Journal of the NACAA
ISSN 2158-9429
Volume 6, Issue 1 - May, 2013

Profile of Pennsylvania Equine Industry's Environmental Impact and Best Management Practices

Swinker, A., Extension Specialist, Pennsylvania State University
Brubaker, M., Consservation, Pennsylvania State Conservation Commission
Burk, A., Extension Specialist, University of Maryland
Foulk, D., Extension Educator, Penn State University
Kniffen, D., Extension Specialist, Penn State University
McKernan, H., Extension Assistant, Penn State University
Parry, S., State Grassland Conservationist, PA NRCS
Truax, S., NRCS Grazing Specialist, PA NRCS
Worobey, S., Natural Resource Specialist/Agronomist at AET Consulting, AET Consulting, Inc.

ABSTRACT

Proper management of equine operations requires the adoption of Best Management Practices (BMPs) to balance nutrient production and prevent erosion.  Government agencies are concerned about non-point sources of water pollution and have focused on equine operations.  Many state’s laws regulate equine farms requiring farm managers to incorporate BMPs.  BMP utilization on horse farms needs to be quantified before regulations are adopted.  The objectives of this survey are to quantify and assess the use of the equine industry’s BMPs in pasture management, erosion control and examine any potential environmental impacts.  A 37 question online survey (Survey Writer LLC, Chicago, IL) was designed. A list of 1817 email addresses was developed, consisting of horse farm managers from Pennsylvania.  The surveys resulted in a 20% response rate.  Data were analyzed using SPSS 16.0 (SPSS Inc., Chicago, IL). Most operations were used for recreational purposes (65.7%) and 34.3% for business. Respondents housed 8.1 ± 1.9 horses on 21.3 ± 1.8 ha (52.7ac) of pasture (businesses reported a mean of 13.4 head / year).  An average of 1.5 ha (3.8 ac) were dedicated to heavy use areas.  In this study horse farms reported that during winter months 28% of horses were on pastures 24 hours/day.  During the growing season, in the spring months 38.6% of horses were turned out on pasture 24 hours/day; in the summer 45%; and in the fall 43%.  During winter (32%) and spring (25%) months horse farm managers used limited turn out periods of 6 but no more than 12 hours/day. This grazing strategy is ideal for horse boarding stables or small properties to limit grazing.   Almost half (49.8%) indicated they have never performed soil fertility tests on their pastures, with 25.4% testing soil every 1-3 yrs.  Farms reported applying seed to pastures when needed (27.8%), while 24.9% never having applied seed to their pastures.  Most farms (96.2%) mowed pasture on average 4 times per year to control weeds.  Approximately one third of farms, composted manure and used it on the farm. Horse owners (52.3%) reported storing manure on unprepared sites.  One third of farms never apply lime to pastures, 17.3% applied lime according to soil test results. Approximately, 13% reported their operation has an Agricultural Erosion and Sedimentation Plan or current Conservation Plan dealing with soil erosion and animal heavy use areas.  Only 22.7% reported having a Manure Management, Pasture Grazing or Nutrient Management Plan for their operation.  More research and education is needed to assess the effect of horse farm management on Mid-Atlantic water quality.

Keywords:equine, environment, BMPs, pasture, manure


Introduction

States located in the Northeast region have reported horses are the fastest growing segment of the livestock industry.  Nationwide, equine has increased by 77% since 1997; and it is reported there are approximately 9.5 million horses in the United States (AHC, 2005). Pasture is a good source of nutrition and 94% of U.S. equine operations allowing horses to graze pastures (USDA, APHIS: VS, 1998).  Proper management of equine operations requires the adoption of Best Management Practices (BMPs) to balance nutrient production and prevent erosion.  Government agencies are concerned about non-point sources of water pollution and have focused on agriculture, including equine operations, as a major contributor to water quality issues.  Many state’s laws have regulated equine farms requiring farm managers to incorporate BMPs.  BMP utilization on horse farms needs to be quantified before regulations are adopted.    The objectives of this survey are to quantify and assess the use of the equine industry’s BMPs in pasture management, erosion control and to examine potential environmental impacts.  Few studies have investigated horse BMPs in the region (USDA: APHIS: VS, 1998; Westerdorf, 2010; Swinker et al., 2011 and Fiorellino et al., 2013).   More research is needed to assess the effect of horse farm management on Mid-Atlantic water quality.


