Keep Your Barn Environmentally Friendly

Making your barn more environmentally friendly makes good business sense.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture has Cooperative Extension programs across the country.  Congress created the Extension system nearly a century ago to address exclusively rural, agricultural issues. At that time, more than 50 percent of the U.S. population lived in rural areas, and 30 percent of the workforce was engaged in farming. Today, fewer than 2 percent of Americans farm for a living today, and only 17 percent of Americans now live in rural areas.  But Extension agents still serve a purpose by helping farmers grow crops and small farm owners plan and maintain their acreage.

mudd and manure HorsesForCleanWaterMany states have an Extension programs and can provide a wealth of information to barn managers.  Two of the ways that can help keep your farm environmentally friendly are through mud and manure management.  The first thing they suggested is to put gutters on your barn or any outbuildings.  Rain can make a waterfall off the sides and front and rapidly turn the openings into mud.  With this easy fix of gutters directing water away from the openings, going in and out of the barn is a much easier process.  Another option is to collect the water from the gutters and store it in a rain barrel to irrigate your garden or pasture in the summer.

Remember that Classic Equine Equipment’s collection of rubber stall mats and it innovative Stable-ity grid system can also options to keeping your farm mud-free.

The second suggestion is to establish a sacrifice area for the horses during the wet, winter months.  By keeping them off most of the pasture when the grass is easily destroyed by hoofs, it allows them to have much more useable pasture the following summer.   To keep pastures healthy during the summer, they also suggest rotational grazing.  Using simple temporary fencing, horses are moved around the pasture each week, never allowing them to graze down more than 4 inches.  Once the horses are moved off that pasture, it is given a chance to rest and regrow before the horses are put back on.  To keep the horses and pasture healthy, manure is picked up every day in the stalls, paddocks and sacrifice area, and the pastures are dragged weekly to break up and spread the manure for fertilizer. 

A horse can produce over 50 pounds of manure each day.  One of the best ways to turn manure after composting MillCreekSpreadersmanure into a valuable commodity is to compost it.  Compost, a combination of manure and other materials, is an excellent natural fertilizer.  Once composted, you can give it away to friends who want to naturally fertilize their gardens, sell it to nurseries, or keep it yourself for your own garden.   By taking what can be a nuisance around the farm and turning it into an income producing resource, you are literally “taking lemons and making lemonade!”

Photo credit: Horses for Clean Water, Mill Creek Spreader
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Fall Pasture Management Practices

barn with rolling hills propertyA sustainable pasture depends on proper management of both the fertility needs of the soil and good management of grazing animals.  One of the most critical periods is fall.  Management decisions made at this time can have a strong effect on the plant’s ability to overwinter, which then determines when new growth begins in the spring and how much total growth will be produced over the entire season. 

Overgrazing of pastures in the fall is one of the most damaging think you can do to help support to the root system’s ability to rebuild and the formation of new grass shoots for spring growth.  This is also a time when plant root systems are rebuilding from summer shedding.  Growing points are developing in the fall to provide next spring’s growth.  These young grass shoots, or tillers, are much like babies.  Both need a steady supply of nutrients and protection from overgrazing.  In the fall, nutrients are supplied from the previous season’s tillers.  If pastures are grazed or mowed lower than 3-4 inches in the fall, these reserves are reduced and the new tillers are starved.  Usually root formation will slow or stop and the tillers will grow slower and have fewer roots in the next spring.

Allowing animals to graze throughout the fall without pasture management results in horse sacrifice area HorsesForCleanWaterincreased bare areas that are prone to the encroachment of weeds.  Keeping animals off wet pastures is another way to keep pastures healthy.  Livestock on wet pastures kill grass, compact soils and create mud.  A better idea is to create a sacrifice area for your livestock during the winter. Create an enclosure such as a paddock or pen during wet months, thereby sacrificing a small portion of your pasture for the benefit of the remaining pasture.  Installing mud-free footing, e.g. sand or gravel,  in your sacrifice area will keep your animals happier and healthier than standing in mud.  Be sure to remove manure every 1-3 days to keep footing materials from becoming contaminated.

Fall is also a great time to take soil samples to test the fertility of the pasture soil.  Soil test should be taken during the same month each month for consistency.  Early fall is also a good time to apply nutrients based on your soil test.  Manure or other sources of nitrogen can be applied. But take care not to apply too much nitrogen – it can cause grass to grow too vigorously in the fall, making them more susceptible to winter damage. 

Post summer is a tough time to turn horses out on pasture if don’t want to have to have to renovate in the spring.  But a few simple adjustments in the fall can keep your pastures lush and healthy for next spring.

photo credits: Classic Equine Equipment, Horses For Clean Water

Feeding Your Horse With Less Hay

 

hay-balesThe most basic of feeds for your horse (forage) is sometimes the hardest to find available.  Recent high temperatures and little rain, sometimes followed by too much rain, play havoc with farmers and their crops.  These crops especially include corn, oats and, most importantly, hay.  When a tough growing season hits, horse owners can expect hay prices to rise and continue rising over the next year.  Hay may also become scarce and of lower quality.

Forage hay and pasture is necessary to provide fiber to help keep the horse’s gut health intact. Forage should represent 1.5% to 2% of a horse’s bodyweight in roughage.  If hay becomes scarce, a fiber alternative such as beet pulp can be used.  Bridgett McIntosh, PhD, assistant professor and horse extension specialist at the University of Tennessee, says beet pulp is widely available and nutritious. “The nutrient content of beet pulp is similar to good quality forage and one pound of beet pulp has the same amount of calories as one pound of oats.”

McIntosh also feels that soybean hulls are another option. A soybean processing by-product, soybean hull pellets have a similar nutrient composition as good quality hay and can be used to replace up to 75% of hay in a horse’s diet.  She goes on to caution that any changes to your horse’s diet should be made gradually.forage-cubes

Sarah Ralston, VMD, PhD, Dipl. ACVN, associate professor in the Rutgers University Department of Animal Sciences, suggests that horse owners also consider hay-based cubes as an alternate source of forage.

To ensure that your horse is receiving all his daily nutrients that he may have normally obtained from hay or pasture, Carey Williams, PhD, extension specialist in equine management at Rutgers University recommends adding a grain supplement with concentrated levels of protein, vitamins, and minerals.  Some “complete feeds” are meant to be fed WITH forage so be sure to check the labels and find one that is a “stand alone” product.

Remember, too, this winter that horses, especially older horses who may not move around as much, use the digestion of hay to help them keep warm.  You may want to consider blanketing this winter if forage is in short supply.

In addition, if you keep your horses on pasture, be sure to use good pasture management practices.  Routine mowing and harrowing of the pastures to keep pastures nutritious and parasite free are important.  Using rotational grazing (moving horses from pasture to pasture when the grass gets overgrazed) will also keep your pastures healthy.  Remember to set up a sacrifice area this winter to keep horses from trampling your pasture when it is wet.  Hoofs can do a lot of damage to wet ground and next spring you may end up with more weeds than pasture.

Finally, if you find that the quality of hay in your area isn’t what your horse is used to, you may want to consider having your veterinarian do a dental exam and possible teeth floating on your horse.  If you end up having to feed your horse more “stemmy” hay, your horse may have difficulty chewing and digesting it and this can lead to colic.hay-storage

If you find a good supply of hay in your area and have room to store it, it’s not too early to start stockpiling hay for winter feeding.  One of the best ways to avoid worrying about having enough hay is to plan ahead.