Monday, March 12, 2018

Aerated Compost: Spreading

This is the third post in my series about aerated compost. For part one on building the compost bins, click here. For part two on the composting process itself, click here.

One key feature of a composting system is a way to use or to dispose of the compost. Some people find that they can give away or even sell compost to local gardeners and farmers. My plan from the beginning was to spread it on my own pasture because the whole point of composting for me was self-sufficiency.

When to spread:

You can spread your aerated compost safely as soon as it has heated up enough to kill weed seeds and parasites (monitor your temps so you know when this happens!). The longer it is able to "cure," the better it will be; it will start to look less like manure and stall waste and more like uniform, dark, crumbly mulch. I never really have time to let this happen so I spread one bin as soon as the second fills up and I need the first available again.

Because the compost gets so hot, in theory there's no reason you can't spread it on pasture that your horses are currently grazing (unlike fresh, un-composted manure, which can present health risks). Personally, I still prefer to spread it in sections of the pasture that are currently resting. (Although I only have 3 acres of pasture, it's divided into three sections for rotational grazing; see more about cross-fencing here and the benefits of rotation here). I try to spread compost on a section that I have just started resting, so it has some time to work into the soil before the horses are back on it.

Keep in mind that it's bad for the environment (and wasteful of your precious compost) to spread before heavy rains or snowmelt, or when the ground is frozen. The compost will run off and the nutrients will end up in the nearest lake or river, fertilizing algae blooms instead of your grass. Winter spreading is even against the law in some places! (Penn State offers some winter spreading best practices that you might want to review.) So, if you are going to compost find out what your local regulations are and come up with a plan for the winter (like giving it away or stockpiling it until spring).

How to spread (equipment):

Really the only efficient way to spread large quantities of compost is a manure spreader. If you have a lot of time and/or patience and/or muscles, you might devise some other method like forking it out of the bed of a pickup truck or filling your tractor bucket 1,000 times, but I don' I bought a manure spreader.

There are two basic types of dry manure spreaders, ground-driven and PTO-driven. Ground-driven basically means that the rotation of the wheels powers the spreading action. PTO is powered by your tractor's engine. A quick Google search will reveal that people have lots of opinions on which is best. I initially leaned towards ground-driven because they're somewhat less expensive and seem to have less mechanical complexity (I thought they might be less likely to break/require service). However, with a PTO spreader you can control the spreading rate better and ground-driven spreaders may tear up the ground more or take more passes to empty. You can also empty a PTO spreader at a standstill (for example, if you want/need to stockpile your compost before spreading). Ultimately I decided to go with a PTO spreader.

My original plan was to buy a used spreader. There are a ton of them out there that you can find at local dealers or online (try Unfortunately, I hit a snag. Most of the used manure spreaders out there are on the large side, and my 23-horsepower Kubota didn't have the power for them. I looked high and low for several months but could not find a used spreader small enough for my tractor to pull and yet large enough to handle my compost in a reasonable number of loads. Ultimately, I had to give up and buy a new spreader, which made the whole composting project much more expensive than I had planned (I had already bought the O2 Compost system and built the bins at this point, so there was no turning back).

I chose a 50-cubic-foot PTO-drive ABI, which was delivered to my farm on a flatbed truck. It was all shiny and new and poop-free! (For about a week...) Here is it's inaugural load:

This spreader cost around $4,500 including delivery, which is much more than I had originally intended to spend. The (very old, as in 30+ years in some cases) used spreaders I saw locally were plentiful in the $1,000-2,000 range but sadly, I would need to upgrade my tractor. ABI's 25- to 65-cubic-foot spreaders range from about $3,000 to $5,000.

To fill the spreader, I park it near the bins and use the front loader to dump the compost in. At a certain point, my front loader can't reach anymore or I start interfering with the aeration pipes, so I have to start using a shovel. It's back-breaking work that is even less pleasant in the summer.

My ABI is easy to operate but doesn't spread super evenly. I'd say about 50-70% of the compost just drops out the end gate, directly behind the spreader. The rest is spun by the beaters and flies off to the sides.

Because the spreader concentrates most of the compost in narrow lines, I typically drag the field with my chain harrow after spreading. I try to drag perpendicular to the spreader trails so everything gets more evenly distributed. I do wish I didn't have to do this though! This may be how all spreaders work--I'm not sure.

