Environmentally Friendly Muck Storage Tips

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Horse muck is a constant problem to anyone who owns or manages a farm or stable. Here are a few tips from the University of Kentucky that might make your muck seem less of a four-letter word.

As “going green” sweeps the nation, horse people know that they have always been ahead of the curve when it comes to being good stewards of the land. But sometimes, in the rush of our busy lives, we can let this go to the wayside. Horse farms generally are not considered livestock operations, and in the past many of these farms have been able to avoid state and federal environmental regulations. But now there is increasing scrutiny of horse farm manure management practices. Now is the time to protect your farm against potential compliance violations.

The reason for the increasing scrutiny is clear. More than 48% of the rivers and streams designated as impaired by the United States Environmental Protection Agency are impaired because of agricultural nonpoint source pollution (the type of pollution that cannot be attributed to single drainage from a pipe or discharge point.). The federal Clean Water Act (CWA) requires each state to create and enforce a set of water quality standards. Under Section 319 of the CWA, states must assess and manage nonpoint source pollution. Nonpoint source pollution can occur on agricultural operations when precipitation runs off of pastures, cropland, manure piles and other surfaces and picks up nutrients, sediments, and chemicals that are carried into streams and the water table. Once these pollutants reach surface and ground water sources, they can harm aquatic and land based ecosystems and can cause human and animal illness, or even death.

Dealing with the up to 50 pounds of manure, 10 pounds of urine, and 20 pounds of soiled bedding produced (depending on bedding type and number of times cleaned per day) by each horse can be the least-rewarding part of the job of owning or managing a horse, but it must be done. Here are some tips to help you deal with your muck piles in an environmentally friendly and, importantly, compliant way:

  • Keep muck away from streams, ponds, sinkholes, and wetlands. At least 300 feet is recommended.
  • Roof manure storage facilities. Surface runoff and precipitation can run over and infiltrate through muck piles, potentially creating pollution problems downstream.
  • Seal with concrete the areas where muck piles will be placed; don’t forget the sides! This stops the nutrients and pathogens within the manure from leaching into the ground, which can seep into groundwater. Concrete is an incredibly strong material that can withstand scraping and muck wagon traffic. Walls will help you contain and constrain your muck piles. Without walls muck piles will spread out over greater areas.
  • Manure storage facilities should be large enough to safely hold all muck produced between land applications or until it is hauled away. Overfilling manure storage facilities can create obvious problems.
  • Create plans for muck removal and storage. If you don’t have your manure hauled away, then you need a nutrient management plan (NMP). These plans can help you monitor nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorus, which are applied to soils. When excessive nutrients are present in soils they can run off to water sources, causing harmful eutrophication (the “choking out” of aquatic life) and health problems in livestock and humans. Having a NMP ranks you above those without one if you are applying for technical, design, or cost-share assistance from the National Resources Conservation Service.
  • Contact your local conservation district to determine if you need any additional conservation or agricultural water quality plans. Having a plan in-hand can protect you if your farm is called in on a complaint.

Stephanie Mehlhope, MA, within University of Kentucky’s Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering, and Steve Higgins, PhD, director of animal and environmental compliance for the Kentucky Agricultural Experiment Station, provided information for this article.