Mike and Linda Stabler of Waterloo are two creative people who recognized a need shared with many other horse owners and met it with technical innovation in a market that underwent little change for generations.

There are 203,000 horses in Indiana, according to a recent study commissioned by the American Horse Council Foundation, with an estimated direct effect of $779 million on the state’s economy. Additionally, there are more than 9 million horses throughout the United States, many living on small farms with only one to four of these animals.

In 2004, the Stablers launched their own business, designing and manufacturing rotary manure spreaders for small horse farms. The difficulties in using traditional manure spreaders were many, including the significant effort required to lift up to 75 pounds of manure into the machines. When deposited, the manure often would clog the opening at the bottom of the spreader until cleared by the farmer.

These conventional spreaders usually operated with gears, belts and chains that could break or wear, increasing maintenance costs. These moving parts also could become choked with fecal matter, uneaten hay or wet bedding.

The manure that was successfully distributed onto a field or pasture would be spread in large clumps, requiring weeks or months to break down and becoming part of the ground cover. These clumps would increase the likelihood of flies and worms breeding, endangering livestock and farm residents.

Alternatively, to better prepare the manure for uniform spreading in small bits, it often would be deposited in large piles to decompose for months, thereby requiring that some location on the farm be dedicated to this purpose. Because flies and other parasites can travel considerable distances, the health hazards of these manure heaps could become substantial if in close proximity to horses and other farm animals.

In recent years, several manufacturers have improved upon the traditional design for small manure spreaders. These newer devices reduced the number of moving parts and increased ease of use. Nevertheless, many of the basic shortcomings in operation and maintenance remained immutable, seemingly beyond our capacity to overcome.

Then one day six years ago, Linda Stabler was inspired to use a rotary drum device for spreading manure. Her design is ground driven. As the wheels turn the drum, the manure placed inside the rotating barrel is broken into small pieces by the circular motion and a beater bar and then released through the hundreds of small mesh openings in the steel lattice forming the sides of the cylinder.

The result: a fine layer of manure resembling peat moss in consistency is spread quickly across the ground, needing only a few days to enrich the soil with its nutrients while reducing the dangers of flies and other nuisances. Further, these layers can be deposited with much greater precision than with standard spreaders.

Because the rotary machine has no belts, chains or gears, it requires a minimum of maintenance. Produced in several models, the smallest version is only 31 inches wide, allowing the farmer to maneuver it through places where larger devices cannot fit.

Manure can be mixed with hay and other materials without any loss in performance. And because the drum rotates, the user can open and lock it at whatever height is most convenient – making the chore of filling the spreader with manure incredibly easy.

After Linda Stabler developed the concept, her husband, Mike, used his knowledge of fabrication methods and his home workshop to create prototypes, refining the design into the commercial forms now available from their firm. The response from horse owners has been gratifying, demonstrating that a better idea will be embraced by the market, even in application areas that seem to be fully developed.