I came across this scene when checking Moonshine’s water recently. It’s so much tail hair that it took me a few seconds to realize what must have happened. Horses this time of year really swish their tails around to keep the flying insects away. Moonshine must have been a little too close to her water bucket this time and when she pull away, the tail hair got stuck under the hanger. What happened next, I can only guess. Either she panicked and it happened fast or it happened slowly. I’m not sure which would be more painful but I would bet pulling this much hair out of your tail hurts either way. Ouch!
One of the things I neglected to mention about our daily summer routine is leaving the stall doors open. The main reason for doing this is so our free range chickens can feast on the bugs that lurk beneath all that fertile ground. We’ve had chickens for a few years now and have found them completely compatible with horse life. In all the time we’ve never had problems with them not getting along. For the most part our chickens and horses don’t spend a lot of time together. Horses have the night shift in the barn and chickens have the day shift. Every once in a while a chicken will still be in a stall when a horse goes in. This results in either a lot of squawking, followed by a chicken flying out of the stall on its own (they can actually fly a little) or the chicken just hangs out scratching around the stall, peacefully coexisting with a horse until it’s done munching bugs.
They do an amazing job of keeping bugs down all around our place and keep the stalls from getting too compacted by using their large, strong feet and claws to scratch several inches of dirt. They’re especially good at digging around the edges. That must be where the good bugs are. When they start digging too far down around the foundation of a support beam, we just push dirt back with our boots.
Putting out hay takes a little more time. Although our chickens have a regular roosting spot and house (a moveable one we built called a chicken tractor), sometimes one is missing for a few days. When we put hay out we usually find the reason she was missing. Apparently hay makes a great nest! We just need to be careful we don’t squish any eggs when we’re moving bales.
So if you’re considering chickens, chances are they’ll be compatible with your horses. They’re a lot of fun to have around and it’s nice having a regular supply of fresh eggs. We’ve found ours to be winter-hardy here in east Tennessee as long as we provide a regular source of food and water and ample bedding. And you don’t need a rooster unless you want baby chicks.
Do you have chickens around your horses?
Fat horses have motivated us to shift our summertime horse routine. Since Cash foundered last month, we noticed all of our horses were on the heavy side. It’s been very hot and humid so they’re not getting much exercise. We didn’t want to put grazing muzzles on all of them. Our solution has been to put them into the barn at night to reduce access to hay and grass. A nice side benefit is that we’re sure to see them twice a day to check for irregularities.
So an average day looks like this: …
On Monday, we had to say goodbye to Jack, our loyal Jack Russell terrier. My parents and I bought him as a birthday gift for Bill in 1998. He was, as we liked to fondly call him, “the worst birthday present ever.” Being a Jack Russell, he liked to bark at anything and everything. To be expected, but so annoying! As a bonus, for his first few months with us, he peed in the house and would not stop, culminating with an incident during a move from one house to another when he peed on our bed right before we fell into it, exhausted. Believe it or not, he survived that night, and that was the last time he ever peed in the house until his final illness.
He turned into a pretty good dog, though, and we loved him a lot. He was our only dog when we moved here to Tennessee in 2005. He adapted from city dog to farm dog quite well – he LOVED it here. His favorite place, other than on the couch in the air-conditioned house, was the barn. He had a thing for horse apples and hoof trimmings.
Last January we took him to the vet because we were afraid the Buddha belly he’d developed was more than just fat. Alas, we were right. It was fluid buildup due to liver failure. The vet thought he probably had liver cancer. We started him on diuretic medication to make him more comfortable and began to wait for the inevitable.
A year later, he was still plugging along, but he had developed diarrhea and started peeing in the house. Took him back to the vet and discovered that he was now also in kidney failure. We put him on SQ fluids and a special diet and waited for the inevitable.
