Nobody wants to trash the environment, especially horse people. By definition, horse people have a very special relationship with nature and her livestock. And, thanks to the horses that forge that special relationship, horse people are also chronically checkbook-challenged, so we need practical, affordable solutions to environmental horsekeeping problems.
Agriculture has taken a lot of blame for environmental pollution over the past 60 years. Food production soared due to a heavy regimen of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, while conventional medicine seemed to discover magic bullet after magic bullet, blasting away at some nasty diseases-both animal and human.
- Manure management is a major way you can be environmentally friendly by spreading or composting it rather than dumping it in a landfill.
- Goats can take care of many weeds because they often eat what horses won't.
- While feeding natural herbs may sound good, be sure to check with your vet because combinations may cause harmful reactions.
- Consider using natural, herb-based fly control products and fly predators instead of toxic chemical pesticides.
But some synthetic chemicals proved toxic to the entire food chain. Over-use of antibiotics (and, for horsemen, certain deworming agents) created resistant strains. Such things helped signal a need for everyone with all kinds of interests, horses included, to start looking at the big picture and to find solutions that maintain the health and well-being of everyone and everything occupying our planet.
You may be among the growing number of vocal, concerned skeptics who have begun to reject the chemistry lab. You may be among those who have begun to demand more organic practices in agriculture and are supporting those demands at the cash register. Such organically minded Americans, by the way, are generating $45 billion per year in revenue in the natural food industry alone.
Perhaps you're among those who are calling for more humane treatment for all animals, creating a market for everything from non-lethal traps to softer bits. You may be among those who are seeking more emotionally satisfying, ecologically friendly methods for keeping yourself and your horses happy, healthy and comfortable.
You're in luck. Eco-friendly horsekeeping methods do exist. Some 45 years of dedicated research and publicity about natural methods are bearing fruit. Tack shop bug control aisles are providing plenty of choices, with more and more labels trumpeting "Organic," "Natural," and variations on "Environmentally Safe." Shelves full of shiny books discuss natural management, training, healing and herbs for horses. There seem to be products everywhere that contain things you never heard of, but certainly sound "organic-like" and, cripes, is that really a mousetrap?
Pastures and Barns
Manure management generally tops the list of horse farm environmental concerns. Essentially, you can remove it, compost it and/or spread it, depending on where you live and how much pasture you have. Some communities require manure to be loaded into a dumpster and taken away on a regular basis, hopefully to be composted or spread somewhere else because, rather surprisingly, horse manure does not readily break down in landfills. Nor, for that matter, does anything else. (See "biodegradable" in sidebar at right.)
Weed management is not as simple as killing or removing obnoxious plants growing in the wrong place. The best way to reduce weeds is to grow vigorously healthy grass. Overgrazed, over-trampled, under-watered, under-fertilized, eroded or generally stressed pasture is extremely vulnerable to noxious weeds. Some of these are poisonous to horses. All of them are lousy for grazing or hay production.
Non-chemical weed control consists of mechanical, burning, animal impact or a combination of the three. Mechanical methods include plowing, bulldozing and mowing. Simple mowing can be a very effective control for annual weeds if done before seeds set. Burning weeds produces results similar to mowing and brings lush growth, but extreme care is necessary.