Materials and Methods

A 37 question online survey (Survey Writer LLC, SurveyWriter.com, Chicago, IL) was designed. A list of 2,363 names and email addresses was developed, consisting of horse owners/farm managers from Pennsylvania and surrounding states. The survey opened on 12/10/10 and closed 1/1/2/11. The email included survey information and a link to the survey.  One follow-up reminder was sent to non-responding addresses. Undeliverable addresses (508) and 38 people who no longer owned horses were removed, resulting in a total of 1817 addresses.  A total of 373 surveys were completed, with a 20% response rate.  Data were transferred from SurveyWriter.com into a numerical data set using Excel 2007 (Microsoft Corp., Redmond, WA).  Following the transfer, data were analyzed using SPSS 16.0 (SPSS Inc., Chicago, IL) for descriptive statistics.  Frequencies and percentages were determined for all responses.  Cross tabulations were used to determine the relationship between management practices and farm management demographics. 


Results

The majority of owners (82.6%) housed their horses at a self-owned facility, 13.4% boarded.  Nearly 74% were women and 26% were men.  Participant’s mean age was 50 years old with 52.4% over the age of 51.  Primary use of horse farms was recreational (62.2%), boarding (13.6%), breeding (6.8%), training (5.6%), rescue/retirement (4.6%), lessons (3.4%) and other (3.8%). Most operations were used for recreational purposes (65.7%) and 34.3% for business (Table 1). Respondents housed 8.1 ± 1.9 horses on 21.3 ± 1.8 ha (52.7ac) of pasture (businesses reported a means of 13.4 head / year).  For all farms, an average of 1.5 ha (3.8 ac) were used for heavy use areas (barns, rings, holding areas etc.). 


Table 1.  Primary use of the horse farms in the survey

 

Count

%

Boarding

44

13.6%

Breeding

22

6.8%

Training

18

5.6%

Lesson Program

11

3.4%

Pleasure/Recreation

201

62.2%

Retirement/Rescue

15

4.6%

Therapeutic Center

6

1.9%

Other

6

1.9%

Total

323

100.0%

 

 

As many as 65% of horse farms have reported using a rotational pasture system, 38.6% have a pasture management plan and 25% continuously grazed horses.  Only 23.8% allowed pasture to recover to a recommended grazing height and 45.3% reported sometimes resting pastures.  Most respondents (75.4%) assessed their pasture vegetative cover at 80% or better, 5% reported poor vegetative cover, and 1.9% reported utilizing bare ground.  Most (54%) reported not using sacrifice loafing lots (non-grassy areas) on their property. The remainder used sacrifice lots for confinement during inclement weather or drought (68.1%), to control consumption of grass (61.1%), used to grain feeding and to control exercise (31.9%).  Uses were not mutually exclusive.  As outlined in Table 2 the reasons listed describe why farm managers using sacrifice or dry lots for horses.

 

Table 2.  Reasons horse farm managers use sacrifice or dry lot

 

Count

%

For feeding controlled exercise

46

31.9%

Confinement during inclement weather or drought conditions

98

68.1%

Protect from over grazing

98

68.1%

Control horse consumption of grass

88

61.1%

Other

15

10.4%

Total

144

239.6%

 

 It is estimated horses spent from 10 to 17 hours per day grazing or about 40 to72% of a 24-hour period (Henning et al., 2000). The goal of any pasture system should be to maximize yield and protect pasture grasses.  Grazing should be managed year round to keep both the grass and animals healthy. This study shows the pasture systems and the amount of time horses were turned out on pastures, as reported by horse owners through the seasons (i.e., Tables 3 and 4). Continuous grazing systems require management in order to maintain minimal environmental impacts.  In this study (Table 3) horse farms reported that during winter months 28% of horses were on pastures 24 hours/day.  During the growing season, in the spring months 38.6% of horses were turned out on pasture 24 hours/day; in the summer 45%; and in the fall 43%.  Continuous grazing systems utilize less available forage than those that implement rotational grazing systems (Henning et al., 2000).