The diuretic stopped working a couple of months later so we stopped giving it. His breathing got to be more labored but the tough little dog hung in there. He started having problems eating too, and after a really tough couple of weeks, he virtually stopped eating altogether last week. We reluctantly agreed that the time had come. So on Monday, July 25, we had to say goodbye for good. Jack was 14 years old and we’d had him for more than 13 years. Wow, was that hard. Knowing it’s coming doesn’t make it any easier.
RIP little Jack buddy. We’ll miss you.
In our travels we’ve seen some pretty fancy barns. We’re not rich so we can’t afford a landscaping staff to decorate and care for our barn plants like the beautiful Biltmore Mansion stables, for example. But as soon as the weather warms enough to stop threatening frost, I look for ways to liven up the place. Last year I added simple black metal hangers from our barn posts and bought some ferns. This may sound weird but I saw something similar on the porch of a funeral home and I liked how it looked. But I have a poor history with plants. Some colorblindness prevents me from easily telling the difference between green and brown. Unless something is shriveled up, I’m likely to keep watering it, wondering why it doesn’t grow or flower again. I also tend to have trouble with how often to water plants so I either over or under water. Ferns looked hardy. After all, they grow wild in the woods with no one to water them. How hard could it be? But a month into my barn beautification experiment I was reminded why I wasn’t a horticulturist. I might not have been able to tell if they were brown or green but those suckers looked dead to me. Unfazed by my plant failures from last year, I invested in some new ferns this year and I think I may have figured out the secret. Each day when I let the horses in, I water the ferns. Since they’re in hanging baskets, they seem to dry out quickly. And judging from the moist environment in the mountains where ferns thrive, I’m guessing the container-bound ferns prefer to be moist as well. I judge how much water to give them by sensing the weight empty versus wet. I’ve gone as long as a single day without watering without trouble. It’s extra work but the results are worth it to me. I’m going to have to find someone to water my plants when we go on vacation.
I learned one important lesson that in retrospect should have been obvious. Do not put a plant within reach of horses. Remember, they have long necks! Last year Moonshine ate the fern on the pole nearest the pasture.
I’d love to hear how you decorate your barn with plants or flowers in the warmer months. Any green thumbs out there? In the meantime, maybe someone can tell me if the ferns in the picture are green or brown. 🙂
A stick figure cartoon about the different ways our horses poop in their stalls:
As illustrated by the least artistically capable person in my house (me).
Okay, your turn. Tell us how your horses poop.
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:
- Concrete or asphalt blacktop
- Drain tile
- 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.
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:
November 30, 2018 update
I can’t believe it’s been 8 years since I wrote about this. A comment on the post reminded me that it’s time for a quick update.
The application of manufactured sand to the barn entrance from the pasture did the trick alright. 8 years later and it’s mostly still in place. We’ve lost a little to erosion (we still need to install a drainage pipe. A small stream runs near this area when it rains hard) but it’s not the muddy mess we had when we started. The horses congregate here because the water trough is located nearby.
Now that the weather is warm in east Tennessee, the flies are coming out in a big way. One afternoon recently I happened to catch Valentine coming in for a drink and noticed his face (mostly his eyes) were covered in flies. We probably waited a little too long to begin our fly control routine but the good news is, we can catch up. Flies and horses go together but our fly control system works very well. We use a combination of the following things:
- Fly masks
- Feed-through fly control
- Equi-Spot on-horse
- Liquid fly traps
- Mr. Sticky Roll Fly tape
- Fly spray (as needed)
- Fly predators
- Aerated manure composting – coming soon
Wow, that seems like a lot, but let me explain. Flies come in cycles with adults living from 3-4 weeks. But before the adult stage they move from egg to larva to pupa stage in 9-25 days (feeding on organic material) for house flies and 23-52 days (feeding on blood) for stable flies. So any kind of fly control you implement today won’t be noticeable for several weeks, which is why you need to get started as soon as possible. There are so many ways to control flies but not all of them target the same part of the life cycle. So let’s explore my list in more detail, with prices:
Fly Masks – we use fly masks (our current favorite is the Farnam SuperMask II) because they have an immediate impact. I noticed flies on my horses’ eyes and was immediately able to rectify the problem. The first time we ever used a fly mask, our horses didn’t particularly like the velcro ripping sound but eventually got used to it and give us no trouble at all putting them on in the morning or removing them in the evening. Yes, that’s right, you need to put them on and take them off daily. Although the masks have the added benefit of cutting down on light (kinda like horsey sunglasses!), this obviously isn’t a good thing at night. And even though the screen of the masks make it look like horses wouldn’t be able to see out of them, I’ve actually strapped one on and driven down our street to prove a point. You can see fine through the screen mesh, as long as it’s day. Cost is $15-$20 each but they last a long time if you take care of them.
