If you’ve got horses, you’ve got manure. And with manure, you need to do something with it:
Forget piling it up. That’s smelly, and simply puts off the problem.
Composting takes skill, supplies and labor. It may be the most environmentally proper method, but it’s not practical for most of us.
Having it hauled away is expensive, even if you find someone who actually wants that much of it.
Never mind selling it — unless you’re incredibly lucky, you’re probably not going to find a regular buyer.
Using it as fertilizer for your own fields is practical, but to do this correctly, you need to calibrate how heavily you’re spreading it, determine the exact levels of plant nutrients in it, add what’s needed and time the spreading properly. This is close to what we want to do, but first we need to find a contraption that will spread the manure thinly, so it will decompose quickly and basically go away.
Spreading The Stuff
In a perfect world, you’d have one field to spread the manure on, while the horses graze in another. When the one field is either grazed down or the other is at its maximum rate of accepting manure (remember, spreading it too heavily will kill the plant life), you would simply reverse the fields.
If you’ve only got one field, however, the trick is to spread the manure frequently in the farthest corners of the pasture, preferably away from the favorite grazing areas. You need to stay away from residential properties and streams, ponds, lakes and other water areas. Always check town ordinances about spreading manure to avoid getting fined, or worse, getting caught in a lawsuit from your neighbor.
Set the manure spreader to distribute a thin layer of manure. This takes longer to get the job done, but the manure will break down faster and you’ll be least likely to destroy plants.
Never spread manure in your riding area. Although some people believe it makes great footing, it can be slippery, especially if it’s wet, and it will build up quickly, becoming deep.
It’s also not good traction for icy surfaces. Manure will insulate ice from the warming sun, so the ice stays frozen longer and, when the it finally does melt, the manure will work its way into the dirt, forming a nearly permanent boggy footing that becomes ”suction mud” as soon as it rains. (This is also why you should always clean manure away from heavily traveled areas, like barn entrances and gateways. Raking manure, leaves and debris out of the dirt will help the mud dry more quickly and help prevent deep, permanent mud holes from forming.)
The first thing to determine when shopping for a manure spreader is the capability of your towing vehicle. Regardless of whether you have four horses or 40, you can’t get a spreader that requires more power than the tractor that tows it.
Most manufacturers are upfront about the minimum horsepower requirements, but we caution you to remember that these are bare minimum amounts. Reality may be another story, especially if you’re dealing with very wet, very heavy manure. (Pequea Manufacturing’s website offers a ground-driven horse-drawn manure spreader, if you’re interested in putting your driving horses to work . . . we’re just not sure your fine-harness horse would be up to the task.)
You’ll also need to find out if your towing vehicle has a PTO (power-take-off). A PTO spreader’s power is provided through the spreader’s PTO shaft by the tractor. It is turned by the PTO hitch located on the tractor.
If you don’t have a PTO, you’re limited to ground-driven spreaders, and that’s just fine. A ground-driven spreader means the movement of the wheels operates the apron chain.
Our chart on page 4 compares manure spreaders that would be suitable for a four- to six-horse barn. Each manufacturer also makes smaller spreaders (25 bushels or 28 cubic feet for up to a three-horse barn) and much larger ones. Bigger spreaders obviously require stronger tractors, while smaller spreaders might be pulled by something as simple as an ATV (all-terrain vehicle).
If you’ve got a small tractor and many horses, plan to make several spreader trips to the field and back. Overloading any spreader is asking for breakage and purchasing a spreader too large for your towing vehicle is simply foolish.
We advise you not to jam your spreader full of thick, heavy manure. If you clean out your run-in shed annually, whether it needs it or not, figure on several small loads of nearly straight manure to spread. If you’re doing stalls with a lot of lightweight shavings/sawdust bedding, you might be able to add more volume, but not more weight.
Folks that pile manure into a spreader and then spread it every few days are wise to remember if it rained or the temperatures were below freezing. Wet manure is heavier than dry (obviously), and manure that has frozen in a spreader may stick and cause the operating mechanism to break. However, Jim Mandes, sales manager from Pequea, states that their polyvinyl-lumber floor prevents the chain from freezing in place and that frozen manure is not a problem.
Materials And Design
If you’re not familiar with how manure spreaders operate already, rest assured that they’re easy to use.
Most ground-driven models attach with a hitch pin, similar to what you might have on a cart you pull with your riding lawn mower (unless you have a PTO, which will also have to be hooked up). You load the manure into the spreader box and drive to the area where you want to spread, then engage the mechanism for spreading. Most spreaders have a switch. H&S Manufacturing’s Model 50 has a lever.
The spreader’s apron chain moves the manure through the box to the beaters, which then tosses the manure out of the back of the spreader. Both beaters and chains will wear out, but spreader manufacturers anticipate this, making them replaceable parts.
A T-Rod chain is pretty much standard on larger spreaders, as it’s believed to be stronger and more wear-resistant. For smaller spreaders, a roller chain is usually adequate.
