What should I do with a manure compost pile? I have a bucket on my tractor but nothing else. Also what should I do with left over round bale hay the horses ate? Leave it there or spread it out. It ends up being a muddy mess underneath after winter.

The question asked by Kathy Baker on the “Is your winter soil ALIVE?” blog post.


Kathy – where is your pasture? Rainfall is key to my recommendations.

Also, could you please send me pics of the hay feeding location? I would need to see the slope, surrounding fences or buildings, etc.

Is it in the bottom of a hill or valley where the hay is…or on a side slope that is well drained?

Or you could sketch a simple map with arrows showing the direction the water moves in relation to the hay feeding areas and gates or buildings or fence lines, and the water trough or source for the animals, etc

Managing water movement on your site is key to preventing mud…so if you could help draw, video or photograph the site and its surroundings it would help me make a good recommendation.

Choosing the right terrain to hay feed and “sacrifice” for winter is key.

To start, many gates and buildings like barns and sheds are positioned in the landscape in places that are not ideal designed from the start, so traffic around them can create mud.

You don’t want to throw hay on top of an area that is holding too much water. Sometimes some grading work is needed with a blade or tractor bucket or other machinery to get the area to drain any major standing water before you can build healthy soil.

I have several options for an answer to your questions, but would need more info about your specific situation to know what is best to recommend.

If you are feeding round bales and not rolling them out, there will be a mound of hay left. In an area of the pasture farther away from high traffic areas that has grass and drainage, you can leave these as fungal incubators and not spread them. They will not regrow grass at first but in 2 years or so they will grow much more grass than other areas.

IF…. you are. It spraying things to harm microbes, or putting chemicals like workers through your animals that harm the soil’s ability to build and be fertile. Also the hay can have herbicides and other chemicals that hinder the rapid breakdown.

If you want to spread the hay, you can choose from many approaches. I will list them from least costly, labor intensive and most profitable, going down to most costly and least profitable.

1). Roll out the hay round bale so you don’t end up with a big mess

For small herds you can roll out bits at a time, and temporary fence them off the part of the bale you want to save and throw a small tarp over it to keep it from getting too wet. You may need a helper to push them at first, and plan your path of course!

2). Look for large square bales or small square bales so you can feed the flakes right where you need them and. It have to move it twice

3). Be patient and let the hay break down

4). Get a welder to weld you some removable times for your bucket that you can attach and use the bucket to spread the hay…then slide them off when you want to use the bucket…we did this at first but now use the animals to do the work for us!

5). Each day while you are out observing your animals or when you can, spend 15 min spreading hay by hand. You would be surprised how much one person can do in an hour and you can walk the seeds in yourself each time you head back to the center of the pile

6). Get some electric poultry netting and put chickens and/or pigs in there for a bit. I understand this may not be something you want or are able to do but I needed to mention it as it will gain you a useful product while not costing much.

7). Do you have any kind of pasture rake or drag that would work? I don’t do this for our fields as it is generally unnecessary…but you could on a dry or frozen day when you won’t make tracks and compact the soil too much take scoops of your compost out with the tractor bucket, place them randomly, and run the drag through the hay piles and compost to get things spread and digesting.

If your grass is 6-8″ residual like a good grazing residual…you should have enough biology and soil cover where these hay piles break down within the year or two (assuming you live in a moist climate)

Again I don’t do this because once your pasture systems are healthy you don’t need to add any compost or fertilizer from outside, but if your field is really overgrazed it might help

A note on what I would recommend doing with the compost.

First – GOOD ON YOU FOR MAKING COMPOST!!!

It may or may not be good for your fields right now as is, depending on the state of your fields and the quality of the compost; it can be easy to be slightly off track. The good news is that it doesn’t have to. E hard to make good compost, once you have the right information.

A lot of composting recipes and methods are more for waste volume reduction and not focused on getting optimal diversity and balances of beneficial soil microbes suitable for the plants you want to grow.

Besides your fields, you can use compost in your gardens, flower beds, worm growing, and many other places. The quality and. Eat use really varies a lot depending on what is in the compost, where it is made (on concrete, in a bin, under trees, etc) and how it is made.

Your “manure” compost… bring up lots of questions before I can really recommend something. Out of integrity I need to know certain things because I would not want to recommend something that would set you backwards.

How much of it do you have? How much pasture do you have?

How much degraded pasture are you looking to help?

what is in it? How much manure and from what animals?

What percentage of Hay, straw, shavings or sawdust…or peanut hulls or any carbon source, or just manure?

Percentages of each ingredient (estimated is fine)?

Did the animals have chemical wormer? If so what kind and how much and when in relation to when manure was collected?

Were those animals eating any corn, soy, grains that would have had any herbicides used on it?

Did the hay have any herbicides on it? Some of those like Grason and 2-4D can last for years, survive the animals gut, the compost process, and harm plant growth and soil microbes.

If the wood is pine or cedar or any aromatic tree they can contain antimicrobial oils and need to be aged 2 or more years before it will make good compost.

If you have doubts, seed a tray of grass seeds or some sunflower seeds in the compost, or a blend of compost and soil (especially your pasture soil) to see if they germinate and grow well before spreading on your field. Plants are often our best “living laboratories” to tell if your compost is good or not.

I wish you the best of luck and you can see how hard it is to really make a good recommendation without knowing more. I will do my best so the more you can take time to explain the better.

Worst case we learn and next winter we can set you up for more success!

See more of my articles and videos coming out soon on more details of this hay feeding process.

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