The scoop on (horse) poop

I thought about headlining this blog “Look what I’ve dung,” or maybe “The plop thickens,” but you get the point. This is about fall fertilizing, and why you should use horse manure.

We’re just a few days away from our killing frost, so things are quiet in the garden… with the exception of the nearly 2 tons of horse poop that’s flying all over the place. That’s right, I’m up to my knees in it, slinging it this way and that.  My wife loves seeing me come in the door after a day of horse manuring.  OK, she doesn’t. But I love the stuff, and here’s why:

1 – It’s cheap aimg_1198nd so am I.

Most people go out and buy cow manure and pay a lot of money for it. And man does that stuff stink. Hardly anybody uses horse manure in their garden.  That means horse farms end up with enormous piles of it, and they are more than happy to give it to you… for free. Some of them will gladly use their front end loader to dump it into your truck, saving you the hassle of shoveling it. Or if you don’t have a truck, they’ll guide you to the pile and let you fill your totes at your leisure.  On the other hand, you’ll probably pay $5 for a 50lb bag of composted cow manure, and you’ll have to haul it yourself. And like I said, that stuff really stinks.

So free vs. $5 per 50 lbs. Easy choice. For fall manuring, I’d say you’re looking for about 1 pound per square foot of garden space. For the amount of manure I use, I’d be paying $400 to the cow guy.

2 – It’s better than you think

Horse manure suffers from bad publicity — fears that it contains tons of weed seeds (because cows have stomach after stomach to shred up every last seed, while horses don’t), and fears that it contains lots of nasty pathogens. Both of those issues are overrated. You may get a few odd weeds from it, but not enough to notice. And every manure has pathogens. Use gloves and don’t get too intimate with it, and you’ll be fine.

Rodales, the authority on organic growing, reports that horse manure is actually slightly higher than cow manure in the 3 essential nutrients (nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium). So it’s a better source of nutrients for plants.

Here’s the manure nutrient breakdown, according to Rodales. (the three numbers represent percentages of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.)

Chicken: 1.1–0.8–0.5
Cow: 0.6–0.2–0.5
Duck: 0.6–1.4–0.5
Horse: 0.7–0.3–0.6
Pig: 0.5–0.3– .5
Rabbit: 2.4–1.4–0.6
Sheep: 0.7–0.3–0.9
Steer: 0.7–0.3–0.4

3 — It looks like expensive mulch

It’s true. If it’s been composted for awhile it looks just like that yard mulch that people pay $25 to $35 a yard for. It takes on a nice, rich brown color, like hemlock mulch or that spray-painted brown stuff they call mulch. And some kinds of mulch can be very bad for your pets, especially dogs.  Horse manure is far better for your plants than mulch, and it actually has a nice aroma if it has rotted for a few months. Your neighbors will think you are richer and smarter than you actually are.

4 — It’s easy to handle

Horse manure is typically mixed with shavings, which makes it lightweight and very easy to spread. You can fill your wheelbarrow with it and you’ll look like the Incredible Hulk when you easily push it around the yard. However, the only green part of you is your thumb.

Where do I get it?

If you live in the suburbs, chances are there’s a horse farm near you. There’s about a dozen within 5 miles of me, maybe more. Sometimes they advertise “free manure” on Craigslist, but that’s not the norm. If you don’t know of any horse farms nearby, it’s easy to look them up on Google maps and then call them or stop by. I find that every horse farm I’ve ever made the “do you have any extra poop” inquiry at has lots of manure and they are glad to have you take it off their hands. The place I go to has over 5,000 yards of it, all well rotted, and they happily load it into my truck for me. What a deal!

John Macone operates Farmer John’s Homegrown Foods.

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