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Mud abatement, Part 3

Mud abatement, Part 3

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

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

A little background:

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

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

An idea that worked

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

Beyond the barn

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

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

French Drain
French drain system

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

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

The entire mud abatement series:

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

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.

Mud abatement test visual
Before and after manufactured sand addition, both shown on rainy days. Still a little muddy but much better!
Mud Abatement, Part 2

Mud Abatement, Part 2

Muddy Barn - beforeWell, 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.

After 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!

The entire mud abatement series:

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

Barn Entry Mud Abatement – Part 1

Barn Entry Mud Abatement – Part 1

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:

Barn Entrance Before Barn Entrance After

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:

Barn Entrance Side view

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.

The entire mud abatement series:

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