Feed-through fly control – I was initially concerned with feeding insecticide to my horses but it’s a very small dose for them and has proven effective and safe in horses and cows for many years. Feed-through fly control works well because it keeps the flies from hatching in manure. You won’t notice the benefit for weeks but this method works very well if you stick with it all summer. Some feed stores sell it in 2 pound tubs and higher, some feed stores actually sell it in bulk so you can buy a small bag for less than $10. I’d recommend sticking with a well known brand, though and do some research before selecting which brand you’re going to trust.
Equi-Spot on-horse – Equispot is applied directly to the body of your horse, mostly down their spine and on their legs. It’s effective for a couple of weeks at repelling and killing “house, stable, face and horse flies, plus eye gnats and ticks on horses”. This is the only method we use to treat against ticks, so it’s pretty important. It needs to be applied every 2 weeks or so but the benefits are worth it and it takes affect immediately. Oh and it has a nice citronella smell and is water resistant. The price is around $11 for a package of three applicators (one applicator per horse, per application). Sometimes Jeffers has a deal where you get one free if you buy 3 or 4 packages.
Liquid fly traps – I saw these at my local country hardware store one day and decided to give them a try. These are clear plastic bowls with a funnel underneath that the flies use to enter the trap. They’re attracted by fly stink bait (trust me on this – WEAR GLOVES to mix it. The smell stays on you for days otherwise.) and can’t escape, eventually drowning. These are cheap (around $5 each) and easy to setup. You open up the stink bait, add water, swirl it around a little, turn it upside down and hang it somewhere. In weeks you’ll have a disgusting pool of dead flies. It’s gross but it works. Since it uses a fly attractant, don’t hang in the barn.
Mr. Sticky Roll Fly tape – I saw this at Tractor Supply one day and had to try it. It’s a new take on the idea of fly tape. Instead of those cylinders handing from the ceiling with yellow tape on them, the Mr. Stick fly tape is more of a thick string on a set of rollers you can string above your stalls. The tape is long – 81 feet. Flies are attracted to it, stick and die. When the tape is full, you turn the roller to reveal more. Much faster than the old fashioned fly tape and the price is low. Less than $10 for 81 feet.
Fly spray (as needed) – Our horses HATE this stuff but probably because it comes in a spray bottle. It’s not very water resistant and needs re-applying often. But where fly spray makes sense is for as-needed situations, such as around (not on) a healing wound or on the legs. To minimize the spray bottle effect, we spray onto a cloth and them rub the cloth on the horses. This works especially well on their faces. This stuff is pretty expensive, running $10-$25 per bottle, so we use it sparingly.
Fly parasites – Fly parasites (really gnat-sized parasitic wasps) remind me of alien science fiction movies where the alien hatches from it’s prey. That’s pretty much how it works with fly predators, too. And gross as that may be, these have been effective at fly treatment for us for years now. You subscribe to receive regular shipments throughout the fly season and every 3-4 weeks a shipment comes in a padded yellow envelop. You have a few days before the parasites hatch. Once they begin hatching (they look like little gnats), you spread them around where flies are likely to be, such as a manure pile. And although I at first was concerned with introducing a parasite near my horses, they are only interested in pillaging the flies. Price is around $15-$20 per shipment.
Aerated manure composting – I’ve been talking about this for a while now but ultimately we need to do something about our manure. That’s what seems to attract flies the most and we have plenty of it. Of course you should endeavor to keep manure away from the barn as much as possible but the reality is, this isn’t always possible. We’ve been looking into aerated composting as a way to not only deal with the fly problem but also to ensure that manure is fully composted, killing weed seeds and harmful bacteria before we spread it in the pasture. Composting is a pain, normally, but aerated composting uses perforated pipe, a fan and timer to inject oxygen into the manure pile periodically, stimulating bacterial breakdown. It’s said you can convert manure to safe compost in 30 days using this method, without manually turning the pile. We haven’t done it yet but we’ve scoped out a location and made some napkin drawings of what it would look like. Cost is around $1,000-$2,000 so we’ve been putting it off. There are a few companies selling aerated composting systems and we’re hoping to doing a review in an upcoming series of posts.
Chickens – We were given some chickens last year and have enjoyed almost everything about having them. One bonus is that chickens seem to love eating fly larvae, so I have to include them in our fly management routine. They need very little care, don’t smell (unless you have a lot of them) and skip the rooster and you won’t have to worry about baby chickens. The eggs are great, too. The biggest problems we have with chickens are what to do with all of the eggs (one per hen per day most of the year) and since we free-range our chickens, predators. We’ve been pretty lucky so far but there is little we could do to save them if a wandering dog went into to predator mode.
As with anything relating to chemicals and your horses, make sure you do research before pursuing any of the insecticide options in particular. Some don’t mix well with others and your safety and your horse’s safety should be the first concern.
So that’s what we do to handle the annual fly problem. Are you doing anything different?
05-20-2010 Update: added chickens to the list!
When it rains, it pours here in East Tennessee. To make winters even less pleasant, the frequent rain (January is our second rainiest month) is causing us work and making the lives of our horses a little less fun. Even though it was warm Sunday when I shot this little video, I decided to let the horses in to dry off and they seemed to appreciate it. I can’t wait until we have a few dry days to move some dirt. We knew we had some new drainage issues but the big rain storm Sunday made it seem a lot worse. I made this quick 2 minute, 26 second video to show you how muddy our place is right now. Now with voice overs! LOL. Once you get past the first few dizzy seconds, the rest of the video is pretty smooth.
So does your barn and pasture look like this right now, too?
Sure, our horses know which stall to go in at feeding time but we’ve always wanted nice horse stall signs. We’ve thought about having someone make some carved ones but thought it might look too big. Most of the horse accessory catalogs sell engraved ones and those were okay but they always reminded me of baseball trophy engraving and the labels just seemed too small. I wanted something bold and good looking, with impact. Mikki surprised me one day by ordering stall signs from Metal Image Creations (http://www.metalimagecreations.com), a family small business that specializes in custom stall signs and custom display signs (warning signs, company signs and even trophies). The signs she ordered show our horse’s barn names in bold, along with their fancy pedigree names underneath (I keep forgetting the fancy names so this comes in handy). The text appears to be lasered onto aluminum, the edges are rounded and there are two small holes on the top for mounting. I love these stall signs! I put them up about three months ago and they look as good today as they did when I first unwrapped them. The price was right, too. Only $19 each. I’m amazed at the high quality lettering and the info sheet that came with the stall signs indicates the lettering “is so tough that an image cannot be removed by erasure, and even resists abrasives such as steel wool, extreme temperatures, fungus, and most corrosive atmospheres.” I hope out stall signs aren’t exposed to most of those things but I did try to scratch the lettering with my fingernail with no luck.
I meant to write about these months ago and even took some nice pictures but I can’t find them at the moment. Below is a photo I took of Moonshine a few weeks back with some reindeer antlers we bought for future Christmas pictures. Yeah, she’s REALLY dirty in this picture but at least you can see the cool sign. We have one for each horse and no doubt you’ll see them in upcoming photos.
Metal Image Creations didn’t pay us anything for this review. We just like this product so much, we wanted to pass on the info:
Mark and Lisa Peters
Metal Image Creations