 Limited turn out allows the horse daily access to pasture for shorter periods (1-hour to less than 24 hours per day). In this study, the majority of horse farm managers used limited turn out periods of 6 but no more than 12 hours/day, throughout all seasons (i.e., table 3 and 4). This grazing strategy is ideal for horse boarding stables or small properties. This system gives every horse some grazing time and is ideal for horses with laminitis or other disorders related to grazing.
 

 

Table 3. The hours (6-24 hours) per day horses spend turned out on pasture by season

 

24 hours continuous

Less than 24 more than 12

Less than 12 more than 6

Count

%

Count

%

Count

%

Winter

89

27.8%

60

18.8%

103

32.2%

Spring

123

38.6%

72

22.6%

80

25.1%

Summer

143

44.8%

94

29.5%

59

18.5%

       Fall

      138

    43.1%

          87

       27.2%

           64

           20.0%

 

 

Table 4.  The hours (0-6 hours) per day horses spend turned out on pasture by season

 

Less than 6 more than 3

Less than 3

No pasture turn out

Total

Count

%

Count

%

Count

%

Count

%

Winter

28

8.8%

13

4.1%

27

8.4%

320

100.0%

Spring

28

8.8%

13

4.1%

3

.9%

319

100.0%

Summer

18

5.6%

4

1.3%

1

.3%

319

100.0%

      Fall

         22

        6.9%

         8

     2.5%

         1

       .3%

      320

   100.0%

 

 

Nearly half of horse farm operators (49.8%) indicated they have never performed soil fertility tests on their pastures, with 25.4% testing soil every 1-3yr and 24.8% allowing more than 3 yrs. between tests.  Most (36.5%) farms never apply lime to pastures, 17.3% applied lime according to soil test results and the majority 46.2% sometimes applied lime with or without test results. Farm operators reported regularly applying seed to pastures when needed (27.8%), applied seed when it was sometimes needed (47.3%) and never having applied seed to their pastures (24.9%).  Most farms (96.2%) mowed pasture on average 4 times per yr. to control weeds.  When asked to describe the use of herbicide (weed control) in your horse pastures; 8% regularly used, 25.5% sometimes used, and 62.5% never used herbicides.

Methods participants used to manage manure were composting and using that compost on the farm (34.1%), hauled off the farm fresh (10.9%), spread fresh on crop/pasture fields daily (10.6%), composted and hauled off farm (7.7%), horses pastured 24 hrs./day with manure harrowed or removed (16.4%), horses pastured 24 hrs./day with manure never managed (7.1%), manure collected and stored (6.1%), commercial contractor removes manure from property (2.3%) and other (4.8%). Manure within sacrifice areas was either removed on a daily or weekly basis (55.9%), occasionally removed (33.3%) or never removed (10.8%). Horse owners (52.3%) reported storing manure on unprepared sites and 36.3% stored manure on a hard packed or paved surface. Only 4.3% of horse owners stored manure in a constructed, covered compost facility and 7% covered stored manure in piles. Most manure storage sites (85.4%) were greater than 45.7 m (150 ft.) from surface water, while 2.2% were less than 15 m (50ft).   

Most horse farms (51.3%) did not have surface water on their property.  Of the farms with surface water, 21.7% were restricted by fencing horses away from water, 8.3% controlled access for drinking/crossing; while 18.8% allowed horses unlimited access to surface water. 

Approximately, 13% reported their operation has an Agricultural Erosion and Sedimentation Plan or current Conservation Plan dealing with soil erosion and animal heavy use areas. Only 22.7% reported having a Manure Management Plan or Nutrient Management Plan for their operation. When asked about soil erosion in pastures 2.9% reported obvious soil erosion and 25% indicated some was present. The majority of horse operations (76.3%) had some rainwater runoff systems to divert runoff or for a collection systems on barns and sheds; while 23.7% reported having no rainwater runoff control.

