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.
I know, after the winter most of us have been having this year, it’s tough to use the words “love” and “winter” in the same sentence. But in an effort to be positive, I thought it helpful to count our blessings and try to enjoy the good…any good…during what I’d guess most people feel is their least favorite season. You’ll note this isn’t a top ten list.
No bugs! Once the temps go below comfortable, bugs die or move south leaving us with no swarms of no-see-ems to accidentally breath in, no itchy mosquito bumps and no surprise knife stabs from wasps (or “waspers” as they say around here). Oh, and no barn destroying carpenter bees and leg attacking fire ants. See, that’s a positive.
Poopscicles. We’ve been below freezing for a ridiculously long time and all moisturize filled equine manure has turned to hockey pucks. This is a positive because they don’t smell as much and are easy to rake, as long as they aren’t frozen to the ground. And they make a satisfying clunk when they hit the wheelbarrow.
Tree maintenance. Since most of our trees and their life-sucking vines are void of leaves this time of year, it’s easier to see the fence line and do some preventative trimming. Plus we don’t have to worry about snakes in the trees or on the ground while we’re doing this, which I suppose could technically be a fourth thing we love but I’m not willing to concede more to winter.
Having said that, I’m ready for bugs, smelly horse manure, and overgrown trees again! But not snakes…never snakes.
It’s been in the 70s and low 80’s all week, a sure sign that spring is on the way. I love spring but there a few things I’m not looking forward to. The first has got to be carpenter bees. I mentioned carpenter bees last year when I noticed how much damage they were doing to our wooden barn and wood-sided house. Upon further inspection this year, we quickly realized that carpenter bees have destroyed a significant number of important beams in the old barn in the pasture. We’re going to have to replace those this year or risk losing the barn. It’s that serious. You’ll recall that carpenter bees don’t just drill large holes in wood, they burrow up to 10 feet into the wood. We treated the burrows we could reach last year with Sevin dust and sealed up a good many of them with expanding foam. Yeah, wood filler would have been better but we had a LOT of holes. The expanding foam seemed more economical. And easier.
Walking around outside today, I can tell you I must not have made too big an impact on the carpenter bee population because they are everywhere! I’m not sure what to do about the ones in the air besides what some call “carpenter bee tennis,” but I’m back to treating the holes I can find with Sevin dust. I’m worried about places I can’t see or easily get to like 25 feet up in the rafters of the barn, under our deck or behind the wood siding of our house. Stupid carpenter bees.
Another related downside to spring is wasps. Our barn serves as an ideal wasp nest host, with crevices all over, including lots of hidden ones. Last year there were days where we just didn’t want to hang out at the barn much due to all the aggressive wasps. I made some wasp traps with nectar attractant, the kind that is easy to get into but hard to get out of, but the wasps totally ignored it. We diligently knocked down or treated wasp nests as we found them and there were no incidents with our horses. But now I’m back on wasp patrol. Any suggestions are welcome.
Flies – they’re coming soon. I’ve seen some but when you have horses, you’ll have flies and lots of them. We were successful last year with fly parasites from Arbico Organics (there are lots of companies that sell them). Have you seen these? You subscribe to a monthly service that sends fly parasite larvae. They hatch and destroy flies in some kind of gruesome way. We were skeptical but proved last year they really do work. We wrote last May about what fly treatment methods we were trying. It’s time to think about what we’re going to use this year.
Thorns and other weeds – We’re excited about the grass growing. Our horses seem seriously tired of dry hay and I don’t blame them. But the return of grass means the weeds and thorn bushes are also returning. Time to get out into the pasture to uproot the thorn vines. We also need to stay on top of keeping the pasture trimmed/bush-hogged. Apparently, if you don’t keep your grass trimmed, the weeds choke out the good stuff.
Snakes – Mikki wrote last year about a snake that visited our barn and freaked us all out. I hate snakes! They creep me out. Yes I know, they provide the valuable service of getting rid of mice and rats but I’d still rather have barn cats.
Other than those things, we’re VERY MUCH looking forward to spring. I’ll take warm weather with these downsides any day over 20 degrees and windy.
