Hi y'all. Newcomer to the forum and am enjoying reading through. My wife and I are moving to the Montgomery, AL area in a couple of months and we are buying a home with 20 acres, mostly relatively flat pasture. I want to create a place for a couple of horses and I'm interested in how you might design a new space with a blank slate?
I don't think I'm interested in a large barn. Rather, pasturing the horses with a run-in type barn. I'm thinking of either fencing in the whole 20 acres with white vinyl and a hot wire OR making an oval shaped paddock of around 5 acres, with Electrobraid and moveable fence posts to keep the pastures in good shape. Another alternative I have considered is a large rectangular pasture with the run-in barn/hay storage in the middle and gates to turn out the horses to one side or the other.
Any thoughts or recommendations?
Introducing Julian XIV – Red Moon Sanctuary, Redmond, Western Australia
by Brett and Sue Coulstock
, on Flickr
Congratulations on finding your patch! This is a canvas you can paint any way you like, and the results can be excellent. I'm going to talk in metric measurements, but we've got about as much pasture as you will have (and a whole lot of nature reserve on top).
We're in Australia, in an area with a Mediterranean climate - cool wet winters, hot dry summers, approx. 10 months are green and the worst months of summer are very brown. This area, near Redmond WA, is beef and dairying country, gets around 700mm of rain annually and is very windy much of the time. When we bought our place, the pasture part had very few trees in it, and the first thing we did is to plant a system of shelter belts and shade clumps (including a whole lot of tagasaste AKA tree lucerne to fill the summer feed gap), and fence it into three paddocks - two of 2ha each and the rest was left as a "common" and is prone to winter waterlogging. Our system supports 4 horses, 3 donkeys and anywhere between 4 and 15 beef cattle of various ages (but we always sell about half the bovine herd after spring flush, when the feed decreases); and it does it without degrading the soil or the pasture.
I grew up, in the second half of my childhood, at a racing stables where horses were stabled and yarded - in little sand runs with no green pick and a maximum of one yard buddy. This is a fairly typical situation for racehorses in this country. And when these horses died prematurely, the main cause of death was colic or twisted bowel. In-work horses were protected by their activity levels and only had mild colic attacks at worst. But once retired, these horses were dropping like flies in their teens and twenties, from colic - and there were at least six fatal colics, in an establishment that typically housed around 15 horses. Watching horses die from colic is a horrible thing - it's always a desperate and violent battle. And it's a battle I got very sick of, since colic and twisted bowel are largely lifestyle induced and therefore largely preventable.
When I was 23, I came across an interesting saying: If you always do what you always did, you will always get what you always got.
I am a biologist/environmental scientist by training and fascinated by animals and nature. Like you, I am not keen on locking nomadic grazing animals into buildings. When my husband and I came to set up our own property (a small organic farm called Red Moon Sanctuary) seven years ago, we set it up so that all our animals - beef cattle, donkeys and horses - could free range in a social group of their own species across several large, interesting paddocks, with nooks and crannies, little hills to stand on, shelter belts and shade trees, and a farm dam, across 12.5 hectares in total, as well as additional access and service tracks to explore, and views of neighbouring properties, animals and activities. The different species all run together, just as happens in natural ecosystems - think of the African savannah - and this has many benefits for the animals as well as the land.
Our horses now spend around 16 hours a day getting incidental exercise grazing - they get all their roughage from free ranging, and cover a respectable distance doing so, since they move from one side of the property to the other many times a day in the process. They also spend around 2 hours a day playing and exploring, which gives them moderate to intense exercise - there are plenty of interesting things to do and look at. The donkeys and the younger cattle, for instance, love running up and down the dam wall, and looking at the world from the great height it offers. The donkeys run in circles around the trees chasing each other, braying and kicking up their heels. The horses have running contests and play their own little games - one of them likes to pick up sticks and balance them in his mouth while sporting an "aren't I clever?" facial expression. (That's Sunsmart. He also wants to play the "stick game" with me when we come back from a ride in the state forest, on the last section between two gates where I just walk beside him. I offer him a stick and he carries it self-importantly, and then turns to me, and I'm supposed to grab it, and then he pulls on it. Hours of fun. You should see his face when he does it.) The balance of the time - around another 6 hours - is spent resting under trees.
This means that in terms of time budgets, our horses are now living very similarly to wild horses - similar amounts of time spent on similar activities. Wild horses routinely cover 30-60 km a day, and while our horses aren't quite doing that, they are getting a heck of a lot of exercise when left to their own devices. In the stabled and sand-yarded (entirely hand fed) situations all of them came from, they spent less than 6 hours a day eating, while standing in the one spot, about 6 hours a day resting and snoozing, and the balance of the time mostly standing around bored - except for the solitary stallions, who spent large parts of their days walking or jogging up and down their fence lines like automatons, creating deep trenches in the soil that eventually unearthed the star pickets that housed the electrics that kept the animals apart.
In the seven years we have had horses here, we haven't had a single colic, not even a mild one, even though around half the horses had experienced colics before. That's six horses we had here long term all up, plus two shorter-term visitors. I don't keep more than four horses at a time, since I want to look after them well, and also because horses are quite hard on the land (mostly when they're tearing around having fun, which they absolutely must be allowed to do) and overstocking would quickly lead to extensive soil structure degradation. Occasionally a horse dies - most of ours are over 20 - and another one comes in. And within weeks, you can see the difference in their physical shape and their mental outlook.
Our system allows the animals a large amount of choice and self-direction in their daily lives, and they have all blossomed here mentally, and become very fun-loving and laid-back.
You can see lots of photos of what our place looks like, and looked like at the start, here: Red Moon Sanctuary
There are photo albums on various topics, as well as a link to Flickr, which has a Photostream documenting this farm from beginning to now.
Always happy to chat about details.
I can probably conjure up an aerial map of our place, which is what we referred to along all the stages of our planning and implementing. Land management planning is always done on aerial photos around here, easy now with Google Earth etc.
Our horses only use the walk-in shelter when they have a bot fly or stinging flies around. They never use it to get away from elements, as they have plenty of natural shelter in the pasture, and get rugged during cold, wet, windy winter weather.
Don Quixote On High – Red Moon Sanctuary, Redmond, Western Australia
by Brett and Sue Coulstock
, on Flickr
PS: Some of this is a "reprint" from my member journal.