 Nearly all survey respondents (93%) reported having some pasture and nutrient management questions. Resources participants used for information included books, magazines, publications (79.4%), internet resources (79.1%), knowledgeable acquaintances (65%), agencies, extension, NRCS, conservation district, etc. (60.5%), multi-media (27.8%), private businesses or companies (15.7%) and 2% reported using none, see Table 5.  Participants indicated that the primary limitation to them altering current management practices was finances (75%), knowledge (37.5%), regulations (13.7%), and an inability to obtain services (11.7%).

Table 5. Information resources use by equine farm operations

 

Count

%

Books, magazines, publications

243

79.4%

Multi-media resources

85

27.8%

Internet resources

242

79.1%

Agencies: Extension, District Conservation Offices, Departments of Agriculture, Natural Resources
Conservation Service, etc.

185

60.5%

Private businesses or companies

48

15.7%

Knowledgeable acquaintances

199

65.0%

Other

24

7.8%

None

6

2.0%

Total

306

 

 


Discussion

Knowledge of the current scope and nature of equine industry management practices are important when developing regulations and laws that will govern land management on equine operations.  Recently, severalstate environmental regulations are having a direct impact on equine operations.  In some states horse operations have not been eligible for cost-share funding in the past and have not been regulated directly.  But horse farms are expected, by state agencies, to incorporate costly environmental BMPs into the management of their farms.   In Pennsylvania, under revised regulations, concentrated equine operations fall under Act 38, Pennsylvania Nutrient Management Regulations and are required to have a certified nutrient management plan for the farm (operations with 8 Animal Equivalent Units (AEUs) housed on high density acreages of 2 AEUs or less per acre).  However, horse farms frequently manage horses on fewer acres per animal unit and have the potential to pose a significant environmental risk (State Conservation Commission, 2006).   

This data shows that many horse farms are utilizing BMPs to help reduce environmental impact. However, there are several areas, such as soil testing and the use of sacrifice loafing areas in pasture management, where educational programming and cost share funding is needed to target specific BMPs underutilized by the equine industry.  In order to help stable managers understand the principles of sustainable best management practices, Cooperative Extension can conduct state-wide “Environmental Stewardship Short Courses”.  These educational programs need to be a comprehensive series of educational programs (face-to-face meeting or webinars) to promote adoption of best management practices on equine operations.   This study showed nearly, 80 percent of this audience is receiving most of their educational information from publications, magazine articles and the internet. So, Extension needs to reach horse farm managers with what we do best, factsheets, popular press articles and meetings.


 Literature Cited

American Horse Council. (2005). The impact of the Horse Industry in the United States, Washington, DC.

Fiorellino, N.M., K.M. Wilson, and A.O. Burk.  2013. Characterizing the use of environmentally friendly pasture management practices by horse farm operators in Maryland. J Soil Water Conserv. 68:34-40.

Henning J, Lacefield G, Rasnake M, Burris R, Johns J, et al. Rotational grazing. University of Kentucky, Cooperative Extension Service 2000; (IS-143).

Swinker, A., S. Worobey, H. McKernan, R. Meinen, D. Kniffen, D. Foulk, M. Hall, J. Weld, F. Schneider, A. Burk, M. Brubaker, 2011, Profile of the Equine Industry’s Environmental, Best Management Practices and Variations in Pennsylvania, J. Eq. Vet. Sci. 30:44176.

USDA: Aphis" VS, (1999). National Animal Health System, Highlights of Equine: part III, p. 4.

Westendorf, M. L., T. Joshua, S. J. Komar, C. Williams, and R. Govindasamy. 2010. Manure Management Practices on New Jersey Equine Farms. Prof. Anim. Sci. 26:123-129.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
USDA, NRCS-CIG grant for funding this project. In addition the Agencies that have provided personnel and support: PA Equine Council, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, State Conservation District, Penn State University Extension and PA Dept. of Environmental Protection.