Many years ago, I was involved with an agricultural waste management
study conducted by King County, Washington. This study had several
objectives - to estimate the:
- Number of horses in the county;
- Types, quantities and characteristics of bedding used;
- Volume of waste generated;
- Methods employed to manage this waste; and
- Nature and magnitude of environmental impact that resulted
from these practices.
At first glance, this seemed to me to be a
relatively straight-forward study, however, it quickly became
apparent that the answers were illusive and not forthcoming.
Several methods were employed to determine the answers, including
an extensive telephone survey of horse owners, a windshield
survey in known horse communities, and direct sampling and
laboratory testing of manure piles where permission to access
the pile was (seldom) granted.
In the end, the results were very fuzzy with an estimated 30,000
horses in scattered areas throughout the county, mostly bedded
on shavings (with a growing awareness of wood pellets as an alternative)
and with manure mostly "piled out back". While the environmental
impact was difficult to measure, it became clear that virtually
every watershed in the county was adversely impacted by nutrients
originating on horse farms (i.e. non-point source pollution).
This study brought to my attention a critical need in the equine
community, and from this was borne the early concept for the O2Compost
Training Program. The Training Program took roughly 10 years to
conceive, develop, test and refine, and many people were directly
and indirectly involved in this process. Historically, the O2Compost
Training Program has been conducted remotely on a one-on-one basis.
Now we are pursuing our vision to conduct group training programs
at host facilities around the country.
What brings all of this to mind is a study conducted by the American
Horse Council that estimates the total number of horses in
the United States to be approximately 9.2 million. How this number
was determined is anyone's guess, but let's - for the purpose
of this discussion - assume that it is reasonably accurate. Given
that one horse produces roughly one cubic yard of manure each
and every month, it stands to reason that the total volume of
manure produced in the United States is on the order of 9 million
cubic yards per month. And this does not include the volume of
bedding which can easily double or triple the total volume of
manure depending on the type of bedding used.
Aside: For those not familiar with the "cubic yard"
as a unit of measure, it is equal to a cube that is 3 feet wide
by 3 feet long and 3 feet high. One cubic yard equals 27 cubic
feet. A standard pickup truck will hold 2 cubic yards if mounded.
Now, I find a volume of 9 million cubic yards
hard to imagine in real terms, so I did some research and
learned that the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, would
hold over 84 million gallons of water if filled to the brim.
Given that there are approximately 200 gallons in a cubic
yard, you could fill the Rose Bowl roughly 22 times with horse
manure each month, or 265 times a year.
Another way to look at this: if a year's worth of horse manure
were to be stacked vertically on a football field, from end
zone to end zone and sideline to sideline, the pile would
stand 10 miles high - that's higher than commercial airliners
fly. Now I think you'll agree, that's a LOT of manure.
Add to that the amount of bedding used and you can begin to see
the order of magnitude of the problem - or opportunity - that
we face. This volume of manure also represents a tremendous quantity
of nutrients that can either be mismanaged and allowed to impact
our fresh water resources and aquatic wildlife, or properly managed
and utilized in a wide array of applications that help heal the
The message that I am trying to leave you with is this:
Each of us impacts the world we live
in, either negatively or positively.
This is especially true for those of us who own horses and other
livestock. Properly managing horse manure is our responsibility!
The impact from horse manure can be negative if we disregard our
responsibilities to the earth. Alternatively, the impact can be
positive and financially rewarding if we view manure as a resource
and an opportunity. Composting is easy when you know what you
are doing and with the O2Compost Training Program, your success
Composting, in my opinion, is the most effective and profitable
means to properly manage horse manure, to support sustainable
agriculture, and to leave the world a better place for the generations
that will follow ours.
I invite you to begin composting - to
be a part of the solution.