Early society depended on horses for transportation, farming and other tasks before the engine and the use of fossil fuels dominated industries around the world. Horses benefited the environment during that time as a cleaner source of energy than gas-powered cars. Today, the environment and Earth still benefit from horses, especially as horse owners and farms adopt more environmentally friendly practices.
Here’s three ways horses help the environment and make Earth a better place.
Horses produce renewable energy and resources
Manure is a horse’s main renewable resource. It’s also become a source of renewable energy for farms and power companies with an interest in green energy.
A horse produces 9.1 tons of manure each year. Farms across the U.S. and the U.K. set up and maintain manure management programs, per their state or local government requirements.
Designed to prevent water and air pollution, manure management programs also promote how to best use manure as a fertilizer to improve soil quality and productivity.
Horse manure, as a fertilizer, increases nutrients, like nitrogen and phosphorus, within the soil. A healthier soil allows more water and nutrients to be retained in the ground, which leads to a more productive soil.
Natural fertilizer, like livestock manure, also helps prevent soil erosion and runoff by strengthening the soil and encouraging the growth of vegetation, like grasses.
Use of horse manure as fertilizer, versus purchase of a commercial fertilizer, saves energy. Commercial fertilizers undergo several steps before reaching consumers, from manufacturing to transporting the fertilizer to vendors. Farms, however, produce and process fertilizer on the property and transport it to their fields.
Environmental policies, like required manure management plans, encourage the use of livestock digesters or anaerobic manure digesters, also known as biogas.
Biogas breakdown manure into methane, which then produces heat or electricity. Because a biogas is airtight, it prevents the release of methane into the atmosphere as a greenhouse gas, which cuts air pollution, and instead uses it to generate power.
Farms using biogas as a renewable energy source also have the option, based on their production, of selling the green energy to power companies. Certain power companies even offer consumers the option to exclusively purchase green or clean energy.
Similar to how biogas prevent air pollution, water contamination is prevented because manure is contained and separated from potential areas of runoff. As a result, waterways and groundwater sources are inaccessible.
Water pollution prevention is essential in manure management plans, as pathogens, organic matter and unnecessary nutrients can transfer to water sources through manure. Polluted water sources impact not only people, but can also spread illnesses among a herd of animals.
Policies like manure management plans, as well as the initiative of horse owners, contribute to equines’ role as a source of renewable, clean energy and a resource for supporting the land.
Horses preserve grasslands
Rotational grazing is a great tool for preserving grasslands. The process is simple, and a key component to how horses contribute to smart perennial grassland management.
Horses, or other livestock, are rotated between pastures. Rotational grazing prevents overgrazing and encourages grass to grow. Overgrazed grass struggles to grow and establish itself in a pasture, which often results in soil erosion and runoff.
Grasslands optimized for growth through rotational grazing also prevent erosion because of their established root systems.
Manure management also relates to grassland management and preservation. Rotational grazing allows manure to decompose while the horses are in another pasture. The broken-down manure provides key nutrients to the soil, which optimizes the growth of grass.
Grasslands also benefit from anaerobic digester fertilizer. Because anaerobic digesters often break down seeds found in horse manure, the seeds won’t return to the field, which is beneficial for farmers focused on maintaining pastures without any other vegetation.
Used for all types of livestock, horses and rotational grazing have exclusively been used for restoring and building grasslands in the Western United States.
Well-managed, and utilized, grasslands also reduce the growth of brush and the chance for fires. Because vegetation growth in grasslands is sometimes managed by controlled fires, rotational grazing with horses can remove this process and the potential risks with using controlled burns.
Grassland management through horses has expanded to include more than farms, such as areas of conservation and/or rural landscapes, where grassland management techniques are effective and support the local ecosystem.
Horses support local ecosystems
Horses, wild or semi-feral horses especially, continue to benefit local ecosystems and habitats. As a grazing animal, horses create a mosaic pattern in their feeding area.
This pattern of tall and short grasses benefits smaller animals, like rabbits, deer and pheasants, which rely on taller grasses for homes or safety.
Habitats of animals are also maintained through a horse’s grazing, which prevents the area from becoming overgrown and limited in use for certain species.
Like birds, horses also disperse or spread seeds. Seeds germinate well after passing through a horse’s digestive system and benefit from manure, which boosts their growth. Spreading seeds throughout a habitat, horses encourage its continued growth and establishment.
Horses also build an ecosystem’s biodiversity. Grazing horses focus on grasses, which protects the growth of other plants, like flowers.
Plants and flowers also receive assistance from horses through the trampling of uneaten and often unwanted vegetation, like weeds. Once the vegetation is dead, plants and flowers don’t have to compete with it for valuable nutrients, water and other resources.
Grasslands are not the only ecosystem benefitting from horses. Wetlands are home to hardier horses, like the Konik breed.
Scotland recently introduced Koniks to their wetlands to eat vegetation. Previously, machinery was used to cut down the growth.
Horses help the environment in many ways. Governments, farms and horse owners continue to develop new ways to reduce pollution from farms and livestock, while generating green energy and managing farm and rural land in a way that’s effective and environmentally friendly.
This is a guest post written by Kate Harveston.
Kate Harveston is a freelance writer and blogger. Her writing focuses on politics and the environment, with a particular emphasis on social change. You can follow her writing by visiting her blog, Only Slightly Biased.