Farm Stewardship Committee
March 4, 2017
New World Stables
It was a cold, windy day so our “winter” Maryland Horse Council’s (MHC) Farm Stewardship meeting in March felt right. We gathered a substantial group of about 35 at lovely New World Stables to discuss why to compost, how to compost and what to do with composted horse manure. As a reminder, our 80,000 Maryland horses provide about 50 pounds per horse of organic material each day which, when combined with wood products and composted, yield a significant amount of valuable nutrients for plants.
Jane Thery, chair of the Maryland Horse Council Farm Stewardship Committee, opened the meeting in the nice, snug seminar room. She presented the program and thanked Debra Nissen for hosting the meeting at her New World Stables in Frederick and Southern States for sponsoring the refreshments.
Jane Seigler, President of the Maryland Horse Council, encouraged all present to join and to support the move to modernize the Council’s activities through contracting the company Grow and Fortify and its CEO Kevin Atticks. The MHC is seeking $150,000 of funding and pledges to begin working with the company on a fund-raising and policy engagement program. Rob Lang, of the Waredaca Brewing Company, recommended Atticks who has helped them in their value-added agricultural operation.
Debra Nissen explained her goal for New World Stables to rehabilitate pastures using the appropriate application of composted horse manure. She has built a well-compacted pile from the manure and bedding from the 6 horses on the farm. The resulting composted manure is fine, dry and odor-free. She spreads the composted manure using her tractor bucket and arena harrow blade (tines up) for even application. The pastures are recovering with good grass cover.
Mike Calkins, Conservation Planner from the Howard County Soil Conservation District, presented the preliminary results of the Green Mountain In-Vessel Earth Flow system which was installed at Day’s End Farm with a $388,310 grant from the State of Maryland. The system has capacity for handling more than the manure and bedding of 60 horses. Its greenhouse-like roof captures light and maintains moisture while the compost heats. A mechanical arm turns the compost, and the machine can be set to produce either a bedding product or compost for more traditional soil enhancement. The system can process batches of 1-5 tons of horse manure in two weeks. Day’s End farm uses the resulting bedding, with the addition of a top layer of shavings. The MHC will disseminate the final evaluation of the system when it is available. Several concerns were raised including the dark color of the bedding and the initial cost of the system with is $132,000. However, the large volume and rapid composting are valuable features.
Brent Cammauf, District Conservationist from the Catoctin/Frederick Soil Conservation District, presented detailed information on the science of composting including the needed moisture, temperature and microbes to produce first quality compost. He described simple small composting options such as a covered, three-compartment set-up with fresh, composting and finishing product moved from pile to pile. He recommends a non-permeable base and some kind of cover for the compost piles to minimize run-off and control moisture content. There are important cost-share programs available through the Soil Conservation District offices for composting facilities.
Finally, Linda Bilsens, Project Manager for the Institute for Local Self-Reliance Composting for Community Project, described urban efforts in Washington, DC and other cities to promote food scrap composting and the use of local compost for urban gardens. She raised the issue of getting more horse compost into the marketplace, perhaps starting with farmers’ markets. There is a growing interest in not only quality composting but promoting the purchase of the product as a soil enhancement and source of local and organic nutrients for plants.
The attendees of our Farm Stewardship meeting are now extremely well-informed on composting. There was much information sharing among the participants on their own experiences, new information on alliances among organic farmers and the horse community and linking horse manure composting to the broader discussion of composting, landfills and nutrient management in Maryland.
The Maryland Horse Council is now on various stakeholder groups to be at the table for the design and implementation of regulations and incentives for quality composting and its appropriate use.
Thanks again to Debra Nissen for hosting and organizing this successful meeting and to Southern States for sponsoring the refreshments!
Why we do this! For our wonderful horses. This is Chaos the grey and friends at New World Stables with the Maryland Blue Ridge Mountains in the background.