended for
"backyard" or "small-lot" horse operations. BMPs provide
more efficient use of the limited space available. These management
techniques provide prolonged periods of pasture for grazing, prevent
erosion, and maintain good water quality.
Select the best location for
barns, fields, manure storage containers or compost bins, watering
systems, and fencing. If the site is not well planned, it becomes more
difficult to prevent diseases, control pests, and prevent pollution.
It is never too late to rearrange the site for a horse operation if there
is a problem with the current setting.
Allow for as much vegetated area as possible between the animals or
animal wastes and any water body. Locate heavily used areas on higher
grounds that will be drier and receive less runoff.
Watering systems such as troughs should be strategically located to
ensure that the animals can access them from all fields.
Situate the paddock or exercise area close to the barn, allowing easy
release of animals to get their daily exercise.
Separate fields and pastures with gated fences to control animal
movement and grazing.
Install diversions to control runoff.
Overgrazing is a common problem when large animals are kept on small
lots. No matter how much food supplement is provided, horses will
selectively eat all their favorite growing vegetation. Less favored
vegetation will eventually die out due to constant trampling and
over-compaction of the soil by the weight of the animals. The exposed
soil becomes vulnerable to erosion causing pollutants, such as sediments
and nutrients, to enter water bodies.
A well-managed pasture not only prevents erosion, it also provides
horses and ponies with high quality, nutritious feed at a lower cost.
Maintain the fertility level of the soils in pasture areas for optimum
yield. Soil tests should be done once every three years to
determine how much commercial fertilizer and/or lime is needed.
Soil samples must be collected and sent to a soils testing laboratory
for analysis. Obtain details for this process from your nearest library
or the Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District. Soil
samples can be collected at any time of the year. If the soil is wet at
the time of collection, allow it to dry for proper mixing. Collect ten
or more samples from different areas of a field from depths of about
four inches below the surface. Thoroughly mix the samples together in a
clean plastic pail. From that homogeneous mixture, take a
representative sample, and put it into the sampling box (provided) for
shipment to the soils testing laboratory.
Installing a rotational
grazing system, dividing a pasture area into smaller fields using
gated fences, provides more pasture for the horses. While one field is
recovering, the animals can graze in another. This system ensures that
overgrazing does not occur. When done properly, the resting period of
the fields will allow vegetation to recover with renewed vigor, and the
horses will be guaranteed fresh grass for a longer period during the
growing season. Divide pastures in such a way that animals can have
access to clean water, shade, and salt at any time.
Where space is limited, it is nearly impossible to maintain a pasture
if the horses are allowed to freely graze the entire area. In this
situation, subdivide the plot into two or more lots, using one as an
exercise lot (with no pasture) and the others as grazing pastures.
Allow the horses into the grazing area only when the grass is three to
six inches tall. Proper fertilization and irrigation of this plot will
provide a considerable amount of grazing pasture and eventually reduce
the feed bill.
When pastures are wet and soft, especially after heavy rains, the
horses' hooves can cause considerable damage. It is best to keep them
out of the pasture until it dries.
Interseed your pasture with both warm and cool season grasses to
prolong the availability of fresh grass, increase erosion protection,
and provide continuous uptake of nutrients that might otherwise
contribute to water pollution. When warm season grasses, such as bermudagrass, go into dormancy, cool season grasses, such as Kentucky
bluegrass will start their growing period; this keeps your pasture
green nearly all year round.
Weed control is another concern in pastures. A lush pasture of grass
and clover (no more than 25 percent) is the best way to keep weeds
down. However, if you can't get your pasture dense enough to prevent
weed growth, mow the weeds regularly or before they flower to keep them
under control. If herbicides are used, identify the weed and determine
the most advantageous time to apply the treatment. The ideal time to
chemically treat your weeds is when the temperature is about 70° and
humidity is low. High temperature and high humidity enhance volatility
and reduce effectiveness of herbicides.
On a small
lot, horse waste accumulates rapidly. Without proper management, the
waste can wash off the land into a nearby water body. Plant nutrients
(nitrogen and phosphorus), bacteria, and pathogens in the waste can
adversely affect water quality.
A well-built structure can be used as a storage facility. The structure
must have adequate capacity to hold the volume of waste generated until
it is disposed of or used. It should have a protective cover to keep out
rainwater and disease-carrying agents such as flies and rats.
Make plans for disposal or transfer of manure to ensure that when it is
moved, it does not become a source of pollution at the new site. While in
its raw state, stored waste can be spread on fields, lawns, or gardens.
Considering the possibility of parasite infestation, and the presence of
weed seeds, you should compost all waste spread on fields grazed by
Composting is an aerobic (oxygen requiring) process in which
microorganisms break down complex organic components of animal waste and
bedding into simple organic soil-like material. A simple and relatively
inexpensive composting method involves using a composting bin on a level,
impervious surface. This is ideal for horse operations with five or fewer
horses. The bin should be easily accessible from the stall and paddock
areas. For an operation with one to three horses, a two-bin system
installed on an impervious surface is adequate. A four to five horse
operation may need a three-bin composting system.