Some smaller spreaders do offer a T-Rod chain. If you’re really going to push things load-wise, you might want a T-Rod. The Millcreek model features a T-Rod Web Chain.
A roller chain, like on the Pequea, is easier to fix, though. If a link breaks, you can probably go to your local farm store and buy one link and insert it without taking the entire chain off of the spreader. Other chain types can require a full chain replacement, which means threading it through the entire spreader.
The paddles or beaters at the back of the spreader tear apart the manure before it’s thrown onto the ground. Beater paddles can break, so ask if parts are available, and find out how they’re replaced. Opt for a spreader that allows you to replace one beater, if necessary, rather than being forced to replace the entire beater system.
You will have to keep the chains and all moving parts greased and maintained according to manufa cturer recommendations. Be sure to ask about maintenance when you talk with the sales representative. Some manufacturers, like Millcreek, have factory-sealed bearings, which means you only have apron-chain greasing to do. Others require annual greasing of all moving parts, including wheels.
Because manure spreaders are constantly dealing with a material that will eventually rot whatever it contacts, the materials used to construct your spreader are important. Untreated wood or untreated steel will rot/rust in no time, but we didn’t find any manufacturers during our search that used these materials.
Powder-coated steel and galvanized steel are both good choices, with strong resistance to rust, and they can stand up to the tortures of manure. However, deep scratches or dings that destroy the coating can open the door to rust. Treated wood offers proven resistance to rot, and Country Mfg. offers a 25-year replacement on its treated lumber.
While there’s nothing wrong with choosing a spreader made of treated wood or galvanized steel, we think one with as much polyurethane as possible is your best bet, especially for the floors. It appears to have the greatest chance of a long, useable life. The spreaders from H&S, Millcreek, Pequea and Roda offer poly floors. Millcreek also offers poly sides.
If you’re looking at a spreader with a lot of steel, ask how much of the spreader is welded together and how much is bolted together. A good weld isn’t going to loosen as it bounces over the bumps and hills found in a field. Bolts can work their way loose, making the spreader sound pretty rickety after a while.
We’d also be wary of overly lightweight spreaders. A spreader that’s made of quality materials is durable, and it’s going to have some body weight. If your towing vehicle’s capability limits your choices, you’re better off getting a smaller spreader with some heft to it than a larger spreader made of thin, lightweight materials.
Look for a spreader that comes with a jack or dolly of some type on the tongue. It should be adjustable, so you can move the tongue up or down to line it up more easily to the hitch on the towing vehicle. If there is no jack, you’re going to need a stand of some type, like a cinder block, for the tongue to rest on when it’s not in use.
If it does have a jack, but it’s not adjustable, you may have to pick up the tongue and physically move it to reach the hitch on the towing vehicle.
Because most smaller spreaders are ground driven, you need to consider the tires. If the tires don’t turn, the spreader won’t operate. You’re unlikely to have trouble on dry surfaces, but if you’re going to use the equipment in muddy or snowy terrain, you should look for deep treads on your tires or go with a PTO.
Tail gates, also called end gates, are a good option if you don’t want to lose bits of manure on your drive to the area where you’re going to spread the manure. These gates are routinely seen on larger spreaders, but some manufacturers, like Millcreek and Roda, offer them on smaller spreaders as well.
A fine spread pan will be helpful on most farms, because it will catch the tiny little particles, like sawdust, that might escape the beaters. It will also act like an end gate in many instances and catch escaping debris on your way to the field.
Think about your barn size, too. Ideally, you want to be able to get the spreader as close to the stall doors as possible to avoid handling the manure twice. It’s most efficient to shovel manure directly from the horse’s stall into the spreader.
Many horse facilities have a platform device that’s built up or set onto the side of a slope that allows the spreader to sit on one side of it, with the lip of the spreader sitting just below the platform. The barn cleaner can push a wheelbarrow up the ramp and dump the manure directly into the spreader without handling it again.
Choose the spreader size to match: 1) your tractor power; 2) your barn aisle dimensions; and 3) the number of horses you have.
Opt for ground-driven, unless you absolutely need a PTO. Look for an adjustable jack on the spreader tongue and get a spreader with as much polyvinyl as possible.
Find out how it’s constructed: bolts, welds or a combination of both. Ask if there are replacement parts and how difficult it is to 1) get parts and 2) replace them. Beaters and chains will need to be replaced periodically. Look into maintenance requirements. Nothing is truly maintenance-free, but you may be able to minimize it to annual greasings of a few parts.
Manufacturers know manure spreaders aren’t vanity items. They’re not placing a lot of options on the equipment to drive up the price. Pretty much you’re getting what you’re paying for in a manure spreader.
We suggest that you consider a spreader available from a dealer in your area, so you have someone to help you out if you have problems. If all the spreaders in our chart were an equal distance from our farm, we’d look first at the Pequea ground-driven model because we’re impressed with its welded-steel construction, poly floor and apron chain with replaceable links.