Feed, Water & Waste Management Systems

Icon of a book Feed, Water, & Waste Management Systems


Feeding and watering your horse is a daily responsibility that can be managed effectively with a program that considers a horse’s natural grazing tendencies. Horses naturally spend the majority of their time grazing. They also tend to stay close to natural sources of water. Domestic horses benefit from settings and feed systems that support their natural instincts.

Research has shown that horses are healthier, are less likely to develop colic, and have improved absorption of nutrients that benefit bone density and health when they are fed smaller amounts of feed at two- to four-hour intervals throughout the the day. In contrast, a horse kept in a stall and fed once or twice a day, can be at risk of developing digestive issues, such as colic or ulcers, and stereotypic behaviours indicative of a suboptimal environment, such as cribbing, wood chewing, wind sucking and/or stall walking. It can also be prone to colic.

If horses spend time in stalls or on dry lots, other feeding practices should supplement their grazing time. These feeding systems can range from simple to automated. Feed can be portioned and placed into buckets or feeders at feeding times. Hay can be placed in hay nets or slow feeders to extend the period of forage consumption for horses and reduce wastage. Bags can be mounted on a stall wall, fence or post at the horse’s shoulder height so the horse can extract hay and feed naturally any time it wants. This is often called “restricted free access feeding.”

What does the Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Equines say about feed safety?

“Before feeding hay, ensure it is free from dust, mould, soil, weeds and poisonous plants. Concentrates should also be dust-free and not too finely ground. Some feeds that are appropriate for other farm animals are not appropriate for horses (e.g., medicated cattle feeds).

Feed must also be securely stored. This will help prevent contamination of the feed which can impact horse health. When horses gain unrestricted access to concentrates (e.g., pellets and grains such as oats and barley), they are likely to overeat, which can also cause serious health problems.”

The following requirements are identified in the Code of Practice:

Horses must have daily access to forage that is free from visible mould and has minimal dust.

 Horses must only receive feedstuffs that are appropriate for the species. 

Concentrates must be stored in a secure manner that prevents horses from overeating. 

These recommended practices are also provided in the Code of Practice: 

  1. Ensure the ration has been balanced for nutrient content and that all feed components used in the ration are of good quality and free from spoilage.
  2. Read labels on all feeds. 
  3. Clean buckets and troughs regularly.
  4. Store concentrates in sealed, rodent-proof containers.
  5. Remove baling twine and any other debris from the feeding area.


Horses need access to fresh, clean water at all times or they can become dehydrated and at risk for illnesses such as colic. Watering requirements of horses are dependent on a number of factors – the health, activity level and size of the horse as well as its environment and the weather conditions. 

Water can be provided in watering troughs or buckets that are filled, drained and cleaned regularly. Water can also be provided through automated systems that ensure water flows continuously or when activated by the horse. These systems are usually made of materials that are easily cleaned, such as stainless steel, and must provide water that is free of contaminants such as algae and bacteria. Insulated watering systems are more energy-efficient and maintain a consistent temperature in different weather conditions.

What does the Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Equines say about water?

“Water is the single most important nutrient in the management of horses. Equines (in particular, donkeys and mules) will limit their water intake to the point of dehydration if the quality (palatability) of drinking water is compromised. 

They may also limit their intake of water from a new source, such as when moved to a new location. It may be advisable to take a supply of water with you on trips. 

Generally, the minimum daily amount of water required by horses at maintenance and in a moderate environment (i.e., 5C-20C) is 5 L (1.32 gal) of water for every 100 kg (220 lbs) of body weight. The amount of water the horse needs will go above this minimum with: 

  • Increased humidity
  • Increased ambient temperature 
  • Increase in the horse’s metabolic activity level (in work, pregnant, lactating)
  • The presence of some health conditions (e.g., diarrhea)
  • A diet high in salt or potassium.

Snow as a water source

There is limited research on snow as a sole water source for horses. Given the scientific research on the water needs of horses in general, snow alone will not meet their water requirements. Some research shows that limiting liquid water intake can lead to reduced feed intake, a particular concern in the winter months given the increased energy needs of horses in cold temperatures. Water requirements may even increase in cold temperatures because water intake increases as feed intake increases.”

The following requirements are identified in the Code of Practice:

Horses must have access to safe, palatable and clean water in quantities to maintain health and vigour. 

In extreme weather conditions (cold or hot), special attention must be paid to ensuring water availability, access and intake. 

Water troughs, containers and any automatic watering devices must be cleaned regularly and maintained in working order with no sharp or abrasive edges. 

These recommended practices are also provided in the Code of Practice:

  1. Construct and locate water troughs and buckets to protect them from contamination and freezing.
  2. Check automatic watering systems daily to ensure they are dispensing water properly.
  3. Check for stray voltage from the water source (e.g., electric fence ground rods and defective heaters). Horses may refuse to drink if they receive even a slight electric shock when drinking. 
  4. Offer tepid water in cold temperatures to encourage intake, especially for geriatric horses (water can be heated up to 20C to optimize intake in cold temperatures).
  5. Test water quality at least annually, unless it is from a previously tested water supply safe for human consumption.
Excerpts from the Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Equines (2013) have been used with permission, Equine Canada and the National Farm Animal Care Council. The process for the development of Codes can be accessed through the National Farm Animal Care Council.


It is the horse owner’s responsibility to provide the horse with a clean place to live. Stalls and paddocks should provide drainage so that the horse is not standing in urine, feces and or water.

One horse can produce as much as 95 kg of manure each week. Stalls should be mucked out daily of manure and soiled bedding. The entire stall should be stripped once or twice per week as needed, depending on the behaviour and volume of waste from each horse.

