Jeri and Dave Billick: Horse Composting at Home

The property is located on the Ridge top overlooking Old Julian Valley at an elevation of 2750 ft.

“Our native soil is mostly clay and rock.—common in Ramona—so we need to augment our soil to make it conducive to growing a wide variety of plants, including vegetables, fruit bearing trees, succulents and Protea. Horse manure composting is an effective way to amend our soil to make it better for growing.”

According to one source, a single horse produces about 50 pounds of manure per day and more than eight tons per year. Horse manure also generates nitrous oxide (N2O), carbon dioxide (CO2) or methane (CH4)—greenhouse gases. Using the manure is a cost-effective way to fertilize a garden or farm and reduce greenhouse gases. Although it’s possible, it isn’t easy.

Jeri and Dave Billick designed their home to be as energy-efficient as possible. The Billicks have also used the rocks on their property in every possible way. They feed their weeds to chickens, turkeys, and ducks—and also do a small amount of composting.

But that wasn’t enough. They own two horses and realized that they could use the manure to add to their soil to grow beautiful gardens (see photo.) They researched various methods and have developed their home process as follows.

They feed their horses Bermuda grass, alfalfa, and rehydrated beet pulp pellets. As the “money” goes from one end of the horse to the other, the manure arrives; they place it in a pile, water it and let it “cook.” Dave uses a tractor, turning it at least twice a week (see photo)– to keep it alive. “We don’t cover it, as the internal temperature seems to rise high enough to complete the process. We continue to add and pull from our working pile. Then it’s transferred to another pile where it continues to compost. It is from the second pile that the payoff comes. The soil is dark and full of nutrients. Bugs and worms make it rich and useful. Jeri says we know when it’s ready by its unique smell and feel.

“We continue to learn about the process from friends as we are all trying to build a better, more sustainable future.”

What’s next? “It’s time for worm farming and bee hives.”