Category Archives: Pasture

Posts about the pasture, including fencing, seeding, grasses, mowing/bush-hoggin, etc.

The case of the missing horse hide

It looks worse here than it does in person. It's not a deep wound.

When you become a horse owner, you quickly learn that one of the hats you’ll be wearing is that of a detective. How did my horse get out of his stall? Where is my horse’s fly mask? How did my horse end up in the next stall over with another horse? And sometimes, where did that gash come from? All of our horses at one point or another came back to the barn with some kind of wound that left us wondering how it happened. In fact, that’s one of the reasons why it’s a good idea to see them at least once a day, at feeding time or bringing them into the barn for the night. Even so, this morning while heading to Romeo’s stall to let him out of the barn for the day, I gasped enough to make him jump. The poor thing is missing a pretty big piece of skin on his forehead and also under his chin. First thing is first – treating the wound. It wasn’t bleeding much but it was dirty, probably from rolling or maybe just from dust. So we gently placed a halter on him and brought him out to the center aisle of the barn where we have cross ties. If you don’t have these in your barn, I strongly suggest adding them. Cross ties are simple two long ties (straps or rope) with quick-release latches that meet the horse in the middle in a way that keeps the horse from being able to move from side to side or even back to front very much. More about that in another post. So we cross tied Romeo and Mikki cleaned the wound with some antibacterial scrub. Romeo was a trooper, though he clearly didn’t care for it much. It probably stung. Then she dressed it with ichthammol, an thick antiseptic salve that does a good job of treating and protecting light wounds from getting dirty and infected. You really need to have a small tub of it around at all times. A few “good boy” treats and off he went to find new trouble.

So next up comes the detective work. As responsible horse owners, we must try to figure out what caused this problem. I realize horses seem to spend their lives trying to find new ways to kill themselves; they’re mischievous, it’s true. But we have to keep trying to avert disasters of all sizes. So we run down a list of suspects:

  • Something in his stall. Nails, gate bungs, etc.
  • Barbed wire fence. We still have some that needs replacing.
  • Pine trees. A large one has fallen in the pasture and needs removing.
  • Horse fight. Not likely, given the length and shape.
  • Old barn or fence. Sometimes used as a scratching post.

So we start in the barn. Romeo’s stall has a large gate so we checked for sharp bungs or edges and found none. I remembered taking photos of Romeo the day before and discovered this very same wound on him then, though for some reason it didn’t stand out then. So it may not have happened in his stall which leaves 7 acres or so of partially wooded property to review.

I’ll make a long story short by saying that we haven’t yet found out what caused the wound but some quick checking didn’t reveal any stand outs. My guess is that he really wanted a piece of grass that was hard to get to and scraped his head on some old barbed wire (which we really have to replace with something more horse friendly) or around a fallen pine tree that came down in a recent storm. But the fact remains that the case is still open and our detective skills, better with time and experience, are called upon often to solve horse mysteries like this.

What kind of mysteries do you have to solve that require your horse detective hat?

How bush hogging helps grass grow

Regular pasture mowing/bush hogging keeps weeds down and helps make a healthier pasture. Weeds grow faster than most grasses and if left to grow will choke out the grass. If uncut, weeds will also go to seed and spread. In this picture you can see how high the weeds were on the left. Grass can’t compete with that. On the right you can make out actual grass that’s easier for horses to find.

Some interesting facts:

  • Bush Hog is an actual company. “Bush hogging” has become a common term for cutting with a tractor-drive rotary mower. Kind of like calling a tissue a kleenex, which is also a brand name.
  • Rotary mower blades are similar to lawn mower blades but since the cutting path is so much wider, an end of each blade is connected to a large disc instead. A lawn mower typically uses one or two large blades that attach in the middle.
  • Rotary mower blades are thick and tough. It’s common to accidentally run over rocks, chunks of wood, stumps, etc. Most of the time this doesn’t seriously damage the blades or the mower (though it’s best to not run over those things). Rotary mowers often use shear pins that are designed to break before serious damage happens. Shear pins are cheaper and easier to replace than entire gear boxes. Some mowers use a slip clutch that reduces the chance a sudden blade stop will damage the tractor.
  • Although it’s most common to see one behind a tractor, you can purchase versions with an engine that work behind ATVs or UTVs or even self-contained gas powered units.

Common brands include:

We use a six foot wide Woods 720 that came with our tractor that does a great job of keeping the weeds down in our pasture. It is a pain to put on but we usually leave it on all summer anyway. Since we’ve been mowing our pasture regularly (once a month or so), our horses have spent more time eating fresh grass in the warm months.

If you have your own pasture, what are you using?

Lucky to be alive

By now you’ve heard about or experienced first hand the large and unusual storm system that raked through the south last Wednesday (4/27/11). A week ago today, we strolled outside to discover the damage caused by severe thunderstorms that went on and on from around 4 PM through midnight. Yesterday we learned that nine tornadoes were officially recorded in our small east Tennessee county alone, knocking down trees and power lines, destroying homes and barns and in some cases killing people and livestock. I’ve never seen a storm like that. It was one serious thunderstorm after another for almost eight hours straight. At one point the wind blew so ferociously my family and I grabbed blankets and pillows and took cover in the center of our house, away from windows. We’d return to that spot a few times that night, as the wind howled and local radio stations and Twitter updates warned that strong cells were approaching, hail was on the way or apparent tornadoes were on the ground and moving fast. It was scary and exhausting.

