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The source is the horse, of course

Colorado companies blaze a trail by taking what is left behind

Horse manure gets a bad rap. Not only because it is, well… manure… but also due to a reputation for weed seeds when used on pastures, fields, gardens, etc. A pair of related Colorado companies — Colorado Manure Hauling (CMH) and Richer Lands Compost — is looking to change that perception by becoming one of the only, if not THE only, business combination in the country to perform the hauling and composting of equine waste to create a high-quality compost for commercial and residential use. While other businesses compost horse manure, they blend it with other organics. It is believed that CMH and Richer Lands Compost are the only ones to use equine waste as a single-source for their final product.

“We’re the only operation that I know of that has a 100% feedstock — with no diversity of that source — composts it and then sells it,” said Jonathan Whetstine, compost manager of Richer Lands Compost. “We own the hauling and now the composting. We are full circle with no middle men.”

A Colorado Manure Hauling truck and loader clean up a horse property in Elbert County. There has been such explosive demand for their services, that CMH owner Roger Whetstine believes they could easily expand from their current five trucks to eight full-time trucks and drivers in the near future. "If I had eight trucks right now, I would be happy," said Whetstine with a laugh.

Jonathan and his father, Roger Whetstine, man the helms at both companies. Roger runs the CMH manure hauling side and Jonathan heads Richer Lands Compost. The duo began horse manure hauling in 2014 after purchasing a client list, but it was desperation that led them to create Richer Lands Compost. As the old saying goes, “necessity is the mother of invention.”



“We hit our third truck, hired a third guy and got hauling,” said Jonathan about how their hauling business was growing fast to keep up with increasing demand in their region (south to Hwy 24, north to Watkins, east to Kiowa, and west to I-25, and including Castle Rock, Sedalia and Cherry Hills in Denver). “(A landscape company) just piled it for us, but they ran out of room. We were there four times a day, each truck, so it was a constant supply and they had to keep up with us.”

SCRAMBLE TIME



Once that facility stopped accepting, the Whetstines had to scramble.

“Before we started composting, I was looking all over the country and asking (other manure haulers), ‘okay, what do you do?’ recalled Roger about juggling massive demand for hauling equine waste with a scarce supply of dumping locations. “Every one of them, the No. 1 issue was where are you dumping it? We had kind of seen it coming, but it came a whole lot quicker than we were ready for.”

Faced with the possibility of closing their business despite a waiting list of customers, Jonathan explored commercial composting as a means to solve their dumping issues and create a saleable product. While the long term was positive, the initial obstacles seemed overwhelming.

Jonathan Whetstine pushes a thermometer into an unfinished horse manure compost row to demonstrate the row's heat temperature and the science behind using the windrow method for Richer Lands Compost's equine waste. "We are using science," said Whetstine. "We are regulated, we have a full process. So that historical data of 'horse manure is bad' is not true."

“We had discussed composting at that point and it was too much,” said Jonathan of regulations and expenses. “I read this big rule book from the Colorado Department of Health and I was just like, we don’t have $2 million to build a site. I was thinking we were done.”

But where there is a will, there is a way. Forging ahead, he found U.S. Department of Agriculture and Environmental Protection Agency guidelines that provided hope.

SEIZING THE OPPORTUNITY

“I learned some rules that changed the game,” Jonathan explained. “We are considered agricultural feedstock, so we are registered under the USDA, (which is) a whole different game. I now had an opportunity.”

Seizing that opportunity, the Whetstines carved out acreage to receive the equine waste and set up commercial composting. They began with the tried and true windrow method, using a large Aeromaster turner and following scientific guidelines to cook and cure the windrows into finished compost. Included in those regulations were mandated sampling and testing protocols.

Roger Whetstine, left, started Colorado Manure Hauling in 2014 after purchasing the client list. From humble beginnings of hoping to provide an income for his family and his son Jonathan's family, the Whetstine's have experienced enormous growth and are currently up to five trucks hauling horse manure (four of their own plus a subcontractor) and a new composting business that is also undergoing rapid expansion. "What we have found is that there is a bigger demand... than what we anticipated," Roger said in December of 2021 as he worked at loading up and hauling away horse manure for a client in Elbert County, Colorado.

