Home Heating with Horse Manure

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2013: $2,219.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2015
Region: North Central
State: Wisconsin
Project Coordinator:
Eric Meulemans
Rigantona Fields

Annual Reports


  • Animals: equine


  • Energy: energy use, renewable energy, home heating

    Proposal summary:

    My wife Maribeth and I reside on a three-acre parcel which we purchased two years ago and
    have been adapting to the needs of our three horses. Maribeth holds a degree in Equine Business Management from Delaware Valley College, PA., and we have both spent a good portion of our lives working with and training horses in a variety of disciplines, with over three decades of experience between us. Our goal has been to provide for the keeping and training of rescued horses and their eventual placement with responsible horsepersons as well as the conduct of lessons in English equitation and polo. Our crop production has been limited to personal use, though we have plans to grow increasing quantities of herbs for use and sale in homemade hand-salves.

    My own academic background is in historic preservation and architectural conservation, in
    which I hold a B.S. from Roger Williams University, RI., along with an M.A. in History from William Paterson University, NJ. Because of this focus I have a long-standing interest in historical building methods and traditional technologies. I have always sought to link this to my work and over the years have served as an educator at several historical villages where I demonstrated blacksmithing and woodworking to the public. I have also worked professionally in the conservation field as a timberframer and more recently sculptural conservator, this in addition to my role as Head Cutler at Albion Swords in New Glarus, WI., where I have been employed since moving to Wisconsin in 2007.
    My motivation for this project is driven by my earnest belief that "alternative" energy and
    "primitive" technology are misnomers for methods which have proven successful through the bulk of human existence. Despite having thousands of years of practical experience behind us we have chosen to adopt mere decades-old ways of thinking to define the norm. As a result, one of the most perplexing hurdles to overcome in the face of (re)introducing these proven methods is to demonstrate that they not only work, but work well! Much of my thinking concerning this proposed project comes from my experiences in Mongolia, where horse dung is often the only available fuel source, and upon which most of my meals were prepared. Relating this to others is invariably met with surprise and (generally) curiosity. In conducting this study I hope to satisfy that curiosity and show that horse dung can burn
    just as well in Wisconsin as in Mongolia.

    There are two principal problems which I hope to provide a solution for. The first is to create an alternate route for the management of horse manure and waste bedding present on a horse farm utilizing simple, manually-operated equipment. The second is to provide for the supplemental or primary heating of an average-sized home (~2,000 sq. ft.). This latter issue is one which may be solved through appropriate application of the former - the combustion of waste biomass in an existing home heating wood stove.

    A 1,000-pound horse will produce some 35 to 50 pounds of manure daily, or approximately 9.1 tons per year. Particularly on properties with limited space, proper disposal of this quantity can be challenging. Composting can reduce volume considerably, but not eliminate it, and can be a source for runoff and groundwater contamination. Spreading requires equipment and sufficient pasture area for rotation and as well may be prohibited in certain locations. These issues of size will also likely reflect a limited source for wood fuel unless purchased, and so an elegant solution presents itself.

    Dried to a moisture content of 20%, manure contains around 6500 BTU/lb., which represents over 150,000 BTUs per horse per day of potential fuel. In other terms, this is approximately a cord of firewood "produced" every 120 days per horse. A typical small horse farm should therefore - given appropriate preparation - be able to meet the bulk of their heating needs, although even as a supplemental heating source it should be seen that this is a valuable and underutilized resource.

    The objective of this project would be to create, cure, store, and ultimately combust "bricks" of compressed horse manure and waste bedding in a conventional non-catalytic wood stove. To keep the scope manageable a goal of one cord equivalent (15-20 MBTU) of combustible matter would be set to establish markers for labour required, drying times, best type of mix and mixing method, brick size/shape, rate of combustion, etc.

    Spring 2013: Acquisition of materials and construction/alteration of storage area (extant on-site). Construction of press(es) for forming of biomass bricks.
    Summer 2013: Integrating brick-forming into regular barn chores and establishing protocols. Laying up of bricks for drying. At least three types will be formed and stored (manure, manure/bedding, and composted) and these will be evaluated for dry times and most beneficial size/shape to encourage drying.
    Fall 2013: Continue to monitor and log moisture contents of varying compositions. Begin burning and determine if changes need to be made to composition or brick style or process.
    Winter 2013 - Spring 2014: Burn fuel and monitor output, rate of consumption, and any issues with use.
    Spring-Summer 2014: Publish findings.

    It is well established that manure may be used as a fuel source, but In Europe and North America its has been limited to a larger commercial scale, utilizing biomass furnaces for heat - as at the Piper stud of the Spanish Riding School in Vienna - or for electrical generation, as pursued by Global Green Solutions, Inc. There has been some movement towards the residential-scale user, including Connecticut-based Eagle Valley Eco Fuel Co., which has just begun production of compressed horse manure heating bricks for retail sale, but for the most part the home processing and use of horse manure fuel has gone unnoticed.

    The Internet of course will yield some persons who have experimented themselves to answer "will this work?" but with no hard data or long-term use. This study isn't looking to prove that it can be done so much as that it can be done effectively and to define the best procedures for use on a household/farmstead scale that limits investment and ensures practicality and sustainability.

    J. Lundgren, E. Pettersson, "Combustion of horse manure for heat production," (Bioresource
    Technology, Volume 100, Issue 12, June 2009, Pages 3121-3126) provides comprehensive data on fuel characteristics, emissions, and waste ash constituents, but is after all a laboratory report and not a "how to" or field manual - the very thing which is needed and as yet unavailable

    1. Personal website and blog. Ongoing progress and final report to be presented on The Nemeton (currently down for revision) and the SCOD public blog (http://scodpub.wordpress.com/)
    2. Written article for submission to The Sustainable Times, Wisconsin Horseman's News or other relevant parties and/or shorter pieces made available to local equine-related newsletters (Lodi Veterinary Care, Madison Equine, etc.).
    3. Brochure for distribution at equine or energy-related events (i.e. Midwest Horse Fair, Midwest Energy Fair).

    Direct comparison to known costs, heat content, and labor associated with wood heat allows for a definitive mark of success. This proposal assumes that the following points can be proven as benefits equal to or greater than wood as a biomass fuel:
    1. Continually produced and free.
    2. Comparable in heat content to wood with similar emission qualities (though higher in NOx).
    3. Simple and safe to process with no need for powered equipment or risk of associated accident.
    4. Modular unit size means ease in handling and simplified storage.
    5. Reduced or eliminated transport costs and fuel use.
    6. Waste ash is Phosphorus-rich fertilizer.

    Simply put, if the processing, storage, net cost, ease of use and heating ability of the manure proves to be sufficiently comparable to wood the project will have met with success. The net result will ideally be a cost-free source of fuel and reduction of the waste stream.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.