Land conservation and horses
I am rather new to the forum and thought this would be an interesting place to get some insight from fellow horse owners (and land owners, too!)
I am a soil conservationist as a profession, I work with farmers and ranchers to come up with ways to conserve natural resources in their operation. I grew up with horses and they will always hold a dear place in my heart, but in my work I cannot stand them! They are extremely hard on the land and cause quite a bit of damage.
I am considering writing a book on the topic of land stewardship and horses. My question is what kinds of things do you all, as horse owners, want to know or do you even CARE about the soil and plant communities where you have your horses? Do you have issues managing mud and manure? Are the grasses just not coming back? Do you wonder if your horses' grazing is over the carrying capacity of the eco site? Do you have gullies and rills forming in the pasture? Is there a dust problem in the summers?
What to you guys want to learn about when it comes to land management?
All that you mentioned are worth knowing. I am not sure about other regions, but I know that around here, there are many good government publications on land management. The area where I live supposedly has the greatest number of horses per capita in all of Canada (no sure how accurate this is) and so the county schedules many presentations a year discussing land management for the small acreage owner. I think these 'town hall' type presentations are more effective than a book because they tend to be focussed on current needs (i.e. preparing your land for winter, or winter grazing, or managing pastures during drought) and they allow people to ask questions, getting expert advice. I think anyone who would purchase a book on land management would also go to the presentations. Maybe you could work on designing a series of presentations and then a work book to accompany that. The work book would allow people to calculate the carrying capacity of their land, water needs, identify good and "bad" plants, etc.
I would be very interested in all of the topics you mentioned. In addition, here are a few things on my mind as my husband and I consider buying a ~10 acre property in the course of the next year (likely to support 2 horses and maybe some goats; this would be our first out-of-town property):
1. If you abut conservation land, are there special management issues you need to be aware of (manure/runoff, etc.)?
2. What organic materials (if any) can help manage mud in a turnout area?
3. How should you handle land that has previously been treated with pesticides to make it safe for grazing? What organic methods (if any) can revitalize and maintain pasture?
4. Are there community organizations/partners that could utilize manure, and if so, how should it be treated/handled to make it suitable for those applications?
5. How can you combat invasive species (plant and pest)- for example, we have a real problem with Japanese knotweed here, and the only solution anyone has given us is a heavy pesticide, which we don't like the sound of...
6. How do you assess how your property intersects with any area watershed?
7. How do you estimate monthly/yearly land erosion, and can you plan to reverse it?
Again, I'm a newbie at land ownership, so there may be obvious answers to these questions, but they are questions I personally need to explore. So far I've been reading "Horsekeeping on a small acreage," but I think the topics addressed there are a bit different from what you're suggesting.
THANK YOU! You give me hope that there are still horse owners out there who care about their land. (Conservationists have a notoriously hard time getting through to horse owners, as a general rule, since they are so steadfast in many of their ways.)
I have never been to the Eastern side of the country, so there are some differences and issues that I have no clue about, but as for what I can help with:
1. land bordering conservation land will vary based on the easment situation. As a general rule, wetlands and riparian areas should be protected, even if they are not in a formal conservation easment. Planting dense stands of grasses and shrubs and fencing it off from grazing can work well in these cases (50 to 100 feet, ideally). Spot spraying in there with a wetland-safe herbicide on occasion can help keep weeds from establishing. If you need to let the animals get to a stream to water if there are no off stream watering facilities, a water crossing should be constructed so they will not stir up the stream bottom or erode the banks too badly.
2. oh boy, mud management. I don't have a real good answer and have been trying to research this myself. I know installing french drains can help, but they are tricky to get just right and require maintenance. Sometimes the best answer is to pick a safe sacrifice pasture and let them tear it up while protecting the rest.
3. It really depends on what product(s) was used. some are very narrow spectrum and water soluble, and a season of rain will do away with or neutralize them into their neutral components.
