Using green compost in free range stabling – a report
In December 2012, we used green waste compost supplied by the company Terrcheval as bedding for the first time in one of our run-in sheds. This was followed by six more rest areas in various free range stables over the last couple of years. To save costs (Terrcheval is unfortunately located at the other end of the country), we then had material delivered from composting plants in the immediate vicinity.
Our experiences with green compost in free range stables
The horses all happily accept it as bedding.
There is no smell of ammonia. Apparently, the microbes in the compost will reliably break down the urea. It is, however, important to ensure you have a sufficiently thick (25-30 cm) layer of compost.
It is very easy to handle. About 4-6 weeks after spreading the initial compost bedding, you should start adding small amounts of fresh compost every 1-2 weeks. Apart from that, you only need to remove the droppings. Wet patches are not removed.
The Terrcheval compost was ideal. Unfortunately, it wasn’t that easy to get the same thing from the neighboring composting plants. You must always use only green compost materials: composted tree and grass cuttings etc., not organic household or sewage waste. The material may consist of rough cuttings and it should always be fresh compost (this is the term used by the composting “industry”). It means that the composting process is not yet completed, which results in even more active soil. This is more efficient in breaking down the urea components.
We had problems with high contamination. Some composting plants apparently shred the blue bags along with the cuttings they are delivered in. We have also found broken glass and cable remains. So it is definitely worth taking a look at the compost at the plant beforehand.
There may well be too much or not enough air during the composting process, which means you will be able to see layers of mold. This cannot be good for horses, in my opinion. If this happens, you can either treat the compost with effective microorganisms or use the consignment (in combination, again, with effective microorganisms) to fertilize your meadows.
There is no need to worry about toxic plants. For one thing, the high temperatures achieved during the composting process serve to neutralize the toxins, for another, we have never come across horses eating or trying to eat the compost.
Advantages of green compost
- It enjoys a high level of acceptance among horses.
- Urine is absorbed reliably and without leaving any unpleasant smells. (One exception is when several horses stale in the same place and it becomes too much for the microbes to handle. This has happened to us in one group out of five.)
- Very easy to handle. You only have to pick up the droppings and add small amounts of fresh bedding every 1-2 weeks.
- Relatively inexpensive.
Disadvantages of green compost
- It gets dusty quite quickly (especially in the summer). Adding more bedding once a week can help.
- Very cold temperatures will make the compost too hard to lie down on. You can add a layer of wood shavings, for example, to create a softer litter.
- You will have to keep a close eye out for mold.
Further developments: combining green compost with wood chips
During the first winter, when the compost became too hard due to the cold, we covered it with a layer of plain wood shavings. This worked well. In time, the shavings were composted along with the other materials. In the second year, we had some rough wood chips left over and so we used those. These were of course more durable than the shavings and the results were fantastic.
We spread a 5-10 cm layer of wood chips over the compost bedding. The urine continues to be broken down by the compost, while the wood chips maintain a soft top layer. There is less dust and it also reduces the workload as you will not have to add fresh bedding quite as frequently. The bedding areas can be maintained this way for weeks at a time. All you have to do is pick up the droppings.
We used soft wood chips without any bark (and without any toxic wood, of course. This is very important when choosing your wood chips!). Wood chips containing bark would probably work just as well (and are less expensive). We just happened to have the other kind.
We change the entire bedding (compost and wood chips) once a year.