Friday, August 21, 2015

Small Farm Layout

Before you even start building your farm, the first major planning step is figuring out where you're going to put everything you need. There are tons of sample small-farm layouts on the internet and in books like Cherry Hill's Horsekeeping on a Small Acreage. Most likely, none of those will fit your property layout exactly, but they are a place to start.

The only obvious thing when I started was where the pasture would go, in the old hay field. I also knew where I wanted to put the gate to the pasture, just far enough up the hill to stay dry. Beyond that, I had to work around a large number of natural and man-made obstacles when choosing where to put everything else (see the "before" map below).

Aerial view BEFORE farm construction, annotated with the property's features.
The first step for me was siting the barn. Once I decided that the old barn was not worth renovating, the obvious location for the new barn was the old house foundation. This was in close proximity to the driveway and the detached garage, which I now use for hay and equipment storage. Its central location also allowed reasonable access from the house and to the pasture, the detached garage I would use for storage, and the arena. Plus it made use of many cubic feet of concrete that would otherwise need to be demolished at significant cost.

As you can see in the "before" map below, the marshy areas and drainage culvert were an obstacle between the obvious barn site (the old house foundation) and the pasture. Therefore I could not connect the pasture directly to the barn via the dry lot, as I would have liked. Placing the barn on the other side of the culvert was not possible without either creating drainage issues by putting it at the bottom of the hill (which slopes up away from the culvert) or placing the barn very far away from the house at the top of the hill. So, the barn would have to be at a distance from the pasture.

To connect the barn and pasture, I added a path that would prevent mud. The topsoil was stripped and stonedust added on top. The path was continued into the pasture where the gate and water trough are, also to prevent mud. It's priceless! The old wooden bridge, which was a total hazard, was replaced with a drainage culvert over which the stonedust path could continue.

I extended the existing fence line visible at the top edge of the "before" map to enclose the entire pasture, with curved corners where possible. When my horses proved to have a taste for tree bark, I had to fence the trees off with small boxes.

For trailer parking, I widened the end of the existing driveway so I could turn around in front of the garage (see this previous post).

The arena was the biggest earth-moving project by far. It ended up going where the old, decrepit barn had been. The area wasn't great for turnout because the septic field was in one corner (obviously not a corner where the arena went), but it was close to the barn and visible from the house for safety. For an explanation of how I chose the site for the arena, see this previous post.

When the arena builder was here he also excavated a corner for me and built a retaining wall and ramp so that I could push a wheelbarrow right up to the side of my manure dumpster and tip it in. (Before, I was using a small muck bucket and physically lifting the thing five feet in the air to dump it. Not great for a person with back problems...) There was only one logical place to put the dumpster with this setup, where there was already a corner with a steep slope above it. That ended up being maybe a little too close to the barn as far as flies and odors go, but it is convenient for chores, especially in the snow. I have never smelled the manure pit from the house, thank goodness.

Halfway through my first (awful) winter I added a small stonedust dry lot behind the barn that the stalls now open onto. It allowed me to rest my field in early spring to let the mud die down and the grass grow. Now two of my boys (Dominick the Donkey and my 2-year-old) have full-time access via their Dutch doors, which are almost always open to the dry lot. They use it to play, roll, see me coming from the house at dinnertime, etc.

During the winter I also added a CR-6 pad for my pasture Slow Grazer box. The horses liked it so much that they spent all day creating mud around it. The CR-6 helped a lot. Picking manure off it is a terrible chore though, especially when everything is frozen, so I plan to cover it with a layer of stonedust before winter hits this year. I put the pad far enough into the field to give clearance for horses to go around it and each other, but not so far that it was a pain to check/refill or that it would require destroying a patch of really good grass (the stuff by the gate is always a little thin).

As you can see, transforming this property into a functional small horse farm involved a lot of different improvements! However, the result is well worth it and I'm not sure I could have done much better given my constraints. (If you do see something you think could be improved though, please leave me a comment! I'm always on the lookout for good ideas.)

Aerial view AFTER farm construction, annotated.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Keeping Hay Away From the Mini Donkey

One challenge raised by keeping minis as companion animals to horses is maintaining the minis at a healthy weight. Many of them simply cannot handle as much turnout and hay as horses can. This is especially true of mini donkeys, who evolved as desert animals. This post discusses the methods I tried to allow the horses access to the hay they require without overfeeding the donkey.

Dominick the Donkey dominates my 2-year-old horse (Little R) by sheer force of personality, tiny flying hooves, and long grumpy ears. (This despite R outweighing him by probably 900 lbs and almost being tall enough to step over him...) Therefore, if he wants Little R's hay, he will take it, and R will stand there and watch him eat it. I keep hoping the poor baby horse will learn to stand up for himself a little, but no luck so far. In the meantime, I have tried a number of things to keep the hay out of reach of Dom and in reach of the sweet, spineless horse.

1.  Hanging hay out of reach

This is the most obvious solution, because of the height difference (duh). The first thing I tried was hanging R's NibbleNet out of Dom's reach. This worked to stymy the donkey, but I wasn't happy with how it forced R to invert his neck in order to eat. Also, if you have a taller mini or a shorter horse, you may have to hang the hay so high that hay dust will fall into the horse's eyes. After a while R started leaving hay in the net every day when he used to clean it out, and I wondered if the angle was making it difficult for him to eat, so I decided to try some other options.

High-hung NibbleNet.

2. Physical barriers

My second idea was to try to block Dom's approach to the hay somehow, so that he couldn't get close enough to eat it. My main concern with this was doing it in a manner that would be safe for R, who can be a little klutzy. So, I first tried mounting a corner feeder underneath a small hole hay net:

Corner feeder as donkey shield.
Not big or wide enough, drat!
One physical barrier that I didn't try is a homemade corner feeder. The idea behind this, pictured below, is to make it tall enough for the horse, but not the mini, to reach down into. I decided not to try this because Little R has a habit of pawing at his food and I was afraid he would hook a leg inside the feeder, but it seems like a neat option.

If you want to try this one, you can find instructions about a quarter of the way down this page from PATH International (CTRL + F "corner hay feeder" to find it quickly). It looks very easy to build and does not require many materials.

Corner hay feeder, photo from PATH website.
3. Extra tall Slow Grazer

This option is the winner so far. Over the winter I put together a Slow Grazer box with extra-tall sides (I used a wider pressure-treated board for the base to increase the height). This allows the horses to eat while keeping Dominick out of the buffet. I resisted putting the box in R's stall at first because he likes to nap and, like I said, he can be klutzy. Outside the stall wasn't a good option in the summer heat and humidity, because R would have to stand out in the sun all day and rain/humidity would cause the hay to get moldy. So, I eventually decided to try it in the stall and so far so good!

The extra tall Slow Grazer thwarts Dom and for some reason empowers R to pin his ears and drive Dom away if he gets too pushy.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Finishing Stall Walls

My barn was designed with way too many nooks, crannies, ledges, and protruding wooden beams inside the stalls. It's something I didn't think about much before but I now drool in envy over stalls with completely flat walls. Neither of my horses are terrible chewers and thankfully they can get lots of turnout, but all the protruding boards and edges are so tempting that they've taken some chunks out anyway. To put a stop to that, I am going to make the walls as flat as possible by adding boards or plywood between the header and the kickboards (rear of stall) or door/grille frame (front of stall).

Here are some "before" pictures:

Update 8/24: I've finally started framing out the recessed spaces and adding pine boards purchased at 84 Lumber. In-progress photos are below.

Close-up of new boards. Pardon the poor lighting!
Framing only on left; new boards in place on right.