4. Gardeners and viticulturists could use composted manure. The key is thorough and proper composting, which there is TONS of great literature on. Basics include balancing browns (carbon) and greens (nitrogen) and keeping the air and water flowing to get those microbes working. Hint, if it smells bad, something is wrong. AND if you are in an area with high precipitation, porous soils, or a high or vulnerable water table, please store and compost manure over cement and covered
5. Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is the use of combined efforts to control pest species (animal or plant). These vary for the situation and target species, but generally include scouting, spot spraying with selected products (usually narrow spectrum, low risk pesticides, some organic approved, such as sulfur powder) and introducing natural predators (with caution). I can't comment on Japanese Knotweed, but i know it's a bad one and very hard to erradicate. On a side note (I just had this convo with a transitioning organic farmer today), sometimes a land is so over run with introduced species and invasives that there is little you can do without chemical intervention. In this case it was an annual invasive grass which comes back with a vengence when burnt and out competes the natives here. We decided that it was best to carefully apply pesticides for a year, then transition to organic IPM measures. Nothing will be harvested, but the hay will be mulched into the soil to increase biotic activity to breakdown any residues and get them on the road to organic certification.
6. Topo maps! They will give you more info than you know what to do with. By studying them you can understand where you sit within a water basin and will understand where water flows off of your property, too.
7. Well, i spend hours per day calculating this with a program called RUSLE2, but it is trickier on pasture land than on crop land. I would focus on keeping your soil covered. Soil erodes by water or by wind. Water is broken down into sheet, rill and gully erosion. In sheet erosion, which causes the most loss, surprisingly, the soil is detatched and carried away by individual rain drops. To prevent this, the soil needs a cover (grass, mulch) rill and gully erosion are from concentrated flow of water and are hard to prevent. Good drainage will help though. Wind erosion can be prevented by, again, keeping the soil covered with grass or mulch and adding wind rows to break up the wind.
If you are interested in your soil, check out Web Soil Survey - Home
you can pull up an area, see the soils, and look at soil reports to learn more about it.
Good luck on the land search! I'm currently looking for property as well to keep my horses and a herd of meat goats and meat rabbits as well as a subsistence garden.
I keep hearing that horses are hard on the land so lets keep horses off government land.
Then I see clear cutting.
No way can a horse be nearly as hard on the soil as clear cutting a forest using heavy equipment.
good point that is in certain instances true. Yes horses are hard on the land, unlike many other ruminants they have both upper and lower teeth which can graze lower on the plant, into the crown which effects regrowth. Their solid hooves also (arguably, I'm not so sure) do more damage than split hooves.
Clear cutting is not good because it strips the land of cover and allows mass movement of soil. But in some areas, the trees actually do regenerate quickly enough to make the risk lower (I am NOT saying that is any excuse, i do NOT support clear cutting). Also clear cutting is becoming less and less common, and is now typically only done on private industrial lands.
Both need to be moderated. Horses are fine on the land as long as they are not overpopulated (which they are right now). Logging is fine on land as long as it is done responsibly (which we are still transitioning way too slowly towards)
I have a question about mud. What about that new surface they're using on race tracks now? I thought it was invented to make the track dry out fast - is there any reason (besides cost) it wouldn't work the same in a sacrifice paddock?
Easy! Nothing at all; my local conservation district did it all for me. They sent a conservationist out to my house and we discussed my property my local flora and fawna, and best practices for water run off, manure & mud management and the they wrote me a custom plan, with step by step solutions, and reference photographs, for free. They even have a cost sharing program to pay for their suggestions, and free classes on each topic you called out if I wanted more hands on, in-depth education, in addition to the free lifetime support.
This year I got a forced air composting system for my manure bins!
They literally wrote the book on environmentally friendly horse keeping and farming. Seriously, it's free under "Publications"
yeh lets keep horses off the land, gotta make room for the clear cutting and strip mining, new highways, and garbage dumps. Oh not to mention lets pile up some radioactive waste.
You are not gonna get alot of people to take you serious about their horses when they look around and see much larger problems. You also need to insure you are not adressing isues in a negative manner with a list of donts.
Way better results with a long list of do's and the advantages of the do's.
It seems to me, there is an agenda, that would limit access to land by any thing other than hikers.
No one loves the forest more than me, but I realize, that for people to support it, it has to be useful to them.
Lots of land closed under the guise of "protecting" it.
Access for all.....ATV's and motor cycles too.
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