I knew it was going to be cold last night. I wore layers and checked the forecast to make sure it wasn’t going to snow or worse – rain and then freeze. And then I went to bed. Around 3 AM I woke up wide-eyed, remembering that the faucet at the barn was on. We leave it on to keep the heated water trough full but on very cold nights it must be turned off. A glance up at the ceiling confirmed my fear. Our projection clock also shows the outside temperature. The sensor is a little too close to the house and it showed 21°F, a guarantee that the water in the hose and faucet would now be ice, taking up more space than the liquid form of water and probably putting too much pressure on the spigot parts. Much of it is metal but there is also rubber and plastic. I wasn’t about to climb out of my warm bed to go outside at 3 AM so I went back to sleep wondering if I got lucky this time.
The next day I discovered the answer. No. I can see the barn from our kitchen window and the spray of water coming from the “frost-proof” spigot now that the sun was shining and the temperature was above freezing. I bundled up and headed outside inspect. To my surprise, water was shooting out of the spigot, not at the hose connector, the part with plastic and rubber parts, but the actual metal of the spigot itself. Fortunately I was able to close the valve to stop the leak and I’m sure I’ll be able to replace the head assembly but it probably won’t be as easy as it seems.
So don’t forget that those frost-proof spigot/yard hydrants are great but they can’t take much of a freeze. You have to remember to close the valve in order for it to be truly “frost-proof.”
I’ve almost written this post a few times but it hurt too much. On Monday, November 27, 2017, Mikki and I walked up to the old barn to see how much hay was left. I had to go on a business trip and wanted to put out a new bale if it looked like the horses would run out before I got back, because it’s much easier for two people to put out hay without letting horses out of gates as you’re driving the tractor through. As I approached the bale I noticed Cash was laying nearby. It’s not unusual for horses to lay down occasionally. But after a few steps it became clear he wasn’t moving. We broke into a run and our worst fear was quickly realized. Cash was completely still, not breathing, and cold. Cash was dead.
This was a total shock to us. Cash hadn’t shown any signs of being ill. There were no changes in his behavior, diet or activity. When we found him, there wasn’t a mark on him and it didn’t appear that he had struggled or thrashed or anything like that; it seemed like he just laid down and passed away, with the exception of a very small amount of blood around his mouth and nose.
To say we were horrified was an understatement. Mikki pretty much lost it for a few minutes, and immediately called her best friend, who is also a horse owner and veterinary tech, Shari. They grieved together and discussed possible reasons for Cash’s sudden death, but Mikki was really in no condition to talk about those details, and the unfortunate reality of the situation was that time was not on our side. I had that business trip that couldn’t be rescheduled and had to leave within the hour; it wasn’t terribly warm, being late November, but the temperature was still much too warm to preserve anything. The cold hard fact was that we had a 1,000-pound body that had to be dealt with, and soon. Our tractor, while pretty capable above-ground, was not the right equipment for digging a hole the size and depth we needed. Since Shari had buried her beloved donkey, Doc, five or six years ago, Mikki asked her if they still had the ability to do that, but unfortunately they had sold their backhoe. She suggested we call the man who takes care of the graves for our church cemetery (Shari’s husband oversees the care of the cemetery) and promised to find his number and call back. In the meantime, we ran through the other possibilities; first was the friend who had taken care of the last horse burial we knew about, but that was years ago so our hopes weren’t high. We were right about that, he had changed jobs and no longer had access to a backhoe. Minutes later Shari called back with the number of the, well, gravedigger, and we called him. He was down with pneumonia. Then Mikki remembered that, ironically, the man from whom we had bought Cash had recently started a land services business. She called him and he was available. He agreed to come out within 3 hours and not only dig the hole but take care of the moving of the body as well. Mikki’s father lives right next to our pasture so our next stop was to tell him the news. He agreed to meet with the backhoe guys so Mikki wouldn’t have to deal with any of it, other than the payment. Which leads us to the final difficulty of this situation, but let’s stop and summarize here.
There is a very dark side to having horses. If you are like us – and I have to assume that you are, if you are reading this vaguely informative but decidedly sappy blog, you love your horses like pets. Therefore, this next part is going to distress you, and I apologize, but believe me when I say this part is meant to be informative rather than sappy. The cold, hard truth is that if you have a horse (or horses – we’re going to go with the plural here) and do not sell them or give them away, you will lose them someday. Unless they have a long-term disease that you know about and treat them for it for a while, their deaths will be sudden and unexpected. You will be shocked and grieving but, unlike with the family dog (which most people can bury easily in someone’s backyard or pay a nominal fee to have cremated), in the midst of that shock and grief you will have to deal with a half-ton body. We were fortunate that our community doesn’t explicitly forbid animal burials but many do. This is not something you want to find out at the last minute. We advised in the above-referenced previous post to be prepared for that day. We did not follow our own advice. Too much time passed and we became lax and complacent. Our horses were young then and are not terribly older now (Cash was just 14). So on a cloudy, cool November day with a business trip an hour away, we found ourselves having to find someone to bury our beloved horse, pretty much immediately, and coming up with the money to do so. We are lucky to live in a rural farming community, and knew the guy who did it for us, so it wasn’t as expensive as it could have been, but it was still a big, unexpected dent in our budget. Right before Christmas, too.
So again we advise you: have a plan in place for the inevitable. Update it as circumstances change. Be ready. It will make a very, very difficult time just a tiny bit less so.
The last thing is that you’re probably wondering what happened to Cash. We too wonder that. Mikki discussed it with Shari and did a little bit of research (this is still very painful to think about very much, so deep research was out of the question). The most likely cause, given the scant evidence, is intestinal torsion, or volvulus, or as it’s commonly known, “gut twist” (colic is sometimes a symptom of this). Several horse owners we know personally have lost horses suddenly this way; a horse was literally fine one day and gone the next morning (isn’t that scary, that it’s that common?). Another possibility is a ruptured aorta; the small amount of blood we saw could have been evidence of that. That also is horrifyingly common, but usually happens after intense physical activity, but he could have been frolicking in the pasture right before. The only way to know for sure would have been to have an autopsy done, but those are extremely costly.
Now our last piece of advice, which we are following religiously now: take care of your horses as well as you possibly can, watch over them carefully, and love them like this is the last day you will have them – every single day. We are so grateful for the time we had our Cash. To end on a more positive note, here’s a link to the post where we introduced him. He was quite the horse. – June 23, 2008 post –
If you were to ask us after 11 years of horse ownership what we would do differently, one of the things we’d tell you is that we should have built some additional hay storage. Since hay is a commodity the prices vary dramatically depending on weather. In these last 11 years, no two years have been alike.
Hot, dry years when we wondered if we’d have to buy hay from South Dakota and have it shipped in by tractor trailer (only partially kidding)
Years that started off fine only to end dry, yielding one good cutting and barely anything else
Wet years we initially rejoiced over until we realized there wasn’t enough consistent sunshine to dry the hay in the field.
And then there is this year – just about the perfect balance between sunshine and rain, yielding a bumper crop of rich, thick grass that grows fast. The second cutting is down and rolled and the fields are green and tall with what will probably be a good third cutting. Farmers are leaving rolls in the field, with nowhere to put it all. Everywhere you look there are barns piled to their roofs with beautiful hay. This is the time of year to make sure you have all of your hay purchased or reserved for the coming winter and normally we need to go looking for some. This year I have people calling me to see if I’m a buyer. Feast or famine, I suppose. This weekend we purchased an additional 15 round bales, 4×5 and tightly wound. Each lasts about a week for our three horses and mule. The price was a very inexpensive $25 a bale. We could have bought more but the truth is our barn is totally full. For the first time ever we’ve filled the center aisle and some of the side in front of the stall doors. I hope we don’t need to let horses in for any reason for the next several months. But this is the problem to have, much better than searching high and low in February and paying a hefty sum for smaller bales. We’ve paid as much as $45 for a 4×4 bale in previous winters when our count was off. We’ve slid into spring with barely a few handfuls of hay left from emergency square bales. Believe me, having too much hay is the problem to have.
Hay storage options
We’ve considered several options over the years:
Supplier storage – this is great if you can get it. One year a supplier agreed to hold 25 bales for us at no additional charge, inside his barn. As our supply dropped, we’d run over to get another load or two at a time. I don’t think this arrangement is very common but if you find one who will do it, buy them lunch and add them to your Christmas card list!
Outside tarped – we almost did it this year but in previous years we’ve had difficulty with this method. The hay wicks moisture from the ground into the bale and causes mold. Cows don’t mind so much but horses shouldn’t be exposed to mold. We even used pallets but the hay breaks down over time underneath which acts as a wick. Also, tarps aren’t super cheap and they don’t last long in the sun. This is okay if it’s all you have but we lose 30-40% of the bales we store this way long term.
Marshmallow rolled – we haven’t tried this but we’ve seen farms in the area that do. Some suppliers (I don’t know any) use a plastic that wraps the entire bale so they can be stacked outside in a field. You’ve probably seen pictures at least – they look like long lines of field marshmallows. This has to be more expensive but I’m not sure how much.
Hay storage building construction – prices will vary depending on where you are, how big you make it, out of what materials, and how much of the construction you can do yourself. We built a carport recently that would hold about 35 4×5 round bales stacked. We used 6×6 wooden poles, three steel trusses, and metal roofing. Although we dug the post holes ourselves (a huge pain in the hard Tennessee clay), we paid someone to set them and complete construction. The total cost here in east Tennessee was about $3,000 in parts and labor but not including covering for the sides (they are open). You’d need to grade the ground so it didn’t trap moisture after rain and you’d still lose some hay to mold but overall I think this is the best solution. We’re considering building one of these for future hay storage.
If you’re considering owning horses, you must have a plan for hay purchase and storage. If you plan well and have some good fortune with the weather you can help keep costs down by buying when the prices are low so you have some options if the next year is too dry or too wet.
If you visited our site in the past couple of days, you probably noticed it was down or in various stages of undress. Our server company accidentally deleted our server and they didn’t have a backup. While the free stuff they’re giving us to smooth things over is appreciated, it’s hard to put a value on the time it takes to restore a WordPress site and call it good. Yes, of course we have backups of everything. But there’s no magic button to restore everything like it was (there are actually services that can do that for you but you have to pay and this site doesn’t make any money). We didn’t lose any posts, thank goodness, but we’re still working on restoring images. We’ll get it in time. Please be patient.
In the meantime, this was a great time to upgrade to a better, faster, and more secure server and you may notice our site now loads via https. That’s a Google requirement starting in October of this year, so we’re a little ahead of the deadline. While we don’t store any secret stuff here, there’s no harm in putting an extra lock on the door.
Behind the seat of our Kubota L5030 tractor is a steel tool box. It’s not much to look at – especially because I didn’t clean it up for the photos below – but it’s come in handy often and worth a mention here on the blog. I’m pretty sure most tractors of this size have one so even if you’re looking at something other than a Kubota, this could be of interest to you.
We have come to realize that we need various tools at odd times when our tack room and workshop aren’t close by. Some tools are important for regular tractor operation and others come in handy when working with implements or on fences and pasture structures.
Inside the box:
Big hammer – 2 lb. – useful for encouraging heavy bolts and tractor implements (like the bush hog and post hole digger).
Rag – lots of greasy bits on tractors so having a rag handy is important
Vice grips – different sized nuts and bolts and some of them are stubborn
Lots of extra pins – a variety of nut and bolt pins exist on our tractor and sometimes they’re damaged or lost. These are cheap so we stock up.