The spreading process is easily the most labor-intensive phase of the composting process, but it can bring benefits to your land by returning nutrients to it.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Feeding for Weight Gain: Cost Comparisons

I've always had pretty easy keepers but recently acquired a lease horse who works quite hard and needs a lot more feed than I'm used to providing. I analyzed the diet he was on before he came to me and came up with one using my preferred brand of feeds that was better or comparable in every dimension except fat. For a couple months I fed him that diet (1.5 lbs of Triple Crown 30% and 3 lbs of Triple Crown Senior plus 1 lb of alfalfa cubes and free choice hay), thinking he might not need the same amount of fat with me riding him as with his owner, who is a professional trainer. When he started looking a little ribby, I researched the best ways to add fat back into his diet.

There are lots of options, including adding or increasing: an appropriate hard or complete feed, oil (vegetable, rice bran, cocosoya oil), rice bran, flax seed, black oil sunflower seeds, or calorie/fat supplements like Cool Calories. They have different nutritional profiles, pros/cons, and of course costs. More educated people than me have written about the nutritional profiles and pros/cons of these different options so I will not go into that in detail (see the always awesome Understanding Horse Nutrition to start), but what I will share is the cost analysis I performed for the options I considered.

It's easy to figure out how much these options cost per day but to compare apples to apples, you have to also consider how many of your desired nutrients each option provides. Therefore I calculated the cost of four different options per kilocalorie (1,000 calories or 1 Calorie), per gram of fat, and per gram of protein. The options I considered were increasing his TC Senior, adding Legends rice bran, adding canola oil, or adding Cool Calories (a powdered fat supplement). I also considered whether these options provided balanced nutrition or not. Here's what I came up with (click to enlarge if needed):

Red indicates highest costs per unit and green indicates lowest. Of course, costs vary by store and region but these were the costs pertinent to me in the Mid-Atlantic area. The canola oil price was from an online restaurant supply store that sold it for a better price than local stores, but I have heard that Costco is an excellent source too (I'm not a member).

I ultimately decided to try rice bran because 1) the horse had been on it before successfully, 2) oil is messy, 3) it adds protein as well as fat/calories, and 4) it checked the most boxes as far as cost. Since it's not a balanced feedstuff by itself, I checked his new diet in my old standby nutrition spreadsheet (pictured here) to make sure it would not throw off any mineral ratios or cause other disturbances. Good to go!

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Aerated Compost: the Composting Process

This post is the second in a series about composting stall waste, specifically with an aerated compost system by O2 Compost. For details on the construction of the compost bins, click here.

The idea behind aerated compost is that you can reduce composting time and the need to turn the pile (a major timesaver!) by introducing air into the system. O2 Compost says it better than I do so, in their words: "The oxygen stimulates the microorganisms that are already in the mix, and their by-product is heat. In a properly operated compost system, pile temperatures are sufficient to pasteurize the raw material and dramatically reduce offensive odors. High temperatures also destroy fly larvae and weed seeds. This means that the result of this process is safe, high-quality soil enhancement that supports healthy plant growth." O2 Compost advertises results in 30 to 60 days.

Quick turnaround time is important if, like me, you have limited space for your compost bins. You don't want to wait months for the waste to compost because your horses aren't going to stop eating and pooping if you run out of space.

I was worried that even a 6'x6'x4' bin would fill up faster than the other one could compost. I currently have one more horse than I ever planned for (ha, they do say not to build a bigger barn than you need or you will fill it with horses) and all three of my horses are pretty big. The extra horse is temporary but could be here for a year or more, so I needed to plan for that.

I talked the whole thing through ad nauseam with the people at O2 Compost before I decided to take the plunge. They assured me that although your compost will get better if it sits 30-60 days or longer, the critical temperatures needed to kill pathogens are typically reached within a week, so a shorter timeframe produces compost that is safe to spread on your own fields, though not something anyone else would want.

Let's fast forward now to late April, when my first bin filled up 29 days after it received its inaugural load. During that time, it was used for the stall waste of three large warmblood horses of about 1,500-1,700 lbs each and a mini-donkey. They were out on pasture from about 7 am to 5 pm (longer on nice days) and inside overnight, so the bin was used for 14 hours of waste per day.

