We just solved a mystery. For years we couldn’t get Romeo to drink much in his stall. Our horses aren’t in their stalls every day so we weren’t too concerned. He also doesn’t rush to the trough when we let him out. Valentine has always been a big drinker, but Romeo doesn’t touch his water bucket. Of course, we provided fresh, clean water from the same source as the water trough which he uses. Horses are different, though, so we figured this is just one of those things. Then Mikki had an idea. She tried a different bucket. It worked! It seems this horse doesn’t like light-colored buckets. What a strange requirement! If you find one of your horses aren’t drinking much water in the stall, consider changing the bucket to one of a different color.
I can’t tell you how many times we’ve walked up the hill to our barn only realizing we forgot the key when we reached the tack room door. Sometimes one of us would have the key but was on another part of the property and had to be tracked down before the tack room could be accessed. We also needed a way to provide guest access when we travel. The solution for us was a keypad deadbolt. We purchased this Kwikset version for around $60, about the price a similar one goes for today (like this one at Amazon). The deadbolt is water-resistant and the batteries last a long time – almost two years when you use lithium AA batteries. If the batteries die, you can simply use the key. Each of us has our own code and we have guest codes for those to whom we want to provide temporary access. We’ve been using this system for about 5 years now without issues.
There are, of course, all kinds of fancy new ones with Bluetooth or wifi connectivity that let you lock/unlock your door from a distance but be prepared to spend two or three times more on those. If the one we have stops working, I intend to purchase another one like it. It’s inexpensive, simple, and so-far durable.
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.”
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 the 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.
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.
July 2019 update: The exact same bottle of Spectracide wasp killer in the photo above is still available for about $3 a can (Rural King). I walked by a store display and did a double-take, recognizing it from this post. It works really well.
Late winter and early spring are especially wet times of year in East Tennessee. Thankfully the longer, warmer days and the higher angle of the sun are helping dry the pasture occasionally but we’re dealing with erosion, wet hooves and a soggy barn right now. Our barn is on a slope and for the most part is designed to channel rain water away and down the street or through a ditch and down a hill in the pasture. But elevation is tricky and water goes where it wants. Rain eventually pools in front of the third bay (a little hard to see in the photo below – bottom middle) and overflows into the bay and then makes its way through the barn. As you can imagine, this makes a yucky mess in not only the center aisle but sometimes in Valentine’s stall.
The solution, albeit somewhat temporary, is a simple one. The clay dirt here is a pain to work with, heavy, thick and slimy when wet, but in this case its difficulties present an advantage. The clay that barely lets any water seep into the ground is also useful in channeling the water. I simply shoveled some of it to build up what I’m calling a “micro levee”, basically a hump in the dirt to keep the rain out. It’ll wear down as we drive over it (we store hay in this area and frequently park the trailer there) but I’ll add more dirt over time. It’s far better than dealing with mud inside the barn.
It may seem like a little bit of loose dirt to you, but it saved us quite a mess this week. If you live where it rains a lot and the soil isn’t very porous, try to use the clay to your advantage.
After years of quickly kicking gates closed while our hands were full, only to have them swing open again, we finally installed a good solution. I’ve seen these for sale at the local co-op and Tractor Supply and the idea has always made a lot of sense to me. As you can see in the picture below, when installed properly, the latch is designed to catch your gate and hold it securely. What you can’t see in the picture is that you lift the gold part on the top to release the latch and the latch works on both sides. That was important because sometimes we need to open/close it from the inside and sometimes we need to swing it out. At the very bottom of the latch on the barn side and the gate side there are slotted openings through which to insert a padlock, though we found that some padlocks are too short or too thick. It took a little experimentation to find the right size.
How does it work? Very well! We always try to do barn chores together but there are times when we have to do chores alone and it really helps to be able to quickly swing the gate shut. For example, I needed to drive the tractor through the barn the other day and no one else was around to help. When the horses see the tractor headed for the barn, sometimes they follow and I’ve had them run in real fast, probably thinking they’ll be fed. That’s why we have a double gate system. They can technically run into the barn but can’t escape because of another gate. One of the gates is always closed to prevent escapes. Still, I prefer that none of them get into the barn like this. It’s not safe. With this gate latch, when alone I can hop off of the tractor, throw open the gate, drive in and, if I time it right and I’m a little lucky, I can jump off swing the gate shut before any of the herd gets too close. Having the gate automatically latch has helped tremendously.
On the barn, we had to add a spacer board to get the latch to match up to the gate side (as seen below). There is a little flexibility so you don’t have to line it up perfectly but it has to be pretty close.
We liked this product so much we installed one on the upper gate and on one of our walk-through gates. I suppose you could even angle your gate hinges downhill a little and have a semi self-closing gate. Overall, well worth the money, in our opinion!
The one we bought is apparently from SpeeCo (via Tractor Supply), called a Two-Way Lockable Gate Latch, $25. We’re not affiliated with Tractor Supply and make no money recommending this product, btw.
We moved to Tennessee from Arizona. It’s not that we didn’t like Arizona but there were some things in Tennessee Mikki in particular wanted to experience. She wanted to be surrounded by greenery, have a garden (for the first time ever!), experience rivers with actual water in them…and to possibly own her own horse. We had been traveling to east Tennessee for years to visit family and on our final trip as visitors, we looked at some property with Mikki’s parents who were looking to retire soon. We happened upon the property where we live now and loved it from the start. Almost 8.5 acres, mostly fenced for horses with two barns, including a mostly new barn with three finished horse stalls, room for hay storage, a tack room and a covered port for storing a horse trailer. Perfect! Honestly, I think the barn is what sold the place. Nine months later, Valentine showed up and the rest we’ve been blogging about since February 2006.
