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.
Okay, I admit it. We are fair-weather horse people. When the temperature gets below seventy or so, we have no interest in riding.
There. Now you know the truth.
I don’t know about where you live, but here in east Tennessee, winter is just plain ugly. It doesn’t snow much, so you don’t have the icy but beautiful snow-covered landscape. It’s not warm like Arizona or Florida, so you don’t feel the urge to saddle up a horse and ride across the sand with the sun on your back. Tennessee winter can be summed up in one word: “muddy.”
Although it really doesn’t get very cold (although Bill would disagree with that assessment), and in fact there are occasional warm days (in the 60’s), riding in winter here is just too much of hassle unless you’re really serious. Or if your horses, unlike ours, stay clean all winter. Because here is the number one reason why we don’t ride in the winter: two of our three horses (and the mule) stay covered in mud all winter long. To ride, you would first have to clean a horse. That is enough of a chore if the mud is dry – you could spend a good half-hour or more just brushing off the dirt where the saddle and cinch would go. But more often than not, the mud is still wet, because apparently Romeo and Cash think they are elephants. Or hippos. Or maybe just plain pigs. After a night in the barn, drying off (and flaking off), the first thing those two do when they hit the pasture is find a mud hole to roll in. (And, by the way, it’s not just mud.) Warmer than Minnesota it may be, but it’s still not warm enough to bathe a muddy horse. So, no riding.
Nothing else having to do with horses is much fun in the winter, either. To tell you the truth, we kind of just want to hibernate until spring, so going outside to do anything is really unappealing. Like I told Bill the other day, there is no joy in horse ownership in the winter. So our poor horses are given the most basic care we can get away with all winter long.
Here’s the thing though: we will pay the price come spring. When it finally does warm up and green up and dry out, we will want to brush off all that winter mud and slap our saddles on those now-gorgeous horses and head down a trail. But after spending all winter eating hay, rolling in the mud, and generally acting like a wild herd with no interference from the humans, our horses will be far from ride-worthy. So instead of spending those first glorious days of spring on the trail, we will be riding in circles in the round pen.
That is, after we put the round pen back up, that is. Because the other thing we don’t like to do in the winter is fence building. So when it first warms up, we will be finishing the fence where the round pen panels have been serving as “temporary” fence (long story), so we can reassemble our round pen.
So right now, we’re warm and toasty in the house and only feeling only slightly guilty for neglecting our poor horses in favor of staying as warm as possible, but I know we’re in for many weekends where we stare wistfully at trucks pulling horse trailers, heading off for adventure while we are spending all our time just catching up.
I sure hope we can catch up in time to have a few weeks of good riding before it gets cold and muddy again. Sigh…I hate winter.
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:
Concrete or asphalt blacktop
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.
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.
We ignored the advice from our farm friends about buying a two wheel drive tractor for our small horse farm. To this day, they still tell us it’s a waste of money but we think otherwise. Our east Tennessee land gets pretty muddy and it only takes a little bit of rain to make it slick. If we planned on using this tractor any time other than when it was completely dry, we would have been out of luck with 2wd. 4wd isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity where we live and our 4WD Kubota with locking rear differential is serving us well. Here’s a short video (1:24 minutes) showing some examples of why we needed a 4wd tractor:
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?
Well, it’s not currently “mud season,” but we appear to have made some serious headway on the mud situation. We’ll know for sure when winter comes – when it’s never warm enough outside to dry out the mud – but for now I’m cautiously optimistic. The entryway to our barn, formerly a quagmire of hoof-sucking, boot-stealing, horseshoe-swallowing mud, is a nice flat expanse of plain old dirt. The winner in this fight: SAND.
Originally, we tried two different techniques, straw and sand. We used straw exclusively in one section, sand in the other. When it became apparent that sand was having the most effect, we expanded the area in which were were using sand. Now, the best way to have done this would have been to buy a dump-truck load of sand and shovel it over the whole area; but since we didn’t know for sure it was going to work, we just periodically bought 50-pound bags of sand and put them in the worst areas. Over time, the whole barn-entry area was treated, and it is so much better. We’ll keep adding to it as winter approaches; in fact, we will probably go ahead and get that dump-truck load now that we know how effective it is, and probably expand the treatment area to include where their water trough is.