Adjustable spud wrench – that’s the adjustable wrench in the photo above with the long pointy end. The pointy end is used often, usually to tighten the adjustable chain that holds the hay spear onto the bucket.
Multi sized wrench – there isn’t room to carry every wrench size so it’s good to have an adjustable one. Because you sometimes need two wrenches, one for a bolt, one for a nut, it’s good to have more than one and/or the vice grips previously mentioned.
Multi-tool – we use a multi-tool you can put in your pocket that can unfold into a pair of needle-nose pliers. It also has various screwdriver heads and a knife. Folded it fits easily in the toolbox.
As nice as the tool box is, it’s not air or water tight so it gets dirty quickly. I can’t store my phone or anything made of paper (like a manual) in there.
If you’re planning on having a tractor, I recommend assembling some useful tools and keeping them with you on the tractor. If for some reason yours doesn’t have a toolbox, perhaps you can find a way to attach one. Trust me, you’re going to need some of these at one point or another.
Last year we discovered a way to survive the summer heat – we installed a pool. It works! Sometimes while we’re swimming we look over to see our horses playing in the 110 gallon water trough. They splash in it and Valentine gets a big mouthful of water to drench whoever is nearby and isn’t already onto his intentions. He also enjoys it when we spray him down with water from the hose (after draining the sun-heated water already in the hose – too hot!), probably because he was once a fancy show horse and got regular baths. The other horses aren’t so thrilled with the gentle spray from the hose.
All of this reminds me of a trail ride we had with Romeo and Valentine a few years ago. It was a hot day and the trail paralleled a large lake for a long ways. All of us started wishing we had brought our swimsuits so we could cool off in the lake. Then one of our friends had an idea. She remembered a section of trail that led to the lake, a short way (about 600 feet) from a small flat island. Why don’t we ride the horses through the water to the island so they can cool off? It rains in Tennessee a lot so we already brought Ziploc bags with us to protect our phones. We bagged them and our wallets and then pointed our horses towards the small island. It was shallow and the horses clearly enjoyed it, splashing around with their hooves. We all got a little wet, which was great because of the heat. When we almost made it to the island, the lake was a little deeper than expected. This was no problem for 16.2 hand Valentine but poor 14.2 hand Romeo had water past his belly and heading towards his neck. Horses are pretty good swimmers but his rider got a little more wet than expected. Riding boots hold a lot of water!
We made it to the island and back just fine and were all a little cooler because of it. That was a great way to cool off during a warm trail ride and I would do it again but maybe next time I’ll bring a bathing suit.
The U.S. is days away from celebrating Independence Day or as we commonly call it, the Fourth of July. For many, that means a day off, barbecuing, and fireworks after dark. Horses, on the other hand, don’t seem to enjoy the day as much humans. We live in Tennessee where fireworks, even big, bright, loud scary ones, are legal outside of city limits. And since we’re not in city limits, fireworks go off all around our property on the 4th of July. Years ago Mikki, the Kid and I were huge fireworks fans and up until owning horses enjoyed shooting off our own here at the house. But now that we have horses and a few dogs that are terrified of loud booms, we’ve nixed our home fireworks display. One year we left the television playing loudly and headed out to see a large town fireworks display. When we got home, one of our dogs was in shock. Unbeknownst to us, our next door neighbors set off a huge fireworks display, courtesy of visiting family for the holiday. We’re told it went on for a long time and I can imagine it seemed to our pets inside and our horses in the the pasture that something was attacking all around.
The Parellis teach the importance of thinking like a horse in order to understand how they’ll react to us and different scenarios and that advice makes perfect sense to me. As prey animals, they’re constantly on the lookout for something that could attack them and besides something running towards you, nothing says “RUN FOR YOUR LIFE!” quite like loud bangs and bright flashes of light overhead.