Poopsicles; or, the Hazards of Winter Horsekeeping
I know ya’ll up north are probably getting tired of us complaining about the “cold” weather, but you have to understand that we are desert people. We have only been in the Southeast for a little over a year, and it was not this cold here last year. It got pretty cold on a couple of nights, but we have had unrelenting below-freezing weather at night for weeks now. (In case you doubt our idea of cold, please note the photo to the right that shows the current time, date, inside temp of 56.3 and outside temp of 17.6. Ack!!) Yeah, yeah, we don’t have to shovel snow – yet – but the rest of it is getting to be a little old. Scraping ice off the windshield every morning, bundling up to go up to the barn (have you seen A Christmas Story? “I can’t put my arms down!” Ha ha ha!), leaving the water running at night so the pipes don’t freeze, picking ice from all the buckets…and poopsicles. When you pick up a shovelful of poo and drop it in the wheelbarrow and it goes CLUNK! and you’re afraid it’s going to knock a hole in the side of the wheelbarrow. That’s just plain weird. It is kind of pretty, though, with all those ice sparkles on it. (Okay, that’s even more weird.)
Anyway, suffice it to say that we are not used to this kind of weather, and still not equipped for it. Here are some tricks we’ve used to help us (and the horses) survive until spring:
Get the stall cleaning done early. It’s so much more pleasant to muck out stalls at noon when it’s 40 degrees out than to wait until after dark when it’s 28 or so.
Dress warm. Even if you feel silly wearing long underwear, two pairs of socks, three shirts and a dorky hat, this is one time when function should take precedence over style. Heck, we even have ski masks for when it’s really cold – you can’t get much goofier than that.
Good gloves are a must. I personally hate to wear gloves, and my fingers are kind of short, so there’s a little extra glove past the end of my fingers that gets caught in gate latches, but warm fingers are happy fingers!
If you don’t have bucket warmers, improvise. We often put the “barn buckets” out in the sun when we let the horses out, so the ice will be melted by the time we let them back in. Also, we sometimes fill the buckets with warm water from out bathtub right before we let them in, so they’ll have a few minutes, anyway, of water at a reasonable temp. Alternately, we’ll boil water on the stove and pour some into the cold water to warm it up a bit. It doesn’t keep it from freezing, of course, but it holds it off for a while. Bill discussed some other ideas in Horses and the Frozen Tundra of the South.
So those are some ideas. Just remember, no matter how tempting, do not set anything on fire near your barn or use any sort of radiant heat device in or near the barn. I know it’s cold, but it’s not worth the risk of burning your barn down. Oh, and one more suggestion: think back to what it was like in August when you were mucking out the stall, pouring with sweat and wishing for fall. Remember what that feeling was like and know that those days are coming again.
We’ve had a few days where the weather has been freezing much of the time and we’re having trouble getting water through our hoses now. When we know the temperature will dip below freezing, we open the nozzle end and turn the water supply off at the spigot so when ice forms inside the hose and expands the water, it has a place to go. We also cover the spigot end with some fabric and a bucket. The pipes are already insulated. Now we don’t normally need water in the morning because we fill all the horse buckets when we clean stalls. The hoses sit out in the sun all day but lately don’t always thaw before we need to use them for water. What seems to work is not only opening the nozzle end when we’re done but also disconnecting the hose end at the spigot. It helps that our property slopes where the hose lays; the water mostly drains on it’s own. The reason this is a pain is because the spigot end always has lots of water in it so my hands/gloves always get wet and I don’t like being wet AND cold. I don’t mean to whine. I know you guys up north have it WAY colder than we do in the south. I’m just so looking forward to spring. Come on spring!
I did try one thing that helps, though. I had some pipe insulation (Home Depot or Lowes for around $2 for 6 feet) collecting dust so I wrapped it around the nozzle end of the hose (see picture above). I don’t know if it helps keep the ice away but it’s so much nicer holding onto the pipe foam than our ratty old garden hose.