O2 Compost recommends covering a full bin with six inches of clean material to insulate the waste from moisture and temperature variations, reduce odor, and reduce fly activity. I used two 8-cubic-foot bags of "premium pine shavings" from Tractor Supply, because they're less expensive than the fine shavings I like to use for stalls, and less likely to mix into the composted material. O2 Compost instructs you to keep this layer damp, so I sprayed it with the hose as I filled it.

I was impressed by how well the lids kept the top layer from drying out, something I was worried about as the heat of summer approached. We also got a lot of rain in the first few weeks after the bin filled, and I'm very glad I had the lids to keep most of that out. Apparently if your waste gets too waterlogged it will not compost and the only way to fix that is to remove it from the bin and spread it out to dry--what a hassle. No, thanks!

I was also pleasantly surprised by how the flies had zero interest in the full bin after I added the top layer of clean shavings.

After I filled it and covered it in a cozy blanket of pine shavings, I was a bad compost mom to this first load. I went out of town right after filling it, so I did not take temperature readings like I was supposed to. I also didn't feel like asking the farmsitter to water my compost in addition to all the other things she had to do for the living, breathing animals, so I just hoped for the best. Thankfully, as I've said, the lids did a great job maintaining the correct moisture content despite inches of rain.

The moment of truth came on June 13th, when the second bin was full and I had to empty the first one so I'd have somewhere to put new waste. I was pleased with how much the materials had "reduced" during composting. Here are some photos of what the materials--okay, let's go ahead and call it compost now--looked like after 51 days of composting:

The composting process has considerably reduced the volume of the waste.

The very top layer of the shavings looked dry, but just below the surface they were nice and damp.

Look, a mushroom! That's supposed to be a good sign. I found quite a few of these suckers in there. (No, I did not eat any of them.)
Here's the compost after I scraped off as much of the clean shavings as I could, to be reused on the second bin. (Partially because I hate waste, partially because I'm frugal, and partially because I didn't want to spread more uncomposted woody materials on my pasture than necessary.) I'd say there's about 60-70% of the original volume remaining. I was a little anxious about opening the doors but it held its shape and did not bury me in an avalanche of sh!t.

The innards of the pile. Some parts of it looked dark and uniform like compost is supposed to. Others just looked like well-aged stall waste. I suppose it wasn't the best batch of compost anyone has ever made but hey, it was my first attempt. On the plus side, almost none of it smelled like stall waste. It wasn't pleasantly earthy, but it wasn't offensive either so that must be a good sign.

Emptying the bin was kind of brutal, especially since I did it on the two hottest days of the year so far. The tractor bucket could only help so much because the bin was deeper than the front-loader could reach, and I couldn't scrape all the way to the ground because of the aeration tubes. I had to shovel two spreader loads out by hand (by back?). Still, it was very satisfying to get it all out of there and spread it on the field.

Speaking of spreading, stay tuned for more details on that!

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Aerated Compost: Bin Construction

I recently installed a two-bin O2 compost system. Here are some construction photos!

The bins are close enough to the barn to make stall cleaning more convenient.

The site for the new compost bins. The retaining wall and ramp were already in place from when there was a dumpster there. I can push the wheelbarrow up the ramp to dump it into the bins from above.

We started with a new asphalt pad to provide a nice level site and make clean-up easier.

This is the first bin before the doors were installed. The PVC pipes (perforated on the underside) are for aeration and the 4x4's next to them are to protect them from the loader when I empty the bin.

Here's the first box with the doors on, from the outside...

...and from the inside.

This is the blower motor that does the aeration magic. 4" PVC valves are $$$$ so I put in separate pipes to each bin and I will just move the blower back and forth when I switch from one bin to the next every month or two.

Here are both bins, finished with lids to keep the moisture content steady.

The hinged lids open easily for dumping and emptying.
The bins are 6' wide by 6' deep by 4' high. The lids are made out of Suntuf polycarbonate roofing panels.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Interpreting Hay Analysis

I finally had my hay tested! This is something I've been wanting to do but since I don't have any "special needs" horses, it was on the back burner. Plus I wanted to wait until a large supply was delivered so it would be relevant for a while.

