When it comes to barn chores, every horse owner has to deal with horse manure. And the more horses you own, the more poop there is. You may find picking up horse manure an enjoyable task while others absolutely dread the entire process of scooping and dumping manure. Not to mention, the chore of replacing bedding.
I’ve definitely scooped my fair share of horse manure in stalls, paddocks and pastures and I’ve gotten it down to a science. In order to make the job quick and easy, you only need a few essential tools. Timing is also important but I’ll cover that in more detail later.
Let’s dive right in so you can quit procrastinating and get to scooping up that horse manure the easy way!
Best tools for picking up horse manure
Having the correct tools makes any job go faster and easier. This is especially true when picking up horse manure. Nothing is more frustrating than using a subpar manure fork that breaks apart the pile and creates a bigger mess. Or heaven forbid, you accidentally tip your wheel barrow and have to start all over.
I’ve discovered through many trials and plenty of errors the best horse manure scooping tools and hauling bins. Keep reading so you don’t have to waste time and energy like I did learning the hard way!
For soft bedding and dirt paddocks: For cleaning stalls with wood shavings or other soft bedding, the best option is a plastic or metal manure fork. These forks are also great for dirt or sandy paddocks as well.
Now, not just any manure fork will do. Look for one that has free tines and are connected together only at the back end of the fork. Avoid manure forks that have a horizontal connection running halfway through the tines.
Initially, the center connection makes sense for strengthening the tines. In reality, this bar actually makes the tines more prone to breaking at the tips because they are shorter and can’t flex if they catch on something.
The horizontal connection also makes it extremely difficult to smoothly scoop up a pile in one fluid motion. The tine connection grabs at the ground and the manure pile, preventing it from sliding fully under the pile. The pile either breaks into several pieces as you try to force the fork underneath or you end up having to use several lifting and pushing movements to get the entire pile on the fork. This is way more work than necessary.
A fork with free tines slides easily under a manure pile allowing you to pick it up quickly in one fluid motion. I’ve had a plastic manure fork with free tines for 20 years and not one piece has broken off. The handle has been replaced more than once but the fork itself is still a poop scooping machine.
Most people might not think twice about the type of manure fork they buy. However, if you use a fork with free tines and then try one with a center connection, you will feel the difference right away.
For grass pastures: When you need to wrangle manure piles in a grassy pasture, reach for a metal manure fork with free tines. The crisscrossing blades of grass and weeds require a stronger material like metal to rip the entire pile of manure from their grasp.
Plastic forks with free tines (forget it if there’s a horizontal bar) are usable but require more patience and finesse. If you scoop too fast in grass, the plastic tines will either break or get buried in the grass, which makes for a frustrating and prolonged chore.
Avoid using any sort of shovel since, more often than not, it will damage the grass underneath the pile.
For concrete, pavement or rubber stall mats: The best tool for picking up manure on a hard surface such as concrete or rubber stall mats is a flat, wide, plastic shovel with a D ring handle. In one quick motion, you can easily scoop up the entire pile without smearing and minimal chunks left behind.
Metal shovels work just as well but be aware that they can scratch concrete or pavement. Most plastic barn shovel are heavy duty and can withstand a ton of abuse. They are also lighter to carry and easier to wield than their metal counterparts.
I avoid the typical square metal garden shovels since they aren’t big enough to scoop up an entire manure pile without some pieces falling off. They are also heavier than a short handled plastic shovel. Remember, this article is about how to pick up horse manure the easy way, not all the different ways.
Collection and hauling bin
Now that you’ve figured out how best to scoop up all those horse manure piles, how do you haul it all away with minimal effort?
The easiest manual way to transport horse poop from the pasture to the manure pile is in a plastic two-wheeled wheelbarrow. Two-wheels are key. Many people own a standard, one-wheeled wheelbarrow and these work perfectly fine. However, once it’s fully loaded with heavy manure, one small bump, quick turn or sticky mud can easily tip it over. Now you have to pick it up all over again. And nothing is more frustrating when you go to dump it and the single wheel pivots, placing the manure in a different spot than intended.
