Horses & Livestock

Our Winters + Our Soils = Mud

Sauvie Island Horses

Mud, manure, and weeds – most people contacting West Multnomah SWCD have too much of one or more of these things. WMSWCD is here to help. The basics in solving these problems are: ensuring water is not concentrated where animals walk or gather, having a plan for dealing with heaps of manure before it piles up, and having a proper pasture management plan.


The most common area for mud problems is around the barn. This is because water from the roof is often concentrated in areas were the animals walk or group. Most often fixing leaking gutters or routing downspouts away from the barn can alleviate major muddy areas. Sacrifice paddocks or “heavy use areas” can be constructed in overwintering areas to keep animals out of the mud. Fencing animals out of the stream, to protect both them and water quality, is also highly important to good animal and land stewardship.

Heavy Use Areas or Sacrifice Paddocks

Installing heavy-use areas, sacrifice paddocks, hardened walkways and other mud prevention structures can make life easier for you and healthier for your animals. They all keep animals out of the mud by creating hard or pervious surfaces, allowing water to run off in a controlled manner or soak into the ground. In addition, there are many health issues for animals that can be reduced or eliminated by keeping them out of the mud.

Summer is the time to design and install pathways and confinement areas that will be used often in the winter. Keeping animals off pasture ground not only reduces the mud, but allows the grass to get a head start in the spring, increasing the overall forage. Be sure to pay special attention to where these structures are located to keep them and the water runoff away from wells, septic fields, streams and other sensitive water supplies.

Manure: Both a Bother and a Benefit

Whenever animals are confined, whether to a sacrifice paddock or a stall, excess manure builds up and must be disposed of. If manure is not properly handled, either by leaving it uncovered or putting it next to a stream or waterway, it can be a real pain and cause environmental damage. Just as with mud, if runoff from manure makes its way to the stream, you could be breaking the law.

The average horse produces 50 pound PER DAY. Having a plan for how to deal with it is both challenging and important. Actively composting it takes more effort, but can reduce your bulk amount by 40-60%. In addition, composted manure can be used in your garden and on your fields and pastures (which helps fertilize the grass). Composting also reduces flies, odor, and pathogens. Otherwise, you can sell manure to those in the city who need a source of high quality organic matter, such as garden clubs, neighbors, and nurseries.

Composting in our area often takes four things: A good site, cover, some elbow grease, and a system.

  1. A good site: this can be either a concrete pad to reduce leaching, or just a good spot away from open water and wells.
  2. A cover: In this area, we have lots of rain to deal with. Water runoff needs to be directed away from manure piles so that they compost more efficiently and reduce leaching. This could be in the form of a constructed roof or just a good tarp.
  3. Turning: To properly compost, you need to turn the manure pile regularly. Depending on your amount, this could be done with a pitchfork or a front loader.
  4. A System: Good composting can take as little as 90 days. But this means you usually need more than one pile; one that is actively turned and one that you’re are adding to.

Here’s a good publication about composting, click here.

Manure Exchange

There are two Manure Exchanges for our region, maintained by East Multnomah SWCD and Tualatin SWCD. The exchanges provide a public forum for farmers to offer their excess manure and for residents to request some. See EMSWCD or TSWCD for more information.  Also, check out the following information on manure management:  Farm Manure Management

Livestock and Streams

If your livestock (and horses) have access to a stream, we can help you develop alternate watering sources and install fencing to keep animals safe and protect water quality. We can also help you manage invasive weeds along the stream and add native plants. For more information, visit the Healthy Streams page.

Weeds and forage 

The key to reducing weeds over time is to grow robust and healthy grass. A healthy, vigorous grass stand can shade out weeds like thistles, dandelions, tansy and more. The key to a healthy pasture is to not over-graze. Follow the “3 – 8 rule”. Take your animals off when they have eaten the grass down to a height of 3 inches; put them back on when it is 7 to 8 inches tall. This ensures the best performance of your grass which maximizes forage and minimizes weeds. Just note that this may mean feeding them hay and grain to supplement their dietary needs…even in the middle of the summer!

Here’s a good publication on managing small acreage horse farms.

Another important area to manage is the access to potentially harmful invasive weeds, some of which can harm or kill horses and livestock.  Read this publication for lots of information on toxic weeds.

WMSWCD provides technical and financial services to help with this through various programs. Contact Rural Conservationist Scott Gall at or 503.238.4775, ext. 105.



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