Horse Farms and Climate Change: Reducing Your Carbon Footprint

Learn what you can do to reduce the carbon footprint of your horse farm.
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horse grazing in pasture
Grassy pastures can help reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere through carbon sequestration. | Alayne Blickle

Q: We often hear about climate change in the news. What can we as horse owners do to reduce the effects of climate change?

A: There are several simple practices we as horse owners can implement to help make a difference and reduce the effects of climate change.

Two techniques will go a long way toward reducing your carbon footprint or the amount of greenhouse gases emitted directly or indirectly into the atmosphere due to how you manage your horse property. These practices will also benefit horse health and chore efficiency.

Grow High Quality Grass to Reduce Carbon Footprint

The most important thing horse owners can do is manage pastures so they are productive and grassy while preventing overgrazing and bare spots. You can encourage healthy pasture growth through consistent mowing, giving the pasture periodic rest from grazing, and testing the soil to ensure it can support the pasture. Through photosynthesis, plants utilize the sun’s energy to draw in carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to manufacture food for themselves. This carbon sequestration by plants plays a crucial role in mitigating climate change by reducing the amount of carbon in the atmosphere.

Poor pasture management by horse and livestock owners can contribute to worsening climate change conditions. Overgrazed pastures expose bare, darker soil that absorbs sunlight, making the ground hotter, drier, and dustier. Poor pasture management also leads to reduced quality and quantity of grass, increased soil erosion, nitrogen runoff (from manure and urine), soil compaction, less water absorption, dust, and more weeds. All these contribute to worsening climatic conditions.

If you don’t have pasture or you board your horse, you can still do your part to sequester carbon from the atmosphere. Plant a (native) tree or shrub at your home or, perhaps, in a nearby park. Native plants need less water and no herbicides or pesticides because they have adapted to local growing conditions. You can also create a garden at home. All plants are helpful; they are the lungs of our planet and reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere.

Composting on Horse Farms

If you aren’t already doing so, begin composting your horse’s manure. One horse produces 50 pounds of manure per day. Along with used bedding and spent hay, this can add up to a sizable amount of daily stall waste. Composting this will reduce that volume by about 50%. Plus, it provides you with a free, easy, and valuable soil amendment that locks in soil moisture, stimulates biological activity in soil, adds nutrients, suppresses plant disease, and helps grow healthier plants and pastures. Applying compost to pastures will help soil retain moisture, making it easier for them to survive drought.

You can find beneficial applications for compost, of course, even if you don’t have pasture. Offer compost to gardening neighbors or friends, or apply it to your own garden or lawn.

Take-Home Message

Addressing climate change is something we as horse owners can each do in our own way. We are all part of the problem but can potentially be part of the solution. Every small change on your horse farm helps and could make a positive difference in the end.

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Written by:

Alayne Blickle, a lifelong equestrian and ranch riding competitor, is the creator/director of Horses for Clean Water, an award-winning, internationally acclaimed environmental education program for horse owners. Well-known for her enthusiastic, down-to-earth approach, Blickle is an educator and photojournalist who has worked with horse and livestock owners since 1990 teaching manure composting, pasture management, mud and dust control, water conservation, chemical use reduction, firewise, and wildlife enhancement. She teaches and travels North America and writes for horse publications. Blickle and her husband raise and train their mustangs and quarter horses at their eco-sensitive guest ranch, Sweet Pepper Ranch, in sunny Nampa, Idaho.

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