Install the composting bins on a
non-porous (impervious) surface. Stack all materials to be composted in
one bin until it is full. Then allow the waste heap to go through the
composting process while the second bin is being filled up.
Composting duration varies considerably depending on the organic
materials being composted and other conditions. An ideal composting
system may take 8 to 12 weeks to complete. This progresses to
a curing period which lasts for another four weeks. During this time, the
pile cools down, and recolonization of other soil microorganisms takes
place. Certain conditions are necessary for timely completion of
Organic materials to be composted must have the appropriate carbon to
nitrogen (C:N) ratio that supports growth and activity of the
microorganisms that carry out composting. These bugs use up carbon for
energy and growth and nitrogen for protein to build up their bodies and
Typical compost piles from horse operations consisting of manure and
bedding materials and have a high C:N ratio. This combination
composts well by itself, especially if the bedding material is straw.
If the bedding material is sawdust, it may take a longer time to
compost. The composting process can be increased if materials with
higher nitrogen content, such as grass clippings or urea, are added
occasionally to the pile.
Oxygen is needed by the microorganisms during respiration while
breaking down the materials. Aerobic composting requires a lot of
oxygen, particularly at the initial stage. A tremendous amount of
energy in the form of heat is given off, creating an ideal environment
for the microorganisms. They operate best in temperatures between 110°F
and 150°F. At 140°F or higher, pathogens, weed seeds, and fly larvae in
the composting materials are destroyed. However, at temperatures above
160°F, the microorganisms will die. Therefore, it is essential to
regulate the oxygen and temperature levels by regularly turning
the compost pile over about three times a month. Ideally, monitor
the temperature using a long-stemmed thermometer.
Moisture is necessary to permit biological activities and the
supporting chemical processes. Moisture should be about 50 percent of
the content. Estimate the moisture content by squeezing a handful of
composted material. It should feel like a damp sponge after water has
been wrung out of it-damp, but not dripping. Moisture is continuously
lost due to the high temperature. Therefore, regularly wet the
materials without waterlogging them.
The end product of a composting process is a simple, inert organic
material called compost, which consists mainly of humus, plant nutrients,
carbon, and microorganisms. It is a friable dark brown material that can
be used in lawns, pastures, or gardens, or bagged for sale.
Composting has many benefits:
It reduces environmental and health risks by controlling parasite
re-infestation of horses, eliminating a potential breeding site for
flies, and reducing the amount of raw manure-polluted runoff that
reaches surface and ground water.
It provides an efficient manure handling process by
reducing the volume
and odor potential.
It enhances soil tilth and fertility for the yard, garden, pasture, or
even a "horse-less" neighbor.
Proper nutrient management means applying the required amount of plant
nutrients to maximize yield. Excessive nutrient application is
discouraged because the traditional belief of "more-is-better"
has been proven wrong.
Excess nitrogen and phosphorus in fertilizer applications are major
components of NPS pollution. Without proper management practices,
these nutrients can wash off into nearby creeks, ponds, or wetland areas,
and ultimately into the Chesapeake Bay. An overabundance of nutrients
causes eutrophication (nutrient enrichment) of water bodies, supporting
excessive growth of algae and other aquatic weeds. This uncontrolled
growth shades out and kills other sub-aquatic vegetation. At the end of
their life cycle, the algae and weeds decompose, causing depletion of
dissolved oxygen. Oxygen depletion, in turn, leads to odor problems and
harms the aquatic life.
Nutrient management is also important to our ground water. Though out of
sight, ground water is still vulnerable to NPS pollution. Ground water
pollution is evident in wells that are shallow, improperly cased, or
located down hill from a poorly managed animal waste deposit site.
Polluted ground water can contain high levels of nitrate, which is
particularly harmful to babies (causing Blue Baby Syndrome), or bacteria,
which can cause severe stomach upset even among adults.
Nutrient management planning is site specific and is part of the Soil
and Water Quality Conservation Plan required by the Chesapeake Bay
Preservation Act. Your local soil and water conservation district office
can help you prepare your plan.
Integrated Pest Management
Integrated Pest Management (IPM) combines appropriate chemical,
cultural, and biological pest control techniques into a single plan to
reduce pest population and keep damage at an acceptable level.
To reduce the dependency on chemicals, implement environmentally sound
biological control techniques. One such technique involves releasing
fly parasites (which are harmless to animals and humans) near
barns, stables, manure piles, or any other area of expected fly
concentration. The parasites lay their eggs inside immature fly pupae.
The eggs of the parasite then hatch into larvae and feed on the inside of
the pupae. One fly parasite can destroy as many as 50 fly pupae. For best
results, release the parasites in spring before the fly population
becomes a problem.
Ideally, the manure pile should be about 200 feet away from your stable.
Simply keeping the pile covered will control pests.
To comply with the City of Calabasas
Municipal Code Chapter 8.28, all equestrian and stable facilities -even
a single horse stabled in a backyard-should have a Site Specific Urban
Stormwater Mitigation Plan (SUSMP) with implementable BMPs.