Because Halcyon Acres® (which doubles as a horse farm – makes for great fertilizer) includes a small produce business, I’m aware of the value of good quality compost. In recent years, the demand for aged manure has escalated with a growing number of people starting small gardens at their homes. We plant and tend about an acre and a half of vegetables, herbs and some fruits and roots by hand with a chemical-free approach. We’re focusing more on heirloom varieties or harvesting our own seeds as it’s getting harder to determine what’s been genetically engineered. So, knowing what’s going into the soil is important here.
We found using our own compost really improves the taste of the food. It’s also reassuring to have complete control over the purity of the compost.
Since there’s also a lot of land here, it’s easy to build and store a compost pile. Consequently, we can age this to a ‘black gold’ state and accumulate more than we need. You may not have that luxury at your location to pile it in a field, but there are a lot of creative ways you can store and/or market a waste product that’s been expensive to dispose of in the past to the growing numbers of home gardeners and cottage industry plant producers.
Make money with your horse manure
All you need is a spot to put what you take out of the stalls and time to let it age a bit. Some will even buy fresh and age it at their site. While common convictions state two years is necessary, we’ve found three months in a pile generating sufficient heat is equally effective for amazing plant growth once mixed with soil. It helps that we use sawdust (vs. straw, which takes a lot more time to decompose), carefully pick the stalls (so there’s not a lot of bedding that needs to break down) and deal with fairly large quantities (more volume and height means more heat for faster compost results), but it’s not necessary. Home gardeners pay a lot of money for commercial products claiming to enrich the soil. Your manure can do it better, cheaper.
If you want word to spread quickly, the key is to generate high quality compost before you start selling.
Many home gardeners belong to some kind of group or network loosely among themselves in other ways. Around here, we have ‘Master Gardeners’ who are certified by Cornell Cooperative Extension after something like 150 hours of community service. It’s amazing how many of them there are. We also have a lot of events ranging from GardenScape (a precursor to spring) and CSA trade shows to farmer’s markets and educations seminars. Attend just one of these gatherings and you’ll be amazed at how quickly you can find a couple of people who are well respected and connected who get buyers lining up to pay you for something that’s been expensive to dispose of in the past. With a few hours of research and half a day attending the right event, you can move a former farm operating expense over to the black side of the ledger. For a lot of facilities, this cost of thousands a year turned profit is a welcome relief.
Pricing and marketing horse compost
If you’re paying for weekly removal, don’t despair. So long as you have an area where you can pile manure (you’re doing this if you’re renting a bin anyway) you can at least find takers on give-away offers. They’ll load it into their pickup truck or shovel into containers (used grain bags are great for this – two birds). You can also build a bin relatively inexpensively. Often material you have lying around the farm can provide the three retaining walls you need. You’ll need to verify anything permanent you erect complies with town code. It’s easier to construct a ‘temporary’ structure if this is an issue.
In cases where you help load the manure (with a bucket, your brawn or a spreader) you can charge for this without protest. Offer both options and you might be amazed at how many people are happy to pay for your help.
Local events, trade shows, farmer’s markets, seminars, cooperative extensions, chambers in some areas and Craig’s List are good ways to find takers.
Aged, quality horse manure compost is sought-after in almost all areas of the US. Spring is the best time to market this product, but you might be surprised at how many hobbyists and part-time resellers you find who delight in finding ways to enhance their green thumb year-round. Again, find the right few people to spread the word (a free sample to them is OK) and you might be surprised at how quickly your manure pile disappears while adding to your income.
Halcyon Acres® is in a rural location (town population 1830, county 25,000 – probably more cows than people residents in the area), yet we still have people thrilled to remove our manure for us – and pay for it. If you’re closer to suburban populations, the demand will probably be higher. Even so, we reach to Rochester (50 miles away) for demand. We’ve decided to price our aged compost at $10 a bag (you bring the bag – any size – of course the fill level gets lower once people realize how heavy this stuff is) for self-service. We also offer a pickup truck rate.
Interestingly, we found it was a lot easier to sell this stuff than give it away. Frankly, we have use for all we produce these days, but there was a time when we didn’t. It’s curious that now that we don’t need a disposal solution, demand for purchased product has increased significantly. It’s nice to have the extra income stream.
Get to the right community circles with good quality compost and you’ll likely be shocked at how quickly word spreads to people happy to give you cash to get your pile gone.
Use Horse Sense in your message
It’s critical to be honest about what you have. Word will spread as quickly if you misrepresent your product as it will for your well-kept secret stash of grower’s delight. If you’re forthright, though, people will share their find with their friends. Fresh manure’s OK for many who have a place to age it. Don’t try to sell this to someone, though, who believes they’re getting seasoned compost and then burns their plants.
The biggest paying markets for good compost are home gardeners and small producers of resale plants (mostly rare landscaping gems). In spreading the word, consider crafting a message appeals to these audiences. Whether it’s Craig’s List, Facebook, Twitter, Linked In, a classified ad in a Penny Saver or flyers you post around town, understand the passions of your most likely buyers in what you write and you’ll be smiling as you put callers on the waiting list.