Needless to say, we no longer shoot any kind of fireworks at our place. Our neighbors, the ones with the large fireworks display, have since moved. And we now stay home and comfort our dogs while keeping an eye on our horses.
How do you deal with fireworks around your horses?
It was hard to ignore the buzzing around my head as I tossed square bales from the trailer into the second story loft of our horse barn. I knew what it meant. The throbbing on the back of my neck from a wasp attack the day before made me extra sensitive to the threat. I did not want to be stung again. But if keeping me away was the intended result, the wasps in our barn were likely surprised at my response to their aggressive flybys. I walked away and a few minutes later returned with a can that would bring peace to the barn that night – at least to the humans. With it I unleashed a stream of prallethrin and cypermethrin wasp spray, enough to decimate a village of around 15 nests I had foolishly allowed to develop this spring. Enough is enough. It was time to take back the barn.
You’d think I’d learn from experience on this but it turns out a year is a long time to remember practical experience. One decision from the previous year turned out to be right, though, and I was glad for it this night. For some reason I bought a warehouse club sized pack of wasp spray which was ready for use when needed this year. It’s the kind of thing you don’t want to have to stop and drive to the store to get when those evil creatures attack. My recommendation is to have easy access to several cans of wasp spray so you can immediately fight back in anger and vengeance. Yes, let the hatred flow through you. You’ll need this kind of drive if they get wise to your plans because you have to push through and kill them all if you want to stop looking over your shoulder in the barn.
Here are some additional tips for declaring war on wasps in your barn:
Buy a bunch at a warehouse club or at least grab 2-12 cans at your favorite home store. Do not allow yourself to run out. You will need it some day in a hurry! And you’ll probably need more than you think. Don’t worry, it’s cheap.
Wasp spray companies have wisely figured out that you would prefer to be 1000 feet from the thing you’re trying to kill. Most cans can shoot the spray a long distance but remember that they have limited effectiveness when the can starts to get low. Don’t show up all cocky to a giant wasp nest full of the angry devils only to find your can sputtering out or you will find yourself quickly and painfully searching Google for “how to treat wasp stings.“
Since you may need wasp spray quickly, place cans in a few places where you know you’ll find them, like inside the door to your tack room and outside the door to your tack room and in the back pocket of your jeans. Just in case you are new to children, keep out of reach of children.
Careful around pets. Our barn cats love to play with alive, dead or dying bugs. Sometimes this play involves them nibbling and we don’t want our pets eating any kind of poison. Also, warn your cats that you’re about to do something shocking or be prepared to learn what happens when cats are shocked and you’re nearby. If you opt for that learning experience, have bandages, a tourniquet, a cell phone, and a video recorder nearby.
Some wasps build nests quickly, especially the mean little Napoleon buggers. They’re harder to see flying around but can sting repeatedly and fast. You should be in the habit of scanning common nest locations to see if any new ones have appeared.
Speaking of which, remove old nests. It’ll make it easier to see new nests from a distance. I used to like to leave them there as a warning the future broods but it doesn’t seem to work.
Spray at night. Not only will it be more fun to try and find the scary little flying poison darts in the dark, wasps don’t fly much at night so you’re likely to catch them all at home. Of course you should bring a flashlight and practice emergency retreating to avoid stepping on a rake and other Three Stooges moments.
Wear gloves or at least wash your hands soon after releasing the death spray. Sure you’re not a wasp but I can’t imagine soaking up any kind of poison is good for you.
Because you won’t listen to number 2, know where the benadryl cream is before starting. Let’s face it, you’re probably gonna get stung and you don’t want to spend time frantically flinging things out of your medicine cabinet afterwards while you look for it. Or worse, going to the store. The cream has helped me but some people also swear by the tablets. Whatever stops the pain and swelling.
Maybe this should be number 1 but hopefully you’re still reading. Avoid wasps entirely if you have an extreme allergic reaction to their poison. Maybe carry an Epi-Pen, too. I don’t know how common this is but don’t risk your life if you’re prone to serious allergic reactions. Leave the little jerks to the professionals in this case or that friend that thinks a little pain makes them feel more alive. Tell them there is plenty of life right there in your barn.
