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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.

Written by Bentley on March 2nd, 2017 with 9 comments.
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Get your own gravatar by visiting Paul from Winnipeg
#1. March 6th, 2017, at 4:07 PM.

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.

Get your own gravatar by visiting Bentley
#2. March 7th, 2017, at 9:35 AM.

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! 😎

Get your own gravatar by visiting John W.
#3. March 10th, 2017, at 12:35 PM.

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

Get your own gravatar by visiting Brian smith
#4. April 10th, 2017, at 6:18 AM.

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

Get your own gravatar by visiting Bentley
#5. April 10th, 2017, at 9:37 AM.

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).

Get your own gravatar by visiting jolj
#6. July 4th, 2017, at 11:40 AM.

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

Get your own gravatar by visiting Carwin Byington
#7. March 22nd, 2018, at 1:35 PM.

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?

Get your own gravatar by visiting Bentley
#8. March 22nd, 2018, at 4:39 PM.

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.

Get your own gravatar by visiting Carwin Byington
#9. March 22nd, 2018, at 5:32 PM.

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.

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