One cool thing we did, that combined mud abatement and our unabashed sentimentality: last time I went to visit my family in Arizona, I drove back here with my dad and The Kid. We stopped in the desert on our way out and filled two buckets with Arizona sand. When we got home, we spread it over the remaining muddy spot by the barn. Now our pasture has a little piece of Arizona, AND it’s helping with the mud. Yay, sand!
It’s time to deal with the clay and mud mess we have in front of our barn. We’ve written about this mud before, back in October as we were preparing for the winter mud. Over the past year we’ve tried a few things and are finally starting to see some results. The best thing would probably be paving the area we have trouble with, but we just don’t have the $2,000 or so in our budget. In looking for inexpensive solutions, here’s what we’ve tried so far:
1. Sand amendment.
Our “soil” is mostly clay here and when it gets wet, it’s a goopy mess. Because clay doesn’t drain well, the goopy mess sticks around for several days after a rain. In fact, some pockets of water are around for weeks after a rain. We’ve accidentally stepped in these pockets and had old smelly water spray all over. Ick. So it seems to us that the key to improving this situation is to amend the soil so that it drains better. We’re not going to stop the mud when it rains but we want it to dry up as quickly as possible.
Since this is an experiment, we’ve selected a section of our barn entrance and every couple of weeks or so we poured and spread a 50 pound bag of play sand, purchased inexpensively at our local hardware store. Each 50 pound bag cost around $5. And even though fifty pounds sounds like a lot, each bag only covered an area about 3 foot square. Over the last 6 months, we’ve added about 200 pounds of sand to a six foot square area. Now obviously for a large area, the best way to bring in sand would be by truck and not by bag. But this was an experiment.
2. Organic material amendment (mostly hay).
Adjacent to the 6 foot square area we used for the sand amendment experiment, we selected a larger 10 foot square area for our organic material experiment. Sometimes our horses don’t eat all their hay and when it’s left on the ground we don’t like to use it for feed anymore. Cost is zero. So we scoop it over the gate and gradually the horses walk on it so the hay gets mixed in with the clay. And sometimes we throw some grass clippings on top, too. In nature, all this organic stuff breaks down slowly and it seems logical that eventually this material will improve the soil composition. Six Month Results – what’s working?
It’s been about six months since we started this little mud abatement experiment and we have some interesting results to share. Surprisingly, the sand has worked very well. Take a look at the before and after pictures:
To the left is before and on the right is after. The “after” picture was taken a few days after rain. The “before” picture is obviously a muddy mess. Six months later, the area closer to the bottom of the “after” picture isn’t as muddy and is much smoother than the area towards the top of the picture. Below is a picture from the side:
Organic material amendment is represented on the left and sand amendment is on the right. It may not be so obvious in the picture but the difference is huge. A nice benefit of the smoother soil on the right is that the horses don’t trip on it like they do the area to the left. When the clay dries it hardens, creating rock-like clumps next to hoof-sized holes filled with stagnant water. Smooth is the way to go.
The experiment continues but sand is winning so far. We’re going to step up our sand amendment effort and expand it to a wider area. I titled this post “Barn Entry Mud Abatement – Part 1” because I intend to continue reporting on this experiment. I’ve posted in a few online horse forums about our mud problem and quickly learned barn entrance mud is universal and no one seems to have a good solution beyond paving. I hope this information helps those of you who are in “low budget” mode like us.
I introduced my first horse “Moonshine” a few days ago and mentioned she is a registered paint. You can’t tell it by looking at her because she’s almost all black, just like Valentine. Well I forgot to mention that one of her favorite pastimes is rolling in the mud! Anytime there is any mud to be found, she will surely roll in it and later show up with a coat of mud plaster. So even though when clean she doesn’t look like a paint, she sure does during rainy days.
Not the best picture but you get the point. The clean one is Mikki’s fancy ex-show horse Valentine. The dirty one is my redneck horse, Moonshine: