(post by Jason) As most of you know over the course of the past several years Melissa and I built out the farm that we now live and work on. We had to think about everything from driveway placement to pasture size, fencing, cross fencing, waterers, barn placement and type; literally EVERYTHING to do with building out a farm and making it run smoothly and as efficiently as possible. Of course there were setbacks and things that we would do differently. No project of this size can be done without them, nor did we have unlimited funds. But there weren’t many setbacks, mostly because we were already doing the work on a property that was not set up with efficiency in mind and we had lots and lots of time to think through how we would build things differently. At this point we are far enough into it that I feel comfortable sharing some of the things we got right.
1. Adequate Hay Storage – If I had to pick one thing that made my life immeasurably easier when we moved the horses to this farm having adequate hay storage buildings would be the number one on the list. I guess hay tarps are a form of hay storage, we used them for years before we moved down here in order to secure a reasonable quantity and quality of winter forage. But tarps like to develop holes, leak even when there are no apparent holes, blow around or off when it is really windy, are unwieldy to handle at every stage and don’t work at all unless the hay is dry AND is sitting on a dry gravel pad with dry ground beneath it. If the day ever comes that we, in our dotage, are down to one or two pet horses I promise that wherever I live will have a ground level covered hay storage capable of holding a year’s worth of hay and if it doesn’t I will build it.
2. Automatic Waterers – I fought hard for this one because in the summer it seemed like we were forever dealing with dirty and/or almost empty troughs at our other farm. In the winter during cold weather we got to either chop ice multiple times a day on the cold days or deal with temperamental, and in my opinion unsafe, electric trough heaters. And oh my God are trough heaters ever expensive to run; they use a TON of electricity.
In the four years since we started the transition to auto waterers we have never had one freeze up and we have never had a horse not take to them quickly. They keep the water warm in winter, cool in summer and clean at all seasons, all of which encourages the horses to drink. Because we are hooked to county water there are no issues with water quality and we can monitor usage every month when we get our water bill. Perfect all the way around in my opinion. As an aside the horse’s water consumption actually went UP when we switched from troughs to auto waterers. This is mainly because the temperature of the water stays more consistent year around and because the water stays much cleaner when no one can stick their hoof in the trough to play.
3. Gravel Pads in all High Traffic Areas – Safer for the horses and far safer for us while we feed and check them.
4. Feed Bags – Melissa has posted extensively on this topic. Feed bags are a huge labour and time saver on this farm. One person can comfortably feed every horse it’s individual feeds, meds and supplements and know for certain that the right horse consumed the right things.
5. Multiple Use facilities – We have one barn that is solely dedicated to horses. It has permanent stalls, a permanent heated and air-conditioned feed room and office, a twelve foot wide concrete center aisle and a permanent hot/cold wash rack. Although there are times I am pretty glad we built it I am very glad we didn’t replicate it twice more when we built barns on the remainder of the farm. Instead we built open, multiple use storage facilities with attached lean to’s which can very quickly be configured into temporary stalls in the number that are needed at the time.
5. Bulk Feed – I commented to friends earlier this morning that when I was done feeding horses I had to move a ton and a half of feed around the farm to get us set up for next week. This elicited a lot of platitudes until I told them I would be done in about a half hour with absolutely no lifting required thanks to gravity, garbage cans and front end loaders. The equivalent tonnage in bags (60 bags) meant a sixty mile round trip to the feed store and handling each bag at least three times once I got them to the farm. I am so glad we ditched the bags and now have our feed delivered to us in bulk !
6. Electric Tape Cross Fence – We originally weren’t sure where we wanted some of the permanent cross fencing so instead of making a series of expensive and possibly bad choices we bought some attractive and very functional t-post covers and set up temporary three strand electric tape cross fencing. The key with any electric fencing is to keep it hot to keep horses or livestock off of it. We have had zero challenges or injuries and it is easily portable and quickly repaired if a strand of tape happens to get broken. About the only detriment is the wires woven through the tape tend to rust out and every few years the tape will need to be replaced. We like this cross fencing so much we have decided not to replace it with permanent fence.
Most horse farms tend to be laid out with one main barn somewhere on the property. Inevitably you wind up with some conveniently located pastures and paddocks and some very inconveniently located pastures and paddocks. Our number one goal was to avoid that typical horse farm set-up, hence the multiple, multi-use barns. We are able to store halters, feed, blankets, feed bags and other supplies close to each pasture on our farm which is a huge time saver and makes the work go much more efficiently.
Share with us some of the things you love about your farm, whether you own your own farm or board. We always like to hear great ideas !