Marvellous muck

It may be the bane of our horsey lives, but manure is part and parcel of horse ownership. Retailer and smallholder Lucy Nicholas looks at ways to manage your field muck.

As a smallholder with animals that include horses, I have learned a thing or two about muck over the years that I would love to share with fellow horse owners:

  1. Each horse produces around 40-50 lbs of dung daily or around 7.5 tonnes annually.
  2. When put on a muck heap, new dung will heat up and then cool after around three weeks; it should then be turned to allow the air to circulate.
  3. We should try to maintain a tidy and efficient muckheap, as this will help the dung decompose more quickly. A square, compressed heap with a wide surface area will generate more heat than a pyramid of muck, so waste will decompose quicker.
  4. Regarding muck storage, we have a ‘duty of care’ under Environment Agency regulations to ensure suitable storage. Temporary muck heaps should be sited where there is no risk of polluting watercourses, and always 50 metres from human water sources
  5. Many gardeners actually prefer manure that contains plant material, e.g. pieces of straw from a shelter or stable, as this helps the soil hold moisture and also allows the roots to spread.
  6. Burning manure piles is not recommended due to the considerable fire risk around wooden structures such as stables and hay barns. In addition, burning controlled waste, e.g. muck from horses kept on commercial properties, is, within most local authorities, considered an offence.
  7. If you have green fingered friends, they may advise you that horse manure isn’t necessarily the best fertiliser for gardeners, as it may contain undigested grass seeds, which can cause unwanted weeds. But if horse manure is to be used for plants, it needs to have rotted for around six months first, otherwise nitrogen levels may be too high.
  8. There are different regulations for disposing of manure from commercially kept horses and those kept privately. Horses kept on commercial properties produce ‘controlled waste’ that must be disposed of by a licensed contractor, unless the horses reside on legally-defined agricultural land. However, if the manure is to be spread where it has been composted, it is exempt from commercial waste management licensing regulations.
  9. Horse manure can easily be recycled and spread on resting paddocks. Recycling muck back into the land enhances soil structure and replenishes nutrients removed during the growing cycle. Once manure has been applied to a resting paddock, it should be left un-grazed so any parasitic larvae perish. Typically, muck will have disappeared from the surface of the paddock within around two to three months; this can be accelerated by chain harrowing.
  10. You will need the right tools for the job! Manure rakes and scoops are very useful. Visit to see a range. Try to remove muck daily if you can – my horses tend to do half a wheelbarrow each, daily.manure scoop


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