I get this question a lot, especially in The Members Area. And people always chime in with the same answer because it’s what they read “On the Internet”. They say; “No, you should never use horse manure in your garden because horses can’t digest weed seeds and you’ll have a garden full of weeds. And . . . horse manure contains chemicals from horse medications.”
Me? I see it differently. Very different.
I would not be concerned with anything. It’s not like horses are medicated on a daily basis. Probably a couple times a year. Horses poop a lot! Several times a day. How much of any kind of a medication could possibly be in that manure?????
Weeds? Anytime you have a fertile pile of anything you are going to have more weeds, healthier weeds than you can imagine. But that’s a good thing. Last thing you want is a pile of soil that won’t grow anything.
Ever notice a pile of soil in housing project where all the topsoil got stripped off and sold before the digging begins. That subsoil can sit there for months or years and not grow a dag blamed thing.
Good, rich soil is going to grow weeds and really great plants!
Right now I have several large compost piles. My compost is donkey manure (pretty much just like a horse), hay, straw, weeds, dead plants, potting soil, clippings and decomposed wood chips from a tree service. These piles are so rich in nutrients that if I neglect turning them the weeds grow five feet tall.
But if I keep them turned and keep the weeds under control, it’s the best compost imaginable.
Here are some photos of my compost area. Remind me to take some more recent photos and you will see piles and piles of great compost.
But when you think about it, horses probably eat very few weed seeds. Maybe some in the hay, but even then, good hay shouldn’t have much in the way of weeds. But mostly they graze on grass that doesn’t have time to go to seed. I don’t believe the weeds are coming from the manure but from the air.
But it doesn’t matter. You can sterilize an acre of weedy ground, getting rid of every active weed in the soil, and three weeks later it will be a weed farm from weed seed blowing in. Trust me, I worked for a guy once that hired a firm to sterilize some ground so he could plant liners. Later he griped that they did a poor job. They did a fine job, he just let the soil sit and weed seed blew in.
You can’t stop weeds. They are everywhere in the air and will invade any bare soil they can.
No matter what you grow in, you’ll always have to deal with the weeds.
In my book, well composted horse manure is probably as good a compost as you can get. Key words? “Well composted”. The composting process alone will force those weed seeds to become non viable. Weed seeds have a very short germination cycle and a short shelf life. Those in the middle of pile will simply decompose before they germinate.
In short, the weeds are not coming from the pile, but blowing into the pile.
James Hoppen says
You may wont to check out herbicides like Grazon or any herbicide that contains Aminopyrid or other such chemicals that contaminate the pastures and hay, therefore the manure of all consuming animals. –
It will KILL or DESTROY your garden. It last for YEARS !
David Hill says
yikes. how widely are those used? you’re saying they’re a very long lasting herbicide? i see the name ‘Grazon’… as in grazing land?
I have a horse farm and we use both fresh and composted manure in our gardens. We split it up for family members and neighbors. Sometimes we even run out, and that’s with 12 horses here. Our gardens are always lush and grow big and hearty and my flowers grow past normal height. It is the only fertilizer we use for everything.
Great info!! Thank you!!
My hairdresser put a bit of horse manure into water and, once it steeped for a couple of weeks, used it to water her African violets. The leaves were more like lily pads they were so large. Just a beautiful, healthy plant!
Wow!! I’m going to try that!! Thank you!
HI ! I remember going to a “manure Lecture” at, of all places – the Garden Center in Cleveland about 50 years ago with my mother, and the thing I remember the most is that they said horse Manure feeds Leaves the best, but Cow Manure feeds the whole vegetable. Just FYI .
Still making gardens in NY state with access to both! hallelujah!!!
Leslie A. Applegate says
Use caution with cow manure.According to my Veterinarian, it can spread Johne’s disease if the cattle are infected. Make sure it is WELL composted. If you have other ruminant livestock on you place, I wouldn’t use it.
Wow – I’d never heard of Johne’s disease, and had goats (and cattle, raised from newborns on goat milk) in Colorado for many years. I just looked it up and found this excellent article on the American Dairy Goat Association website – https://adga.org/johnes-disease/. SCARY!!!
“Johne’s (“YO-knees”) disease is a fatal gastrointestinal disease of goats and other ruminants (including cattle, sheep, elk, deer, and bison) that is caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium avium subspecies paratuberculosis (MAP). Also known as paratuberculosis, this infection is contagious, which means it can spread in your herd.
The MAP organism is most commonly passed in the manure of infected animals. The infection usually spreads from adult goats to kids and occurs when a young animal swallows the organism via water, milk or feed that has been contaminated by manure from infected animals. Most owners are taken by surprise when the infection is diagnosed, and learn too late that the infection has taken hold in multiple animals in a herd.