The build-up of manure in a horse’s environment can be a source of disease-causing bacteria. Internal parasites can also be passed on by manure-contaminated feed and water. The adults of most parasites live in the intestinal tract of the horse and produce eggs which are passed in feces. Another horse may eat food or drink water contaminated by that feces. The bot is a type of parasite. Its adult form is a fly. Bots lay eggs on a horse’s chest and legs. When the horse licks its chest and legs, these eggs can hatch in the horse’s mouth and the larvae then make their way into the gut.

Harrowing pastures will help break up manure so that sun and heat can destroy the worm eggs and larvae.

Information adapted with permission from “Manure and Pasture Management for Horse Owners", Alberta Agriculture, Food and Rural Development. 


Runoff from improperly stored manure can become an environmental contaminant because it can carry nutrients, pathogens and organic particles into the water cycle through surface runoff or leach into groundwater. Improperly stored or built up manure can also cause unpleasant odours, such as ammonia, to develop.

Proper manure storage facilities are important. Once proper manure storage and handling facilities have been designed and constructed, they can be used yearly.

Step 1: Site Selection

Selecting an appropriate location for storing manure is an important first step in the design and construction process. The Agricultural Operation Practices Act (AOPA) provides both permanent and short-term storage standards that apply to all livestock production, including horses. Anyone who handles and stores manure must consider setbacks, water tables and flooding areas.

Whether a formal storage facility or a simple free-standing manure pile is planned, several factors must be considered for its location.

  • Protect water sources: In Alberta, manure cannot be stored within 100 metres of any spring or water well or within 30 metres of any open body of water. Contamination of surface water, groundwater and any common body of water must be avoided.
  • Topography: Manure storage facilities should be located where there is minimal runoff potential to reduce the risk of surface water contamination. Depressed areas, where water tends to pool, should also be avoided.
  • Accessibility: Ensure there is ample room to manoeuvre machinery around the storage area.
  • Aesthetics: If possible, locate manure storage facilities out of sight of and downwind from public places and neighbouring residences.

As of January 1, 2002, amendments to the Agricultural Operation Practices Act (AOPA) brought major changes to livestock management in the province. AOPA is Alberta’s legislation governing new and expanding confined feeding operations and is administered and enforced by the Natural Resources Conservation Board. AOPA presents management standards for manure storage and handling, nutrient management and record keeping. 

LINK: For more information on AOPA and how it pertains to your operation, the Agricultural Operation Practices Act and associated Regulations are posted on Alberta Agriculture, Food and Rural Development’s website. The Act and Regulations can also be printed from the website. Why is legislation used to establish requirements for manure storage and handling?

Step 2: Design and Layout

The design of any manure storage and handling facility will depend on the following factors:

Volume of Manure Produced

The number of horses, the type of feed and the type and amount of bedding used will determine the amount of manure produced in each operation. 

The density of horse manure (urine + feces) is 1 tonne/m3. So, 23 kg of manure would occupy 22 litres. The addition of bedding can easily double or triple this volume. The volume may also vary depending on the management practices.

Length of Storage

Length of storage will depend on the intended use of the manure. For example, if the manure is to be used as a fertilizer, storage facilities must be able to store all the manure until the appropriate time of application, which can be up to six months or more. As a general rule, the longer the intended storage time, the larger the storage facility required.

Large horse boarding operations (10 or more horses) with insufficient land base available for the use of all the waste produced would benefit from a permanent storage facility. Conversely, smaller operations (less than 10 horses) with sufficient land base available for manure application may store manure as a free-standing manure pile, rather than building a formal storage facility.


To determine the daily volume of waste produced:

  1. Multiply 26 litres times the number of horses on your farm. Remember to adjust upwards if bedding is included. (e.g., 1 part manure: 1 part bedding = 52 litres/horse/day)
  2. Then multiply the daily volume times the number of days the manure is to be stored.
  3. Take the cubed root of the total storage volume required and work from there to determine suitable dimensions.

Calculation tip! Count the number of wheelbarrow loads collected each day, and multiply by the estimated volume of each load to determine the volume of waste produced.

Step 3: Construction

Once the location of the manure storage area has been selected and a design determined, construction can begin. The types of materials used in the construction are important considerations: 

  1. Proper flooring will prevent contaminants from leaching into groundwater. A concrete slab or well-compacted soils high in clay, but low in sand or gravel, are suitable flooring materials. 
  2. Concrete, tightly fitted wood planks or cinder blocks can be used for constructing walls. 
  3. Storage facilities that have walls will contain the manure pile and will facilitate the use of equipment necessary to handle the manure.
  4. Constructing a roof or covering the manure pile with a tarpaulin or heavy plastic will reduce runoff and seepage from the storage area. 

Leaving the storage area open may be suitable in some low precipitation regions of Alberta, but this approach is not recommended. Covering the pile will reduce the risk of producing contaminated runoff. If, however, contaminated runoff becomes an issue:

  • Collect and contain the runoff by constructing a catch basin
  • Filter through a serpentine grassed waterway, grassed or treed filter strip
  • Disperse on cropland.

Manure must be contained to prevent contamination from the manure from leaching into groundwater. Freestanding manure piles should be constructed on top of a concrete pad or heavy clay soil. In addition, consider covering the pile with a tarp and berming the storage area to divert clean runoff and contain contaminated runoff.

Information adapted with permission from “Manure and Pasture Management for Horse Owners", Manure Storage & Handling, Alberta Agriculture, Food and Rural Development. 
Excerpts from the Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Equines (2013) have been used with permission, Equine Canada and the National Farm Animal Care Council. The process for the development of Codes can be accessed through the National Farm Animal Care Council.

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