“I have to test it and send in samples to the lab,” said Jonathan about testing the compost as well as protecting nearby surface water. “I have to look at my lab results and look at my parameters.”

Fast forward several years from their scrambling start and they are now producing a compost that is lab tested at less than 1% weed and seed germination and selling to commercial landscape clients like long-time Parker, Colo., companies Hughes Landscaping, Inc. and The Sod Guy.

Showing the scale of what they are already doing on their initial four-acre operation south of Elbert, Colo., Jonathan Whetstine stands in front of a finished pile of horse-manure compost that Richer Lands Compost will sell to both commercial and residential customers.

“It is fantastic,” praised founder Kurt Hughes, who now contracts with Richer Lands Compost. Although Hughes was initially skeptical of a horse-based product due to its historic reputation, he is a happy customer. “No problems whatsoever,” Hughes continued. “A lot of people that do horse manure, they just throw it in a pile and leave it there for four or five years, and it still doesn’t look as good as if you roll it, cool it, add water to it, and the different things they do to make it very nice.”

CONQUERING THE CITY MARKET

The horse-based compost also had to pass strict metro ordinances.

“There are a lot of cities out there like Aurora and Denver and Castle Rock that you have to have certified compost to install in some of these yards,” added Hughes. “They sent it to them and we sent it to them (and) they both came back and said that is beautiful stuff to use in our cities. That is a big step right there.”

Richer Lands Compost owner and manager Jonathan Whetstine, right, talks to an employee while the tractor creeps ahead during the turning of horse manure compost windrows. An Aeromaster turner is attached to the tractor and not only completely turns over the windrow, but also applies moisture and nutrients to the windrow while it does so.

For 2022, CMH and Richer Lands Compost are expanding the compost side of their business, already procuring land and developing it with contractors and the county government. While compost does not narrowly target soil deficiencies the way chemical fertilizer does, the Whetstines believe their product can fill a long-term need arising due to shortages and skyrocketing fertilizer costs reported in the news today.

“It is a full circle look at growing,” said Jonathan as he acknowledged the scale issues for large farms to use compost. “It is hard to treat large farms with compost, (but) compost isn’t just bringing nutrients; it is also creating a home for everything that helps plants flourish — the microbiology, the fungi. Not only do you want the immediate benefits, but you want a long term house to where things come in and grow and benefit the plants. It is a long game.”

That long game also includes helping horse owners understand their equine waste is a boon versus a bane.

Multiple windrows in various stages of cooking and curing are lined up in the current four-acre Richer Lands Compost property in Elbert County Colorado. Richer Lands Compost will be expanding operations in 2022, already procuring more property where it will start with 16-acres set aside for composting horse manure brought in by its Colorado Manure Hauling sister company. "When we get the bigger spot, we can bring in more manure," said Jonathan Whetstine. "We still need to hire more trucks and sell more compost, but from what I have seen in this market and economy, it is not going to be an issue."

“To haul off manure helps the horse community,” said Jonathan. “It helps keep good neighbors, it helps everything and we want to keep horse people here because we like that mentality. In the future, when we expand, we will be accepting horse waste. If people haven’t budgeted for manure hauling, they can bring it to our location for a less expensive dump charge. For a bigger barn that already has employees and equipment, if they have a way to transport it, just bring it over for a smaller dump fee. And maybe we can help alleviate the environmental pressure of having their horse manure pile up on their property. So there are all kinds of ripple effects. And it is all just horse!” he summed up with a laugh. “It just kind of proves the power of the horse.”

For more information on CMH and Richer Lands Compost, telephone is (303) 646-4879, emails are Coloradomanurehauling@gmail.com and Richerlandscompost@gmail.com. On the web at http://www.Coloradomanurehauling.com, and they are also on Facebook and Instagram.

The business name and number on the cab of Colorado Manure Hauling's trucks also include the good-natured logo "Only a good friend takes your crap."

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