Due to lack of testing and reporting, it is not known how widespread Johne’s disease is in goats in the United States. The infection has been confirmed, however, in many goat herds throughout the country—in milk, meat, heritage and other breeds—and it is a problem in most other goat-rearing countries as well. The costs of this infection range from economic losses—due to reduced production and increased culling for meat and milk animals—to emotional losses—for those whose goats are more pets than agricultural investments.”
The article does NOT say that the MAP bacterium is zoonotic – can be passed to humans – but it sure can travel back and forth among ruminant animal species, leaving death in its path.
In reference to using horse manure: my mother and I devoted all of Thanksgiving Day 1973 to hauling pure Arabian stallion manure from our neighbor’s barn and spreading the dry, powdery stuff on our garden. I helped plant the garden the following spring, then went off to US Navy boot camp in early July. Mama sent me pictures of the garden while I was away – it was FANTASTIC! The only time I ever had comparable results from my own gardens was 1984, when the circus came to our town in Colorado and I loaded my 8′-bed pickup truck with what I cleaned out of the elephant truck! Did you know that elephants poop out bowling-ball sized poops?! They hit the ground and rolled, but that fall, I harvested LOADS of buttercup squashes from vines that grew across the garden, up and over the garage, and across the parking area on the other side! WOOHOO!!!
Thanks, Mike for another great article on equine manure for the garden. I top dressed my raised beds in the fall with fresh manure that nad a lot of sawdust bedding. It was nice in the late spring for planting. I’ve since gone to a deep layer of straw mulch. The soil beneath is beautifully dark, fragrant and loamy. Similar when I use layered cardboard topped with compost or spent mushroom mulch. For our friends who haven’t tried cardboard, etc as mulch, I suggest you look at Charles Dowding, UK for exceptional gardening advice. Not to take away from Mike’s excellent experience. Thank you.
Jack from Pennsylvania
Joe T says
I watch Charles Dowding also, Jack. He is full of information for the small gardener.
Ieneke Van Houten says
Oh yes. The ultimate entertainment for an old gardener. Hours of Charles Dowding on youtube!
Ruby Jacobs says
How does one use cardboard in a garden? I’ve never heard of doing that.
Cardboard works great for weed control. See this article; https://mikesbackyardnursery.com/2019/11/organic-weed-control-an-alternative-to-chemical-herbicides/
WV David says
I added 6 tons of composted horse manure to my garden, which had very poor soil. It mostly grew broom sage in that field. I have a friend that boards Tennessee Walker Show horses. They get fed top quality hay. My garden is small, maybe 40′ x 40′ so I was able to apply the composted horse manure 6″ thick across the whole garden. I let it lie on the garden surface through the whole winter to break down some more. Most of it had been composting for several years before I obtained it. It had lots of semi-rotted hay and shavings through it that were cleaned out of the barn stalls along with the poo. I could hear my garden thanking me this spring as I ran the turn plow and tiller through it to blend the existing dirt with it. Hoping for a big turn around in this year’s garden output.
On Eliot Coleman’s site he provided a link to hiw vegetables were grown in Paris, France for the population. May I suggest to everyone to read it for the historical content which revealed the use of fresh horse manure and the enormous expenditure of human labor that was needed to provide vegetables for the city. Thank you.
Jack from Pennsylvania
I read that you needed at least a 3 foot pile of compost to get hot enough to kill weed seeds and disease. Maybe not. A couple of weeks ago I was in the greenhouse/carport and found a pile of grass clippings on the ground that fell out of the grass catcher. It was only about 1 foot square or less. When I raked it up, it was smoking. Nothing but grass clippings. ?
Grass clippings heat up really fast and easily.
Colin W says
One of my chores as a child, once a week I would move my granddad’s compost pile to the ground next to it making sure there were no weeds left on top. He told me it was because the seeds have only so much energy to push the new growth through to the sunlight before it can get more energy from photosynthesis, if it doesn’t reach sunlight before it’s run out of energy it dies, same reason he told me to only put seeds down far enough to stop them drying out or eaten by birds. I didn’t give much thought to the reasons I did it for the 3d he’d give me for doing it
He was a smart guy.
Mandy Keesing says
This is so true – well composted horse poo is the best for almost everything!
We have 2 horses next door who supply us with more than enough. Ever noticed that more comes out than (food) goes in?
And we have the advantage here in Hawkes Bay, New Zealand, in that we have a few families of pukeko (swamp hens) who work through it all once it dries out a bit and take out any seeds they want for food. Means the piles are broken up and spread out for free – speeds things up nicely!
