Pasture and Manure Management Tips for Horse Owners

Edwin Remsberg Crep Photo

With more than 100,000 horses, Maryland boasts more horses per acre than any other state. If not managed sustainably, this high-density horse population can impact the health of local waterways and the Chesapeake Bay. ​If you own horses in Maryland and need help controlling runoff and erosion on your
farm, assistance is just a phone call away. Your local soil conservation district can help​ you plan and install many types of conservation practices to protect natural resources and improve the health of your horses. District​s have worked with hundreds of farmers to address many common concerns,

  • ​Mud and manure​
  • Over-grazed pastures 
  • ​Eroded streambanks and degraded waterways​
The services provided by your local soil conservation district are always free, and they work with farms of all sizes. They'll even help you apply for grants that could help pay for improvements. Check out our Horse Owner's Guide to Best Management Practices​ for ideas. . Please contact your local soil conservation district to get your conservation project up and running. WATCH A SHORT YOUTUBE VIDEO ON HOW DISTRICTS WORK WITH SMALL HORSE FARMS.
​Do You Need a Nutrient Management Plan?​
If you have 8,000 pounds or more of live animal weight or your farm generates at least $2,500 in gross income, you are required by Maryland law to manage your operation using a nutrient management plan that has been approved by MDA. Gross income from selling or boarding horses and other horse related and agricultural activities would count toward the $2,500 threshold. LEARN MORE ABOUT THIS REQUIREMENT​.

Manage That Manure
A 1,000 pound horse produces 40-50 pounds of manure every day! Here are some best management practices that all horse farms—large and small—can use to help keep manure and its nutrients out of waterways.

  • Do not store piles of manure in places where runoff or floodwaters may wash it away. 
  •  Place a cover or tarp over the pile to keep out rainwater. 
  • Consider building a manure storage structure. These structures protect stockpiled manure from rainwater runoff until it can be used safely as a fertilizer. ​
  • Try composting! It reduces the size of your manure pile by up
    to 50%, kills weed seeds, fly larvae, and other pathogens, and makes an excellent pasture and garden fertilizer as long as it’s not spread too heavily. LEARN MORE​.​

Edwin Remsberg Crep Photo 

​Give​ Mud the Boot
Mud can be a big problem wherever animals congregate, especially around gates, watering troughs, barn entrances, and feeding pads. Follow these tips if mud is making you and your horses miserable:
  • ​Divert surface and roof runoff water away from pastures and paddocks. 
  • Plant a vegetative cover around buildings or on steep slopes to minimize erosion and absorb nutrients while improving the appearance of your property. 
  • Install a heavy use pad. LEARN MORE.

​Install Rain Gutters 
Keeping water away from farm buildings by installing rain gutters and downspouts can help reduce mud.
  • Divert clean rainwater away from animal confinement areas.
  • Develop a roof runoff management system around buildings.
  • ​Protect downspouts from animal and livestock damage.

​Keep Your Pastures Green
Paddocks, riding rings, trails, and pastures are continuously disturbed areas, under constant physical stress from horses’ hooves. ​Overgrazed pastures can lead to exposed bare soil that easily erodes. Your local soil conservation district can develop a grazing plan for your operation that is based on your pasture soils, acreage, and grasses. These plans are provided free of charge and include advice on the best way to use your land. WATCH A SHORT YOUTUBE VIDEO ON ROTATIONAL GRAZING.

Protect Local Streams
Your local soil conservation district can provide free technical assistance to design stream protection measures for your horse farm. These include:​

  • Exclusion fencing and crossings to
    prevent horses from trampling streambanks, destroying vegetation, and stirring up sediment in the streambed.
  • Selectively placed watering troughs to make pasture management easier.

​Know Your Soil 

An inexpensive soil test can help you determine the type and amount of fertilizer needed for good pasture growth. These practices can help you improve your soil's health:
  • ​Reduced tillage—Use no-till or reduced tillage practices to reduce erosion, preserve the soil structure, encourage aggregation, and keep the soil healthy.
  • Forage planting—Over time, plant several forage varieties in your pastures for diversity to build healthy soils, manage erosion, and feed beneficial soil microorganisms.​
  • Prescribed grazing—Manage grazing wisely based on pasture grass heights
  • Manure recycling—Use manure to fertilize your pastures. It makes a great natural fertilizer and soil conditioner. LEARN MORE ABOUT SOIL HEALTH.

​Control Weeds
Weeds​ spread quickly, so look for new weed patches on your property regularly. Act immediately to treat them and educate yourself on common weeds that are toxic to horses such as buttercups, poison hemlock and wild cherry.  Be sure to correctly identify weeds for proper control. Remember, weed control alone is not enough. It is also necessary to modify the practices that caused weeds to become established in the first place! LEARN MORE ABOUT WEED CONTROL.

For More Information
MDA's Horse Outreach Workgroup (HOW) has assembled a group of forage, equine, and land conservation experts to provide information on important topics including manure management, pasture establishment and management, and mud control on horse farms. Please see the information panel for links to services and resources that can help you improve the natural resources on your horse farm.

Edwin Remsberg Crep Photo 

Updated 3/28/24​​​

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