How do I get started with a composting system for the barn?

Composting is one thing that you can do at the barn that can help you create a “greener” environment.  You are also going to save some dollars by not paying to have your manure hauled away, and your veggie growing neighbors and friends will be lining up to take it off your hands.  


Composting, because of the heat produced and bacterial action, can reduce the size of your manure piles by 50% or more.  This same heat will also kill germs, bug eggs and larvae, and weed seeds.  Compost will reduce the amount of gross run-off, and creates an easy way for you to spruce up your own barnyard and stable area.  


What do you need to get going??  


-A good location.  High is better, so that in the rainy months your pile is not sitting upon a puddle and thus becoming a giant poopy puddle itself. 


-Some containment.  You can create compost in piles, you can also use bins.  Think about 3 cubic feet (which is about the size of a very short fridge) for a few horses.  You don’t want to go so big, as you will need to turn the piles.  For more horses, just add more bins.


This super wide compost bin has three areas - old, sorta old, fresh.  Each is as wide as the tractor bucket for easy turning.  


-Consider having a few bins in a row - fresh manure, composting manure, and ready to go.  As you fill one, the others can remain doing their thing, and when you empty a “ready to go” bin, start filling it with manure.  


-Piles are fine if you can manage the width - if the compost piles of manure get so wide and thin, they won’t compost as much as just dry out. The photos show a giant compost pile, you can see the older compost surrounded by fresher smaller piles from the wheelbarrow.  This is not an ideal situation for getting good compost, but it can work if you have the space and a very large tractor to turn it.  

Part of the benefit to composting is that your piles are reduced in size.  Without cover, regular turning, and getting oxygen to the insides of your piles, you won't reduce the size as much and it all takes longer. 


-Cover it.  Tarps are great, as are lids to a bin.  This keeps the heat in! 


-Keep it aerated.  An easy way to do this is to place PVC pipes with holes drilled into them into the piles like chimneys.  Turning the piles will also aerate the compost.


This pipe is about 5 inches in diameter - and it has holes to help aerate the compost.  No need to jam this into the compost, you can create a pile around the pipes. 


-Keep your compost damp, not wet.  If you live in the desert, you may need to add some water.  


-It’s totally OK to use your compost bin for egg shells, coffee grounds, hay bits, organic garbage, banana peels, and even hair from a clip job on your horse!  No meat, and no oils and you are good to go.  


This compost area is just a big pile, and it takes infinitely longer to break down as it's not cared for.  



The point of doing all of this (turning weekly, keeping damp, covering the compost) is to create that great environment for all of the microbes to eat the organic matter and break it down.  This creates the heat, and the really nice fertilizer in the end.  


Your compost should be non smelly, and won’t attract flies.  If you smell ammonia, or are seeing a bunch of bugs, you need to adjust the moisture or turning schedule.


This is a small compost bin, about the width of a tractor, that is turned about once a week so covering is not "mandatory".  


Turning the piles can be done a few ways, the easiest is to move it from one bin to the next, so the top becomes the bottom.  You can also stir it up by hand, or use a tractor scoop to mix it up. 

You can also “seed” your first manure pile with a composting formula from your local garden supply store.  I also suggest that you work with your local garden expert to advise you on the best composting methods for your climate and your ingredients.  Wood shavings in the compost can be done - but may alter the nitrogen content of the compost.  It will also make your compost more like mulch, versus the dirt consistency of just composting manure.  

What tips can you add?