Now if I can just get my hubbie to fix the wheelbarrow wheel, it’s time again to top up the vege garden before winter…..
and stay safe & well, we are thinking of you all over there at this time; our lockdown is certainly working for us & plenty of gardening is happening……
Keith Phipps says
Mike. I thought that was why you had donkeys. Their manure is great for a garden, potting soil and to be added to your flower pots. Plus, the broken down wood chips mixed with the manure will have plenty of nitrogen and other nutrients that plants need and love. Sooner or later people will understand why you need manure, wood chips and other compost to make really good potting soil. Keep up the good work brother.
I built a garden in Phoenix out of horse stable cleanings that I tilled into rocky sterile soil. Composted right in the ground. Everything I grew flourished and no one got sick on the gorgeous tomatoes and melons I gave away.freely. Weeds? not a problem. Horse manure. God’s gift to the gardener.
Hi Mike, I live in what is called the “Mushroom Capital of the World” near Kennett Square, PA and I get loads of mushroom soil. That is spent mushroom soil, all organic mostly decayed old mulch hay ,manure, horse manure in straw etc all composted well. So many folks say mushroom soil is full of weed seeds. Thanks for sharing FACT with your group about composted materials. Denis Quinn, Nottingham,PA
There used to be a mushroom farm in Ashtabula county and people loved that mushroom compost!
You’re wrong to say that lots ” where all the topsoil got stripped off and sold before the digging begins…” won’t grow anything. Mine grows a bumper crop of Kochia Weeds, Goatheads, Silverleaf Nightshade, Wild Mustard, Tumbleweeds, Black Nightshade, Lamb’s Quarters and Wild Amaranth. Won’t grow grass, though…
When I first started gardening I had access to a huge pile of what was supposed to be well-composted horse manure…..turns out it wasn’t and I had weeds for days in my garden….finally had to spray the whole things with roundup and start over again. The key is that it is composted. On another note, I once worked on a mushroom farm, and we grew beautiful mushrooms on…..you guessed it, composted horse manure and bedding straw. When we got done harvesting all the shrooms, the whole room got live steamed for several hours to raise the temp in the beds to kill all the bad stuff and then the “mushroom compost” was bagged and sold for $$. Some of the best additive I ever used to amend the hard clay soil in the area I lived at the time.
Thanks for all the helpful hints!!
The only caution I would have is that you should know the source of the hay being fed to the horses. Our garden association has had a lot of calls over the years because of hay fields treated with aminopyralid herbicides ie “Grazon” etc. This particular herbicide isn’t broken down by passing through the horse’s system or composting. and can wreak havoc on a vegetable garden. There’s now I believe a label disclaimer that manure from animals fed with this hay is not to be composted, but if people have no idea where their hay is coming from… Just something to be aware of.
Great point. Thank you.
Jack from Pennsylvania
Thomas Finkes says
While you are on the subject , I just came in from one of my compost piles on the north 40 and it has a trillion ants what canI do???
I think if you do nothing it will be just fine. Ants are just part of the ecosystem.
Darrell Feltmate says
I am amazed at what people will not compost. I am criticized all the time for putting pine needles in the compost bin because people say they will make it acidic and the needles will not rot. Folks, plant material rots. Fast or slow, it rots. I have a pine tree beside the driveway that has to be at least 40 years old. Lots of times I am cleaning up 3 inches of needles in the fall from the driveway and leave them under the other side of the pine not over the driveway. I have been in this house 20 years. That makes 60 inches or 5 feet of needles under the pine except that there is only a half inch. The rest rotted. Good soil under that tree. If you can get it in the compost pile, let it rot. If is grows where you do not want it, it’s a weed. Pull it or mulch it. I figure more weeds means more compost.
Thanks for the good work and may
The donkeys enjoy making compost.
Jamie F says
The pine needles definitely will rot down, and they could also alter the acidity somewhat over time as well if enough was added to the native soil on a regular basis.
If you live in an area which already has acidic soil that’s not an issue for you, but our soil is thin gravel with a lot of chalk like calichie over a limestone shelf none of our landscape contains any acid lovers. If we wanted to grow any, they’d really need to be planted in containers and watered with rain water or distilled water for long term health here. That’s too much TLC for my taste so I just stick to things that like the native soil and water around here and don’t need babying. However, if I ever did try growing an acid lover I’d definitely be looking for pine straw bales.
Tina windham says
I have house rabbits and I use lots of that with some perlite, coco coir and get no weeds but giant plants. Houseplants, tropical, edibles. I feel they contribute to the grow cycle in an adorable way and I have no burn issues or weeds. Probably bc I have plants planted so close the edge out the weeds. We have so many butterflies and bumblebees and hummers it stops traffic going thru my neighborhood. Thank you for keeping me grounded👍
You are right, limit the amount of sun that hits the soil and you will have far less weeds.