Horse Manure For High-Yield Vermicomposting

Interesting email from Andreas:

Hi Bentley
Big fan. Love the info!
I have chickens and i want to try breeding a motherload of worms to feed Them. I have a Big pile of horse manure and Wood shavings that is fairly Brown and Well aged. Do you Think it would work to seed the pile With worms in spring, let Them breed and Chow all summer, and then feed the chickens With a shovel full a Day of compost and Worms in the Fall? My question is basically: Will the Worms breed a lot in just aged manure and shavings, or do They need other Stuff AS Well to be really harpy?

Thanks in advance Andreas

Hi Andreas,

Thanks for the kind words!
You are in luck! Aged horse manure can be a fantastic material for breeding a “motherload” of Red Worms. To this day, likely the most amazing Red Worm “systems” (if you can call them that) I have seen have simply been old horse manure piles sitting outdoors, exposed to the elements.

The habitat manure should be somewhat “earthy” in smell (NO strong manure/ammonia smell) – but still have some food value (should not just look like soil/compost). Fresher material can be layered on top, or continually added to one side of the initial heap – creating what is known as a “wedge system” or “walking windrow”.

When you first set up the bed, make sure to monitor temps regularly. Obviously, you need to be careful about the manure heating up too much. Another good reason for using aged material is that it has less of a tendency to heat up. Once temps seem to be staying below say 86 F (ish) consistently you should be fine to add your initial stock of worms.
(NOTE: The above advice mostly applies to others setting up a similar bed – I’m sure your aged heap will have PLENTY of safe habitat zone already)

Depending on your location (both in terms of geography and where the bed is sitting), you may need to water it down fairly regularly. It is imporant to keep the habitat nice and moist, especially during the hot dry periods in the summer. That said, I am assuming that the material will be sitting on the ground, on a concrete pad, or in some form of structure that allows for drainage. You will want to avoid swampy anaerobic conditions down in the lower zones of the heap/bed, if at all possible.

Supplementation is not vitally important (Red Worms will do very well in manure/bedding alone) – but if you want to take things to the next level, you might try adding shredded cardboard along with food wastes, and maybe even an occasional bit of rock dust.

Anyway – hope this helps! Feel free to add some follow-up questions in the comments section.

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    • Paul from Winnipeg
    • March 6, 2017

    I now have an endless supply of aged bedded horse manure, so I suppose I should get to using it in my worm inn! Thanks for the info Bentley.

    • Bentley
    • March 7, 2017

    Absolutely! I always recommend testing out any manure source on a small scale before going too crazy with it. But once you know for sure it is worm-friendly, you are good to go! 😎

    • John W.
    • March 10, 2017

    Horse manure is by far my favorite food (for the worms)
    I use it as often as I can and use it a lot in my Worm Inn/mega

    • Brian smith
    • April 10, 2017

    What is the easyist way to separate the worms from the final compost ready to go into a new bed

    • Bentley
    • April 10, 2017

    Hi Brian – there are a variety of separation methods out there. A super low-tech approach that can work really well with manure is what’s known as a “walking windrow” or “wedge” system. Basically you just start with a heap and then keep adding to one side. The worms will process the manure and continue moving in the direction of rich “food” end, eventually leaving you with nicely finished material on the starting end.
    On a small scale, even something like a basic light harvesting approach can work quite well (especially if done outdoors).

    • jolj
    • July 4, 2017

    I am one of 8 people I know that use horse manure & worm castings in our garden.

    • Carwin Byington
    • March 22, 2018

    I’m using a mix of horse manure and spend mycelium substrate for my guys. They seem to love it. My question is how can you tell if they need to be fed? After a week or so the manure still looks like manure, there just seem to be fewer worms hanging around at the top. I know not to feed food scraps until they’re mostly gone, but what determines how you feed when it isn’t obvious they’re finished with the meal?

    • Bentley
    • March 22, 2018

    Hi Carwin
    Sounds like a fantastic mix to me! Interesting question. When I am working with manure I tend to look for a certain “worked”/”settled” appearance. I find it settles down a lot and resistant (woody etc) debris tends to come up to surface. What kind of system you are using would definitely play a role here – but with nicely aged manure it is hard to go wrong. Only think you need to watch for with bigger systems is heating.

    • Carwin Byington
    • March 22, 2018

    I’m using an Urban Worm Bag, indoors in Las Vegas. I’ve only just started the system in January with one pound of worms. Online I saw that someone local wanted to get rid of his spent substrate for oyster mushrooms, and he also had a line on some horse manure. I agreed to take the substrate off his hands and mix it with the manure to feed to my worms. There was a study I’d read about mixing it 60/40, substrate/manure, for optimum feeding. The worms seem to like it, but it’s just confusing to know when I should add more feed.

    • Tod Passmore
    • October 10, 2018

    I am starting a worm farm.
    Composted manure is my choice of bedding i sift it to smaller peaces it is aged no Oder,My question to you is how do i make shore the castings turn out black like coffee as i have seen it.also can i feed them only manure as for cost reason, i do add used coffee grounds also bra from the local shops in town, and i am looking for a speedy or a faster time frame that being said i am looking for more of a 50% completion.As castings work better mixed with other manure so why not just combine my effort as to speed up the process.What is your suggestions.THANK YOU!

    • Bentley
    • October 26, 2018

    Hi Tod
    Castings do NOT need to be black. You can get high quality castings in a wide range of “browns” as well – and this will be especially the case when working with manures (which result in some of the best castings there are). In my experience, food wastes tend to end up converted into a darker material – but this can also depend on what type of bedding is being used and how much. Honestly, I tend to be a bit suspicious of castings that are really black. I know some suppliers sell used bait bedding (peat moss that has MAYBE passed through a worm’s gut) as “castings” and others just generally rely heavily on peat, with less emphasis on actual nutrition, in their systems.

    • Jennifer
    • November 11, 2018

    Thanks so much for all the awsome information. I just received worms for my first attempt at vermiculturing. I got a pound of Red wiggled and a pound of euros. It’s unreasonable cold here in Austin yesterday and today. Outdoor temps barely reached the 50s. I’ve been preparing kitchen scraps (no citrus or avocado peels), dry crushed up leaves (mostly pecan), and shredded (thru a paper shredder) cardboard then soaked in rain water. I also added some spent seed staring mix from my fall vegetable starts, crushed up egg shells and coffee grounds. The bins are in my garage which is around 60 degree. The red wigglers seem happy but maybe a dozen of the euros have crawled up the sides.

    I’m a first timer so lots of advice is welcome.

    I made the bins from big kitty litter buckets, the top one with the worms has lots of 1/4 in holes drilled in the bottom and covered with a piece of window screen and the lid has a bunch of 1″ holes also cover with window screen. I have lots of empty kitty litter buckets so they seemed like a logical choice over pickle buckets. I also have some larger plastic storage bins ready for their growing population.

    • Jennifer
    • November 12, 2018

    I know a local place that boards horses and they pay to have the manure and shavings hauled away. If I go there and get a truck load, how long does it take to become well aged?

    • Bentley
    • November 29, 2018

    Hi Jennifer,
    That can depend on various factors and how well aged you want it. I like to think of it in terms of “habitat” potential and “food” potential. If you want really good habitat material the manure should be bedded with carbon rich materials (horse manure usually is) and left to sit for longer (maybe 1-3 months, but this will depend on local climate etc). Once you have an established safe habitat zone for the worms, much newer manure can be added (ventilation is important though).

    • Bentley
    • November 29, 2018

    Hi Jennifer – sorry for the delay catching your comments. I’d be curious to find out how things are going for you now. Euros can be really temperamental at the best of times so having them roam a bit isn’t necessarily an indication of problems. Buckets aren’t always the ideal bin simply because the surface area is so small (can get anaerobic much more easily) but if you feed in moderation and monitor moisture levels regularly you should do OK!

    • shaked
    • July 16, 2020

    can i control the qualitis of the casting by feeding in specific way or food? for exampel – can i get arich N vermicimpost ? or a rich k casting?

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