A horse can produce 7 – 8 tons of manure every year. Add to that the wheelbarrow of bedding that goes to the muck heap with the manure and it can become a pretty big problem to deal with.
One option to disposing of all this waste is Vermicompost. This is employing hundreds of earthworms to come in and eat their way through your muckheap, turning it into valuable compost. For once worms can be a good thing!
The worms used are very different to the internal parasites that horse owners work so hard to banish. There are 1800 species of earthworm. The most commonly used for Vermicompost is Eisenia Fetida, more often known as the compost worm, manure worm, red worm or red wiggler. These worms have the added advantage of rapid reproduction, meaning they’ll keep up with your ever increasing muck heap.
Why bother to introduce worms? They’ll produce vastly superior compost. You can then use it to fertilise your fields and garden (grow carrots for your horse) or sell to supplement your feed bill.
There are also disadvantages of vermicomposting. Although it reduces your muck heap faster, it does require more labour then the traditional composting methods.
The depth of the muck heap must not be greater then 1m, otherwise the heap will compact too much – these worms like to be near the surface. This means that you’ll need a greater surface area to spread your heap out, rather then stacking it higher.
The worms are happy anywhere between freezing and 35 degrees C. If it gets colder you’ll need to ensure enough fresh manure to keep the heat up. The reverse is also true. Fresh manure in large amounts can heat up to much. If there are a lot of horses producing large amounts of manure, you need to allow it to compost to a lower heat before introducing the worms.
Worms breathe through their skin. Just like humans they need air to breathe. If the bedding they worm lives in gets to dry, their skin gets dry and they die. This makes them vulnerable to drought.
The main disadvantage to this scheme is that you need money to buy the worms. You’ll pay around £20 per kg of worms. Experts recommend a 1 to 1 ratio – 1kg of worms to 1kg of food. But remember, worms are rapid reproducers and will double their population in 90 days. So you can start out small and let them take care of their numbers to a certain degree.
If you go ahead and give vermicomposting a go, remember the 5 essentials that your new partners will need to stay healthy and happy.
- Hospitable living conditions. Comfortable bedding.
- Constant supply of food. They’ll each eat at least half of their own body weight every day, sometimes up to their full body weight.
- Moisture – 50% moisture by weight.
- This means that the muck heap mustn’t be tightly packed. Allow air in for the worms to breathe.
- Protection from extremes in temperature.
The worms bedding material mustn’t compact too tightly. Horse manure and straw are one of the best materials for worms. The manure makes a good feed, the straw allows aeration. Shredded paper included into the mixture makes it even more ideal. The paper is more absorbent and so will ensure that the muck heap retains enough moisture.
Some people are concerned with the effects of deworming medicine on the earthworms in the compost. Generally the thought is that it’s safe. In metabolising the drug, the horse’s system breaks it down and 95% of it is absorbed. However, it’s recommended as better to be safe and not use the manure for one week following deworming. This manure should be composted as usual, away from the earthworms.
With the use of the earthworms, your muck heap will reduce dramatically within 2 – 3 months. The worms remove all smell from the compost, speed up the process and provide you with a useful additional income.