Here are the results for the 2nd cutting orchard grass that I feed spring through fall:

Here are the results for the 1st cutting orchard grass/timothy mix that I feed in the winter:

I had to do a lot of research when I received these results because to be honest I had no idea what many of these values should be. I had a general notion about desirable protein content in hay and knew that lysine is an important amino acid. I knew that people with metabolic horses are concerned about NSC (non-structural carbohydrates) in hay, but I didn't know how to calculate that with what I was given (or how concerned I should be about it given that my horses have no known issues).

So after doing a lot of research and some calculations, I'm satisfied with the digestible energy, protein, and NSC:

  • DE (averages .76-.94 Mcal/lb): within range for both (.86), suggests ~29 lbs of hay per horse per day needed (based on light work recommendation of 25 Mcal/day for 1400 lb horse)
  • Crude protein (typically 8-10%): slightly low for 1st (7.7%), high for 2nd (12%)
  • ADF (30-35%): slightly high for 1st (37%), ok for 2nd (32%)
  • NDF (40-50%): high for both (61% and 55%) <-- suggests low palatability
  • NSC (WSC + starch, <12% for low sugar/starch diet): good for both (~10%)

Here's a table that shows what the horses would consume when eating 2% of their bodyweight in hay plus 1.5 lbs of Triple Crown 30% per day (I only totaled it for the 1st cutting because when they're eating 2nd cutting spring through fall, they are on grass more than half the time):

I also calculated mineral ratios for the hay alone and in combination with the TC30:

I thought it was really interesting that some ratios were off in the hay but corrected by the TC30. It seems that the TC30 is indeed fulfilling its purpose as a ration balancer!

The "required" column in all of these tables comes from the following sources:

National Research Council
Dr. Getty's How to Interpret Your Hay Analysis Report
Understanding Horse Nutrition (this is a great resource on all aspects of feeding!)

For help with unit conversions (e.g., lbs to grams, ppm to grams): try these conversion tables from Equi-Analytical. Here are some I found useful:

lb     x   453.6   =  g
mg/kg  x 0.4536  =  mg/lb
ppm     x  0.4536  =  mg/lb

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Dry Lot: Placement Options

This post is a little out of order because I've already built my dry lot. But I found it in my drafts and thought it might be helpful to someone to see the decision process I went through.

For context, the goals I wanted to meet by installing a dry lot were:

  • Allow for exercise when turnout would damage the pasture (mostly winter)
  • Minimize stall time for the horses
  • Minimize chore time for me (no more stall cleaning and twice daily turn in/out, except in especially rotten weather)
  • Make horse care easier for others, even non-horsey people, in the event of an emergency or when I'm away
The measurements in each option are taken from Google Earth Pro, which I'm sure isn't entirely accurate but gets pretty close.

Option 1. Near barn

Area: 0.09 acres
New fencing needed: 175 linear feet minus one gate
New footing needed: 2,298 sq ft

  • Easy access to barn for cleaning, haying, etc
  • Half of area already has footing and fencing
  • No direct access to pasture
  • Too small for real exercise
  • Concern about dominant horse cornering the other
  • Concern about multiple horses cramming into one stall (only shelter available)
  • One horse thinks turnout doesn't count unless he's led out of the barn

Option 2. Near pasture gate

Area: 0.18 acres (6% of pasture area)
New fencing needed: 210 linear feet including three gates
New footing needed: 6,771 square feet

  • More compact area for cleaning, haying, etc than option 3
  • Size and cost are a good balance between options 1 and 3
  • Fits with rotational grazing plan (one gate could lead to each third of the pasture, with water available in the dry lot near the gate)
  • "Donkey paddock" (small stonedust rectangle on south edge of this layout) could allow a special-needs horse to be turned out right next to buddies
  • No existing shelter
  • Squarish shape may not encourage exercise, compared to option 3

Option 3. Southern edge of pasture

Area: 0.39 acres (14% of pasture area)
New fencing needed: 370 linear feet minus three gates
New footing needed: 15,930 square feet

  • Allows access to existing run-in
  • Long, narrow shape may encourage exercise
  • Fits with rotational grazing plan (one gate could lead to each third of the pasture, with water available in the dry lot near the gate)
  • Footing cost is probably prohibitively expensive, and not improving the footing would lead to unsafe mud and lumpy frozen ground in the winter
  • Reduces already-limited grazing space significantly
  • Possible choke points? Narrowest point is about 30 feet wide
I ended up going with a slightly longer and narrower version of option 2, and I'm really happy with the result. I did have to invest in a new shed but the old one wasn't in the best shape anyway. For more information on the final design, see my post on the new dry lot.