It took days for us to assess the full impact of the storm. News reports showed the terrible destruction in Tuscaloosa, Alabama where we camped two weeks prior and in Ringgold, Georgia, not far from where we live and a town we frequent on trips to Atlanta. There was a lot of damage locally, too. In fact in our own back yard we lost our workshop (pictured above) when a large hickory tree succumbed to the wind and saturated ground. 45 degrees to the right of where that tree fell was the room we were in at the time. It most certainly would have crushed us. It may seem dramatic to say it but we feel lucky to be alive today.

I haven’t mentioned our horses yet because they were fine in the barn. Well, fine is a relative term. Our horses don’t seem to mind storms much except for Moonshine. I periodically peeked out the back door and saw her nervously watching and pacing in her stall. We worried about the barn but it’s the age old question in storms: Are horses safer in the barn or on their own, where maybe they could run away, if needed? We prefer them in the barn. Besides avoiding them being pelted with the over five inches of rain that fell that night, they were relatively safe from tree debris and we didn’t have to worry about them escaping through a downed fence due to fallen trees. Four of our neighbors trees fell over our fence and we lost about 20 other trees in other parts of the pasture. But the horses were safe in the barn…this time. In storms like this, horse owners have a lot to worry about.

If you have any trees on your property and don’t already have one, trust me on this – you need a chainsaw. Maybe two. For the next several days, we spent many hours clearing fallen trees with chainsaws. Sometimes one got stuck in a pinched tree, requiring the use of a second chainsaw to free it. It’s not just major storms. Trees die and fall. We may not use it often but a chainsaw is an invaluable tool at our place. You don’t want to be trying to buy one when they’re in demand, such as after a storm like this (none were to be found).

We feel for those who have lost lives, family, animals or property in the storm last week. Did this storm touch you or your family? Have you heard about any horse rescues?

Do not feed grass clippings to horses

One of my happy chores in spring is cutting grass. Finally it greens up, making our yard look alive and cutting it brings memories of summer rushing to my mind. It’s a happy, alive kind of feeling. Our horses feel it too, judging by the audience they give me when I’m cutting grass next to the pasture fence.

A sad lesson

I let the grass grow a little too long this time so I ended up with lots of grass clippings everywhere and I could tell the horses coveted the lush piles of freshly mowed fescue. It would have been so easy for me to scoop armfuls and throw it over the fence but I remembered an article Mikki found years ago that talked about the dangers of feeding horses cut grass. It mentioned the story of a woman who came home one day to find her horse had colicked and died as a result of eating grass a well-intentioned neighbor threw into her pasture. How sad for the neighbor and how devastating for the horse owner.

Why grass clippings are bad

But why is cut grass bad for horses? It doesn’t seem to make sense, since they eat mostly the same grass on the other side of the fence and the hay we feed is just cut and dried grasses. But even though the grass may technically be the same variety, it’s not the same as a fresh mouthful in your pasture or hay that’s been properly cured. The issues:

  • Grass from your lawn may contain fertilizers or anti-weed (herbicide) or anti-insect (pesticide) chemicals that should not be consumed by horses.
  • Recently cut grass doesn’t dry uniformly, leaving wet clumps that can ferment and grow mold and mildew. Microbes introduced this way can cause colic in horses. Unlike lawn clippings, hay grass is tetted and sometimes re-tetted (spread out evenly in a thin layer) and dried/cured in the field before baling.
  • A mouthful of small cuttings may be quickly consumed by a horse. The small, wet clumps can compact and stick in a horse throat. Hay or fresh grass is chewed in manageable amounts.
  • The horse digestive system works best with consistent feeding. It adapts well but not quickly (as in day-to-day). Sudden shifts can lead to digestive problems and laminitis.

There may be more reasons but that list is enough for me. I’ve read several comments from horse owners online who say they feed grass clippings to their horses all the time without negative results but I’ve also read several who experienced colic, laminitis and death. With all of the potential negatives, why risk it?

It wouldn’t hurt to kindly mention to neighbors that feeding anything outside of a horses regular diet could kill them. Some horse owners even put up signs on their fences, which seems like a good idea. Most of us can’t monitor our pastures all of the time.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Have you had a bad experience with grass clippings and horses?

Mud abatement, Part 3

Third in a series of posts about our efforts to reduce mud around our horse barn and in our pasture. In this post we reveal an inexpensive solution that seems to be working.

It’s late fall and the green grass is now brown.  Soon rain will come frequently and the temperature will drop. Fall has been in the air and my thoughts are turning to winter mud. I’m amazed at how much less mud there is in the summer because the longer, warmer days are more effective at drying and there is a lot more vegetation. But most of this has died off and we’re starting to face inches of the gooey mess. But not so much in front of our barn anymore.