Hopefully you’ll be able to avoid being stung this year! Good luck and feel free to share thoughts and recommendations in the comments.
Technology is amazing. Chances are you’re reading this on an mobile phone or tablet but even more amazing than that is how you can use those devices to give you an advantage in addressing medical issues for your animals. Last year Valentine had a potentially serious corneal ulcer in his right eye. Eye injuries like this usually start out as just a scratch – it was probably dumb luck, like a piece of hay poking his eye at just the right angle as he dove his head into a big round bale. It’s amazing that kind of thing doesn’t happen more often. Although we see our horses pretty regularly, by the time we noticed him squinting, it had probably already been a few days since he scratched the eye and an infection had set in. Valentine was a trooper as we put on some triple antibiotic eye ointment. It seemed better after a couple of days so we stopped treatment and figured it had healed. This turned out to be a mistake. A friend noticed him squinting again and sure enough the irritation was back. At this point we knew it might be more than a minor scratch so the next step was seeking a professional opinion. That’s where the iPhone comes in.
As patient as Valentine was with us putting ointment in his eye, he didn’t much care to hold still for 10 seconds while we tried to take a picture of his eye. He didn’t know what we were up to as we kept moving this hand-sized block around in front of his face so I can’t blame him for being nervous about it. That’s when I remembered that my new (at the time) iPhone 6 had a slow motion video capture feature that could be useful. At 240 fps (frames per second), using slow motion mode did a pretty good job of letting us take several seconds of video, slowing them down on the phone and capturing a screenshot in the millisecond when his eye was open and his head wasn’t moving around. We could then text that screenshot to our horse vet who was able to give a preliminary diagnosis. All we needed to know was whether or not it was serious and if she should come out to our barn right away.
In this case it turned out to be serious enough to warrant a visit. The photo below, also taken from an iPhone 6, is a still shot we were able to get after the doc applied Fluorescein to his eye. (Fluorescein is a stain that gets sucked into scratches and the like to make them more visible.) It looks a little gross in the photo but in it you can easily see the ulcer (which at this point was pretty visible, stain or no).
Valentine’s treatment lasted about six weeks and it wasn’t simple. For the first week or so we had to treat his eye every four hours, which meant we set an alarm and got up a few times in the night. It was like having a newborn – except you had to get up, get dressed and walk outside in the cold. He was kept in the barn to facilitate this but also because some of the treatment required that his eyes were dilated with atropine so we had to protect him from bright light. Poor Valentine had to endure serum (made from his own blood), OptiMend and antibiotic ointment, all applied directly to his eye. He did seem to enjoy the horse treats we gave him as a reward. After the intensive treatment period, we were able to (thankfully) go down to every twelve hours. I think he ran from the barn when the six weeks was up. We walked him periodically for exercise but who wants to live in a barn for six weeks? I would have done a happy dance on the way out.
The lesson here is check your horses often, don’t let eye injuries go, and get creative with early diagnosis by using your phone as a medical communication device.
So far this year we’ve seen three snakes, which is more than we’ve seen in 10 years of living in east Tennessee. One I noticed in the grass near the barn. After that I resolved to cut the grass weekly to make it easier to see what’s in the grass. That was nothing compared with the next sighting. One night while preparing to get in bed, I found a large (4-5 foot) rat snake trying to also get into our bed. We removed it and did an intense search for access points, sealing a few small but plausible entry points. Then this past weekend we noticed a copperhead in the road in front of the barn. This one we killed, which was especially good because she was carrying future copperheads. In speaking with friends and neighbors, it seems this is a big year for snakes in our area, not just around our place. Have you seen more snakes this year?
No picture, mostly because I don’t want to see a snake every time I come here and I figured that was true for you also.