Rotational Grazing: Cross-Fencing the Pasture

In this second post on the topic of rotational grazing, I'm going to show how I divided my 3-acre pasture up into thirds. I did not want to add permanent wood cross-fencing for several reasons. 1) It's expensive. 2) I wanted to be able to experiment with the sizes of the sections. 3) Adding more wood fencing would make the view from the house look rather cluttered, especially since the lines of fence wouldn't be parallel to each other due to the shape of my pasture and where the gate and water are.

For more on my layout and how rotational grazing appears to have benefitted my pasture, see my last post on the topic.

Planning My Rotation Layout

In my opinion, the ideal rotational grazing layout involves a central area containing water and shelter. Preferably, unless you live in a very dry climate, this area will have improved footing (grid, stonedust, etc) to keep it from turning to mud. It should also have good sturdy fencing, possibly topped with electric, because it will sometimes be the only thing between your horses and beautiful, tempting grass. The "foyer" area should have gates to each of your rotational grazing sections, so you can close one gate and open the next when it's time to rotate. This area can also function as a dry lot, where you keep your horses when the grass needs to be protected from them (e.g., parts of winter) or when they need to be protected from it (e.g., easy keepers during spring).

My first year of rotational grazing, I didn't have a dry lot. Instead I divided my pasture so that both lines of tape converged near the gate and frost-free hydrant. Tape gates (see below) gave access to the two sections that didn't have a permanent gate in the perimeter fence, and when I moved the horses I moved the water trough from one section to the next. It was a pretty easy solution. Here's what it looked like:

This fall I had the pleasure and good fortune to have a more permanent dry lot installed. It has a Nelson auto waterer and a shed, so the horses will always have access to water and shelter. To turn them out, all I have to do is open one of my three gates, each leading to a different section of the pasture. (For more info on the dry lot construction, check out this post.) The sections are a little more evenly sized, so just under 1 acre each I believe. Here's what the layout is now, roughly (looking forward to the next Google Earth update!):

Three sections are about right for my small area, though I could probably push it to four without making the near end too narrow. If you have more pasture, dividing it into more sections will allow each to rest longer. Obviously, where you set your cross-fencing will depend a lot on the shape and layout of your existing pasture; where you have water, shelter, and gates; as well as any natural features like trees, low spots, streams, hills, etc.

Adding Cross-Fencing 

For my cross-fencing, I chose to use brown Horseguard tape based on its many good reviews. At the far end (away from the gate) I attached it to the wood fence with Horseguard tensioners. I then stretched it as tight as I could by hand and secured it at the near end. It helps to have a second person for this part. Once it was a little bit taut, I added my step-in posts along the line, then tightened it more. I found that if I tried to do the posts before I made the tape taut, the line would never be straight. Step-in posts are hard to get perfectly straight anyway so make it as easy on yourself as possible! I prefer these fiberglass posts from Tractor Supply--they are almost invisible from far away and have proven more durable than the plastic ones.

At the near end (closest to the main gate and the path to/from the barn), I needed to add tape gates to allow access into the two sections that don't have gates in the perimeter fence. Horseguard and other brands sell gate handles with springs in them so the tape can stay under some tension. I tried spring gates first and while it's handy that they retract when not in use, I had an incident involving one that made me take them all down (long story short: mare swished her tail, got it caught in spring gate, probably got shocked, freaked out, jumped over/through the permanent pipe gate, and galloped all over the backyard with 50 feet of un-sprung spring gate trailing behind her in her tail). 

To make each tape gate, I needed a sturdy post to anchor the long line of Horseguard. Long runs of tape get heavy and need to be under a certain amount of tension to stay in place, especially when it's windy. I started with a T-post with a cover but after an incident with the T-post (involving the same mare as the spring gate!), I replaced it with a wooden post. I set the posts about 12 feet away from a perimeter fence post, on a straight line with the cross-fence.

Here are some close-up photos of the fence:

This is how the Horseguard cross-fencing is attached to the perimeter fence at the far side of the field (away from the gate).
Gate anchors (basically insulated screw eyes) can be handy in tight spaces like between these two gates, where Horseguard tensioners don't fit.
When the ground is firm, you may need to drive the step-in posts with a hammer. Use a block of wood to protect the post.

In this shot, you can just barely see the covered T-post that serves as a gate post for the line of Horseguard separating Sections 1 and 2. Note: This fence isn't ideal for separating groups of horses since it's very low and relies on their respect for electricity, so I wouldn't recommend turning groups of horses out on both sides of it! This was a very temporary situation.

Here, the T-post has been replaced with a wooden post sunk in concrete. The permanent fence is behind the camera, so when the gate is closed the whole line of fence is straight(ish). You can see that when the tape gate is open it can be hung on the fence to keep it out of the way. The young horse on the right missed the gate and is trying to figure out why there's a fence between him and his friends...clearly he isn't the brightest bulb. I'll help him out in a moment then close the gate behind him, before he gets anxious enough to go over/through the cross-fence. (In case you're wondering, the red blur on the left is caution tape used to temporarily keep the horses off some newly seeded grass.)

Here's a view from the new dry lot, looking out into the newly enlarged Section 1. The cross-fencing separating Sections 1 and 2 is visible on the right side of the picture. The dry lot makes it super easy to rotate the horses from one section to another!

To keep the fence hot, I installed a Zareba charger and three ground rods wired in a series. (Horseguard's bipolar tape does not need to be grounded but does require their specially-designed tensioners and insulators, which put me off. In retrospect I might have preferred it though.) The charge on my fence is relatively weak for some reason (cheap charger? poor grounding?) but the horses respect it very well. Many electric fence chargers aren't intended to be kept out in the elements, so I mounted a $4 Sterilite box on a pole to protect it:

It's not as crooked as it looks in the picture...

I've been really happy with this method of cross-fencing. In this shot taken from the house, you can see the final result. I'm impressed by how unobtrusive brown Horseguard on black or gray step-in posts is (it's there, I promise!):

One line of Horseguard goes from the willow tree on the left to the gates in front of the shed near the right. Another one goes from near the gate at the back left to the left rear corner of the new greenish shed. Nice how invisible they are from far away, right?

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Rotational Grazing: Schedule with Before and After Pics

My first two years of horsekeeping, I used my turnout area more or less continuously. (My first spring, I did keep them in the corral behind the barn for about a month while the last snow melted, the ground dried out, and the grass grew in; the second year it wasn't as muddy so I didn't need to do this). 

This year I finally divided my pasture into three sections and started rotating. I noticed a big difference in the condition of the grass and land. Here are some before and after pictures:

9/20/15: Last year, this pasture was grazed year round and in September it was looking thin as well as being dry and crispy from lack of rain.
9/16/16: This is the same section of the pasture, just looking slightly more uphill (to the right). It has been rested between grazing periods this year. Look how much more grass there is! Disclaimer: we also had a very dry August last year.
From June to October 2016, this was the layout and approximate acreage of my three turnout sections, which are divided by electrified Horseguard tape and step-in posts:

I have two horses and one mini-donkey grazing on this land. In the summer they're stalled or dry lotted during the day and out overnight, so they graze about 14 hours a day. Last winter they were out on Sections 2 and 3 about 8 hours a day from January to April. Now that I have my dry lot I can rest the pasture over the winter while still allowing the horses to exercise!

This is the rotation schedule I used this year:
  • Winter & spring: Sections 2 & 3 (before division)
  • 6/27 - 7/15 (19 days): Section 1
  • 7/16 - 8/1 (17 days): Section 2
  • 8/2 - 8/26 (22 days): Section 3
  • 8/26 - 9/13 (19 days): Section 1
  • 9/14 - 10/7 (24 days): Section 1 or 3 (the dry lot was being installed in 2 and 3, so there were in Section 1 some nights)
  • 10/8 - 10/13 (6 days): Section 2 (short rotation because the horses suffered from some diarrhea after fall rain, so they were dry lotted for a couple of days then moved to Section 3 where the grass was less rich)
  • 10/16 - present (18 days and counting): Section 3
  • 11/5 (planned): Section 1
To be conservative, every time I rotate them from one section to another, I start with only a few hours on the new section to avoid shocking their system. When I rotate them off a section, I mow it to an even length of about 4-5" and then harrow the area to break up manure (this is only a good idea when it's hot enough to kill parasites, so above 85ish and dry). I also do other pasture maintenance like overseeding, liming, and fertilizing according to soil tests but those things were done both before and after I started rotational grazing so they don't account for the difference in the grass.

Here are some pictures from 2016 showing different sections before, during, and after grazing periods:

3/16: Sections 2 & 3, after a winter of use

8/26: Section 1, after 6 weeks of rest

8/31: Section 1, after only 4 days of grazing

9/3: Section 1, after 9 days of grazing 

9/14: Section 1, after 19 days of grazing and a dry August

9/14: Section 2, after 6 weeks of rest
11/1: Section 1, after 3.5 weeks of rest
It's been really interesting to see how the grass does under this system. I plan on taking more pictures and doing another entry like this next year, when my three sections will each be about 1 acre in size. To easily document each rotation, I make a note on the calendar I hang in the tack room to track farm expenses. The dates on the photos can also be helpful!

My experience supports the notion that although it won't work in every climate or setup, under the right circumstances rotational grazing can be very helpful in maximizing pasture yields and land health. There's a lot of information on it available online. Here are a few sites that I found helpful:

Of course, you have to take your own climate and conditions into account so you might consider contacting your local agricultural extension office too.

In the next post, I'll have more information about how I cross-fenced the pasture.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Dry Lot: Construction (with lots of pictures)

I have been really wanting a dry lot and I finally have one! I wanted to share some photos of the upgrade.

Here are some before pictures that illustrate why you might want a dry lot to preserve your pasture:

The area where the dry lot is now, all torn up in January. It got worse as the winter progressed. As you can guess from the green grass, last winter started unseasonably late--we had thunderstorms on Christmas! So this shows less damage than typical.
Hoof damage near the gate and feeder pad.
Here are some photos of the dry lot construction process:

First, the topsoil was stripped and and the subsurface was graded.
The stonedust has begun to arrive! The shed pad at the front right corner has a special compacted base.
While the grading is done, the grid that will help prevent erosion is laid out to "relax" and spread out. It arrived tightly packaged. 
Here is the grid getting staked out, to keep it stretched in place while it is backfilled with stonedust. It was positioned across the center of the dry lot to reduce erosion caused by water draining across the surface.
Half of the grid has now been carefully filled in with stonedust. It's a bonus that the grid covers the area around the newly-installed Nelson auto waterer because that is likely to be a high-traffic area.
Here's a close-up of the grid as it's filled in.
Most of the stonedust has now been spread. Dominick the Donkey immediately investigates the modification to his home.
The finished pad for the run-in shed, with the four corners staked out and lots of hot tape to keep the horses off the newly seeded areas.
Dominick chilling on the eastern edge of the dry lot. You can see that it sits several inches above ground level.
The northwestern edge, which curves around to the shed pad.
The fence is up! Horse and donkey investigate the brand-new fence, which is five-foot-high wire mesh with a top board. The gates in this pic will lead to the bottom and middle thirds of the pasture, once I move the Horseguard cross-fencing. The shed will go in the corner above the donkey in this picture.
Here's a view of most of the space, standing just inside the gate to the barn. Straight ahead is a gate to the top third of the field. Gates to the bottom and middle thirds are on the left (one open). The shed will go in the back left corner.

The shed has now arrived!

I'm happily transitioning the boys to an outdoor lifestyle. Turning in/out is SO much easier now that all I have to do is open and close gates!

Here are the dimensions of the dry lot (the shed is the rectangle in the upper right corner):

One future upgrade I'm considering is a scratching post so they don't use the fence and shed (in theory). I'll also be adding a small shed for storing a week's worth of hay.

The dry lot was installed by K&L Contracting, who also built my arena. I cannot recommend them highly enough!