Do you have any tips on dealing with garden hoses in the winter? For us, they are a necessity since we don’t have faucets everywhere we need water each day.
Today was the coldest day yet in east Tennessee. Actually, there have been colder days since we’ve lived here but not since we’ve had horses. Lows at night are in the lower 20’s and we’ve had some wind. Although my Arizona butt hasn’t quite acclimated to winters that are actually cold, our horses seem to have adapted nicely. Both Moonshine and Valentine have thick fuzzy winter coats and despite our attempts to shelter them from the cold, they seem to prefer it to being stuck in the barn.
One thing I’m not familiar with is frozen water buckets. Yesterday and today both I’ve gone out to discover all of our animal water buckets had almost an inch of ice on top. I was expecting this but I’m not yet sure what to do about it. Most of the buckets aren’t near any power source so a bucket heater or bucket de-icer doesn’t seem like it would work for us. We could use an extension cord but that increases the possibility of a barn fire. I’m also concerned with our horses nibbling on the wires, though it seems like the heated buckets use steel wire wrapped cords to prevent nibbling. I saw a product called Thermo Bucket that uses a simple insulated float but it looks too thin to drink from. Maybe it’s just a bad picture. So we’re looking for a solution, mostly for in the barn stalls. The ice in the outside bucket I can break up effectively and it sits in the sun most of the day.
Because we baby our horses, the subject of horse blankets has come up, too. Mikki is interested in trying them but I’m skeptical. Besides yet another horse expense, I wonder if the blanket would stay on for very long. I can see Moonshine rolling in the dirt to get it off. Plus I wonder if it’s even needed. Here comes the old “horses in the wild don’t need that” argument. But it’s true. How many horse blankets do you see in those pictures of wild horses running in the Montana snow? None. Of course, horses in the wild probably don’t live as long as our pampered domesticated horses. But even when it was 26 degrees (F) outside, neither horse shivered or showed any signs of wanting to seek shelter. I did see Valentine galloping around more than usual. Maybe it was to warm up, maybe he just felt frisky. But no blankets for now.
In our barn, the outside stall windows are now closed for cold weather, though the ends of the barn remain open as we have no doors. We’re considering adding doors but it won’t be anytime soon.
Let me take a minute to say that I do realize 26 degrees isn’t that cold. Many, if not most of you live somewhere that has harsher winters than we experience in Tennessee. That whole “frozen tundra of the South” thing was a stretch, to be sure. It doesn’t get much colder than this except in the mountains.
Man, it sure is hot here in Tennessee. But I want to put to rest right here the myth that “dry heat” is somehow superior to humidity. I believe I am qualified to decide this issue because I currently live somewhere where it’s humid, and before this, lived most of my life in the “dry heat.” As I sit here in east Tennessee, my atomic clock/weather station says it is 97.1 F with 49% humidity. I was just outside filling the horses’ water bucket, and it’s darn hot. The humidity has been much higher, and it was very, very uncomfortable. However, 120 F, dry or not, is much worse, believe me. Besides, ask a Phoenician how dry it is in Phoenix right now. They have what’s called the “monsoon” season when the temp drops down to a balmy 110 or so, and the humidity hikes up to 50% or higher. Nasty.
Anyway, that’s not my real topic today. My real topic is heat and horses. My poor horses can’t fit in my air-conditioned house (don’t think I wouldn’t try if I thought they could), so they have to battle the heat in their own ways. Luckily, our pasture has a lot of wooded areas and is mostly surrounded by trees, so they have lots of shade. We make sure they always have lots of fresh clean water (which isn’t easy, given their habit of backwashing grassy water into the bucket all day). I cannot stress enough the importance of making sure your horse has plenty of water! Our horses sweat A LOT, so of course, they need to keep rehydrating. From how many times I refill their tub (plus the buckets of water they have in their stalls at night), I believe they are drinking about 30 gallons of water a day between the two of them. But that’s okay, they have unlimited refills here. And there’s always the pond if they feel like a dip. They’d have to be pretty desperate, though, because our pond would be better described as a rather deep mudhole. But they’ve been in it before and could again.