A little background:

Mikki wrote about our barn entrance mud a while back. To get a visual, you need only to view our 2010 Winter Mud video or the one about why we needed a 4×4 tractor. A few years ago we posted on some forums, asked around and although we mostly found pessimism that the problem could not be solved, we did get the following suggestions:

  1. Concrete or asphalt blacktop
  2. Sand
  3. Drain tile
  4. French drain

An idea that worked

The least expensive of those was sand. We had some success with it back in 7/07, but that was a limited test. This time we went bigger. Beach or river sand isn’t very common here but something called manufactured sand is. It’s created by crushing limestone and looks like gray dirt. So we paid $175 to a local dump truck driver to dump 2.5 tons of manufactured sand at the entrance of our barn. This was before our tractor so we spent a weekend spreading this stuff around with shovels and a rake. Boy were we tired the next day! But it worked. That was about a year ago and despite a lot of rain throughout the four seasons since, the area where we spread this manufactured sand doesn’t clog up with water and doesn’t stick to shoes and hooves like the clay beyond it.

Beyond the barn

This solution will only work for us in limited areas where there is high horse traffic. Now that the barn entrance area has less mud, we’ll next spread it on a path up the hill (to keep the tractor from making a muddy mess when driving up the hill) and around the round bale feeders.

I’d like to try some of the other ideas above for the rest of the pasture, particularly the French drain or drain tile. An example of a French drain is below and a drain tile system is similar, but less fancy (no gravel – just bury a perforated pipe in a trench and cover with soil). I’m not sure how well they’ll work with clay. This stuff is so non-porous, I think we could make cups and bowls out of it.

French Drain

French drain system

The most obvious solution for the rest of the pasture is to plant grass. We’ve done this with a seed drill (more on this later) but since the entire pasture is open all of the time, the horses just walk all over it and eat the grass as soon as it sprouts up. What we need to do is create paddocks and practice rotation. A portion of the pasture at a time would be off limits for a year or more while the grass grows roots and thickens. We could feed round bales of hay for a year or longer if needed. Even on our small property, the fencing could get expensive, though. We’re considering using Electrobraid or similar electrified flexible fence that could be installed less expensively than wood.

We’ll let you know as we make more progress in our mud abatement effort. Please drop us a note if you’ve found something that works for you or if you have a question.

The entire mud abatement series:

Mud Abatement, Part 1
Mud Abatement, Part 2
Mud Abatement, Part 3 (this post)

Fence building – replacing barbed wire part 1

Barbed wire is bad for horses. Today we began replacing it. We’ve spoken of the dangers of barbed wire before. The biggest problem seems to be that horses get tangled in it when no one is looking and can end up seriously wounded. We know people whose horses have died this way.  The property we’re on has a mix of wood fence and barbed wire and was probably used a long time ago for cattle. We plan to replace all of the barbed wire at some point but as you can imagine, the cost would be pretty high on a property this size (7+ acres of pasture). So for the visible areas, we’re continuing with a three board wooden fence, electrified as necessary on the top row. For the rest of the pasture, we’ll probably use something inexpensive but effective like Electrobraid.

Horse Fence WalkthroughSince Pop and Granny moved in on property adjacent to the pasture, it made sense to replace this fence first. So we started by selecting a spot for a walk-through gate. Normally this would be in the shape of a V but we’re building a hybrid version in the shape of a U. Basically it’s wide enough for a human to slide through but not a horse. If built right, you don’t need to open and close anything because the horses won’t fit in. From here, we’ll replace a section at a time until all of the barbed wire between the two properties is gone.

Today was nice and mostly warm, in the upper 60s and dry so there were no concerns about the concrete we’re using on our fence posts setting and drying. We used an auger (post hole digger for a tractor) on the Kubota that saved us a lot of work. Augers don’t seem to work well in clay soil so what might take a minute or two in Missouri takes twenty or more minutes in east Tennessee. But it beats digging by hand!  Taking the advice of someone who build a lot of fences, we covered the part of the pressure treated 4x4s we used as fence posts in roofing tar paper in an attempt to keep moisture and dirt away from the wood. It’s cheap and easy to do and we’re hoping it will add life to the posts.

As with any project, especially one where learning is involved, it’s taking longer than we expected but we’re getting better at it with each post we stick in the ground. By the time we’re done, we’ll be fence installation experts!

I’ll show before and after pictures in an upcoming post.

barbed wire

Hay Consumption – Early Rain to Blame?

In my last post, I spoke of how quickly our horses are going through hay and the weather hasn’t even turned very cold yet. I spoke with a local large animal veterinarian about this and he mentioned that the weather earlier this year might be to blame. East Tennessee started out the year with a lot of rain. In his estimation, too much rain over a short period of time. What this does, he says, is flush the soil nutrients. So even though the grass grew pretty well this year, the quality of the grasses and resulting hay was relatively poor. Horses and other large animals have a built-in nutrient and mineral detectors that cause them to throttle food consumption to regulate nutrient intake according to what they need. His educated guess was that our horses were eating more because the hay wasn’t as full of nutrients as in previous years. That also seems to explain why our horses LOVE the square bales from last year and don’t seem to consume it as quickly as these newer round bales.

This just reminds me how much there is to know and learn about our horses!