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!

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Tracking Farm Expenses

Some of us probably do NOT want to know how much money we spend on our farms and horses each month, but unfortunately budgeting is a necessary evil. This post discusses an easy method for tracking farm expenses. Please excuse my nerdiness.

1. Log consumables in a calendar

I hang a calendar in the tack room next to the feed board, and keep track of hay and bedding usage on it. I mark a "1P" or "1F" every time I open a bag of bedding (pellets or flakes, respectively). ("1" because it could also be "2F" or "3F" if I use two or three bags of bedding in one day.) When I open a bale of hay, I knot the twine in a loop and save it on a hook until Sunday, when I remove all the loops of twine and count them. Then I mark, for example, "5H" at the end of that week's row. At the end of the month, I can add up all of the H's, P's, and F's and input them into the spreadsheet.

2. Use a spreadsheet to total monthly expenses

I have an Excel spreadsheet with rows for each month and columns for each category of operating cost: Feed, Hay, Bedding, Parasites, Flies, Waste, Ring Fees, Land, Labor, and Other.

At the end of the month, I use the calendar to input all my H's, P's, and F's into the spreadsheet at their cost times the number I used that month. For example, the bedding cell would look like this: =1.06*(5*6.29+2*5.99). The "1.06" accounts for the 6% sales tax, mini-flakes cost $6.29, and pellets cost $5.99.

For costs that don't show up on the calendar, I input them more or less as they arise or save the receipts for a couple weeks then enter them. I like to add comments on cells for the less-regular costs, so I will know what they represent (for example, "Lime" or "Mineral block"). I also add comments with the dates of manure dumpster pickup, and the dates I paid barn help, etc. to make sure I account for everything correctly.

There is a column at the end for that month's total, and underneath the monthly log I have a running average cost per horse (way lower than boarding, but of course this isn't factoring in my labor or the start-up costs, explained below).

I also keep a running total of hay bales used so that I know how much to order next time.

I like to use Excel but if you're not computer-savvy you could do this by hand instead!

3. Track start-up costs in spreadsheet

Sorry, but no one needs to know how much money I spent on this place.
Most of the time even I don't want to know!
This may be something you really, really don't want to know, but I was curious. I track the costs of all of my major start-up investments, breaking them down into major categories (Barn, Arena, Equipment, and Land). I also added a catch-all category (Other) that displays a running total from a separate spreadsheet where I log smaller miscellaneous costs that are capital expenses vs. operating costs (e.g., a set of cross-ties, chew strips, etc) because this was easier than trying to include all these smaller items in a category.

I also have a formula set up to calculate the monthly cost difference between boarding my two horses in appropriate nearby facilities and keeping them at home. Dividing the total start-up cost by that monthly cost saving, I can see how long it will take for my barn to pay for itself (financially anyway). Unfortunately that figure goes up every time I invest in an improvement.

On budgeting: The start-up cost has added up to almost twice what I naively predicted, even though I increased all my estimates by 20% to be safe. But I will say that about 90% of the start-up costs were expended in the first year, and now that that year is over I find myself buying fewer and fewer things for the farm, other than feed, hay, bedding, etc. It's a great feeling!

Okay, nerd out!

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Stall Fan Placement

I designed my barn with lots of doors and windows for maximum ventilation, so I've been frustrated that the stalls--the most important part!--often feel stuffy in the summer. They stay noticeably hotter than the aisle, which is unused 99% of the time. I believe the cause is the tack room, which is situated in the same row as the stalls and blocks any north-south cross breeze. Since there isn't really any way to change that, I decided to play with fan placement to see if I could make my horses more comfortable.

The barn builder mounted big basket fans up high on the inside corners of the stalls, near the apex of the roof. The fans move a ton of air and definitely make the stalls much more tolerable, but I have noticed that the air they moved was typically about as warm as what was in the stalls already, if not warmer. Well, duh, because hot air rises! I wondered if this might be interfering with the action of the ridge vent.

Noticing that the aisle is always so much breezier and cooler, I decided to try mounting a fan horizontally on the stall front instead, hoping to pull cool air in from the aisle to the stalls. Rather than the white $20 box fan you typically see in barns, I chose an all-metal one with a sealed motor, for safety reasons. Lo and behold, the air in the stall with the front-mounted fan now feels 5-10 degrees cooler than the air blown by the corner-mounted fan in the other stall! The only downside so far is that the horizontal fan doesn't move the air at ground level, which is good for deterring flies from nibbling on the horses' legs. I am still definitely going to be taking the fans down from the corners, where they collect a ton of dust and are very hard to clean due to the height and their weight.

Another thing I'm considering is metal stall guards so that air movement from the aisle isn't blocked by the wooden lower half of the sliding doors. The only problem is that I will need one tall enough to keep in the giant and still growing 3-year-old as well as his mini-donkey friend who has access to his stall. I'm also not quite sure I would trust the 3-year-old, who does like to scratch his enormous bum on the sliding door. But the older horse is a definitely candidate for a stall guard and he has anhidrosis so I think he would appreciate any extra breeze!

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Biting Fly Trap

Late last summer, the greenheads and horseflies here were horrible. The horses didn't even want to be outside in daylight. There are some fancy horselfy traps available for sale, but they are shockingly expensive. I found plans for an easy and cheap DIY biting fly trap here. Here is what it looks like with a 24" beach ball, spray-painted black, as bait:

I put the trap out again for the year not even five days ago and it's filling up!

I've found it does catch a lot more greenheads than horseflies, but every single dead biting fly is a victory. Totally worth the few dollars I spent on materials.

A friend who horse-sat for me did make a funny comment, that my horseflies seem smarter than hers at home. This made me a little worried that my trap plus natural selection will cause the evolution of a super-intelligent population of horseflies. Eek!