A big pile of manure is heavy and two-wheeled wheelbarrows push easier while offering the advantage of stability. You can also lift one handle without it ever falling over on its side. This feature is quite convenient in stalls or small spaces when you need to move the wheelbarrow quickly out of the way while you are working.
If you would rather pull than push, this is also possible with a two-wheeled wheelbarrow. Simply turn around, lift the handles and pull it behind you. Large garden wagons are another great option but make sure they are easy to dump. You don’t want to spend more time unloading than it took to load in the first place.
If you have a large farm or many horses, using the scoop bucket on your tractor is a great option. You will still need to use a manure fork to scoop the poop into the tractor bucket but at least you won’t have to manually push or dump it once full.
Quads, side-by-sides, and other atv’s that can pull dump trailers also make quicker work of larger pastures or numerous stalls.
How often should you pick up horse manure
Ideally, you should clean up your horse’s manure at least once a day in areas where they eat and sleep. This keeps your horse healthy and cleaner. I always make sure to remove all poop piles near the hay trough every time I set out new feed.
When I say “pick up” that doesn’t necessarily mean the entire sequence of scooping, hauling and dumping. You can keep the wheelbarrow close by and simply add to it until full, then dump it later. This is a slightly smellier option than hauling it away every time but it’s not bad, especially if kept undercover outside.
Realistically, you should be cleaning your horse’s paddock or pasture at least once a week. Rain or shine. Horse manure is quick to break down, especially in the rain. A soggy, spread out manure pile is much harder to clean up than a fresh, firm pile. And trust me, the longer you wait, the more there is and the longer it will take you. It also starts to stink and there will be more annoying bugs to contend with.
Do you need to pick up horse manure in a pasture
It’s very tempting to leave manure piles to naturally break down in a grassy pasture. After all, horse manure is mostly hay and grass anyways right? However, nothing kills grass faster than a heavy pile of hot manure left for too long.
If your pasture is relatively small, it is still a good idea to keep up with manure collection. Just make sure to use that metal style manure fork I mentioned above to make the job easier. Weekly maintenance will keep the amount you have to pick up more manageable and it will keep disease, bugs and dying grass at bay.
Extremely large pastures are almost impossible to keep manure free. There is simply too much space for your horse to make his deposits in. You can’t possibly find all the piles in a timely manner. When this is the case, I suggest just keeping the high traffic areas (gates, water troughs and feed racks) manure free. If your house or barn is adjacent to a large pasture, you might want to clean up that section of fence as well to keep smells and bugs at a minimum.
What is the fastest way to break down horse manure
Composting is the fastest way to break down horse manure when done correctly. It’s not difficult and a good composting pile can break down manure in about 30 days.
There are three main ingredients you need in addition to manure: heat, moisture, and oxygen. A properly piled mound of manure will produce its own heat during the composting process but heat from the sun also helps. Compost piles should also not dry out during this process. Use a garden hose to keep it damp but not soaking wet. Finally, turn and mix the compost once a week to incorporate oxygen into the pile.
It’s also important to designate an area where you can have several piles of manure composting at different stages. You don’t want to add fresh manure to a pile that is already halfway through its decomposing process. This ends up reversing the progress of that pile.
Can you use horse manure in your garden
Horse manure is an excellent natural soil additive once properly composted. After it’s dry and broken down, it should be throughly mixed into the soil to prevent root burning. Since horse manure is high in nitrogen, it should not be used on flowering plants and vegetables such as tomatoes and peppers. However, you can use it in the garden around other non-flowering vegetables.
Landscape shrubbery also benefits greatly from horse manure if you don’t have a vegetable garden. Again, mix generously into the soil once it has aged and dried to compost consistency.
Never ending manure removal is just a fact of life for horse owners. With the right tools, timing and techniques, you can make quick work out of this chore. As simple as it sounds, having the right manure fork and wheelbarrow truly makes all the difference. When you have the tools that make scooping horse poop easier, you won’t wait so long in between cleanups which in itself makes the job easier!