After more than seven years of blogging about our horse experience, I realize I’ve never gone into much detail about the barn. And since I have some things I want to do to the barn and I’ll want to write about those things, it seems like you need to know the basics.
Our barn has three finished horse stalls, one semi-finished stall with room for five total. We initially used two unfinished stalls for storage and had no intention on having more than three horses but then Romeo and Cash came along so we cleaned out one of the storage stalls. Romeo occupied that stall for a while but now it belongs to Jazzy the mule. We plan to replace the metal gate (which Romeo got his head stuck in years ago) we use as a wall with a full wooden wall. The barn is open in the center aisle and the aisle is big enough to drive a truck, hay wagon or tractor through. At this point we don’t have doors on the ends but it’s an addition we’re planning. In the winter it’s darn cold in there and it would be nice to close up the barn during bad storms. Except for Jazzy’s, each stall has an inside door and an outside door/window combo. The roof is metal and boy does it make a racket during rain storms. The horse stalls are 12×12 with a dirt floor.
We love our barn but have some ideas for improvement and we’ll be writing about these as we accomplish them. This list isn’t in order of importance:
- Paved center aisle
- Outside lean-to for covered feeding
- Hay loft over the storage stall (done! I’ll write about this soon)
- Barn doors – each end. Either sliding or hinged
- Water piping with quick disconnect
- Horse shower capability
- Stall flooring with drainage
- Reinforced security door for tack room
- Covered front “porch”
- Paved parking area
- Camera security system with remote monitoring
- Rainwater collection system
- Aerated composting system
- Hay elevator for lofts (not as expensive as it sounds)
- Slide pole for exiting lofts 🙂
- Lights over every stall
- Barn speakers/radio
- Pneumatic pipes with quick-connects (for filling tires and running air tools)
Some of those are clearly luxury items, such as the paved center aisle and barn speakers but if you spend a lot of time in a barn, why not make it more enjoyable and easier to clean?
We’ve put most of these projects off all these years but we’re finally starting to catch up on projects. More later.
What’s on your list of horse-related projects this year?
Happiness is a yard full of hay. About this time of year (late winter), we’re still a little nervous about our hay supply but things are starting to look up. It’s March and the grass isn’t growing yet but we expect the first harvest will likely be in late May if the rain is average. The hay barns are getting empty and just about everyone we know is looking around for more. In some years this has driven the late winter prices up but since the harvest was exceptional last year, this winter the prices have been steady. We pay about $30 for an 800 to 900 pound round bale of good horse hay. During the winter we use about 5 round bales a month for three horses and a mule. That translates into $150 a month for feed, which isn’t bad for four equines.
As luck would have it, we recently ran out of round bales in the middle of bad weather. We knew we were running low but we were hoping for a few sunny days to dry out the muddy pasture so the tractor didn’t tear up the ground. The nice weather never came so one cold and yucky day we started making calls and found out our main supplier was also out. Fortunately he had planned to truck some more in from one of his storage barns far away but we had to wait a few days. When this happens we feed our horses square bales from our hay loft but our supply of those is almost gone as well. We thought we’d have to buy an emergency bale from the feed store but their prices run much higher than we normally pay and they don’t always have inventory. Thankfully we had just enough square bales to hold us over and our main supplier even offered to deliver the hay to our barn, saving us a trip to his place with a truck and a trailer. We ended up buying his entire trailer load – 17 big round bales, saving him from having to unload them at his barn and saving us from having to buy hay again for months. We hope to not need more hay until after the first harvest.
It was a tight squeeze. We fed one bale to some very happy horses, put four on our trailer (normally it fits seven but these are much bigger round bales), a couple behind the trailer, a few in Romeo’s old open stall and four in front of the barn covered with a big tarp.
We’ve said this before but if you’re thinking about having horses of your own, give some thought to year round hay supply. Don’t count on your supplier always having hay the day you need it and plan for shortages and bad weather. For some reason we always have to feed new round bales when the weather is the worst or we’re sick or busy, etc. It’s bad enough to be out in it but it’s worse if you have to factor in loading up a trailer and driving around to buy some in bad weather. Think about where you can store a good sized load and arrange for delivery or pickup well before you’ll absolutely need it. At the very least, have some large tarps handy and a way to secure them to protect those bales from moisture (more on that in another post). Also, if a hay harvest is good, it’s great to be able to buy a big load at a discount. In some years a good first harvest was followed by awful drought. Buying cheap in the spring saved us a load of money later in the summer when the drought forced prices up.
Even though I wrote a pretty big check for that many bales, I love having the peace of mind knowing I don’t have to worry about hay for the next 2-3 months and that is well worth it.
In the last two years we’ve experienced several violent spring storms come through east Tennessee and are starting to refer to spring as “tornado season.” We’re looking forward to the end of winter but not to the scary part of spring. It’s bad enough to not know when and if a tornado is coming but having horses makes it worse because they could be far out in pasture, they aren’t easy to move quickly and they don’t fit in the basement or the bathtub.
There were 936 tornadoes in the U.S. in 2012, according to NOAA/National Weather Service. And while some areas are at much higher average risk, all states are at risk. This map is a little old (1950-2005) but gives a quick visual idea of where tornadoes can occur.
So what should we do with our horses during a tornado threat? …