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Our grass is maturing and our horses are getting used to grazing at least an hour a day. Our goal is to be able to turn the horses out overnight for an 8 hour graze. When a horse spends any time on pasture whether for grazing or turnout, there are certain things we as managers should pay attention to so that our horses are safe and healthy.

Horse Management – Pasture Life

Part of the dream of having a horse is the visual satisfaction of seeing a horse peacefully grazing on a well-maintained pasture at your home. Pasturing a horse might be the most natural way to keep a horse, but unfortunately, it is out of reach for many and can be far from ideal from a horse’s viewpoint. For the best chance for success, start with a good pasture.

A good pasture has a stand of plants suitable for horses. The best kind of horse pasture is a well-drained grass mix with few weeds and NO poisonous weeds, trees or shrubs. If there is a good grass stand established, you have decent rainfall or access to irrigation, and you mow, harrow and reseed as necessary, you should be able to keep one horse on 2 acres of pasture during the growing season. However, arid ranchland with minimal browse plants can require 20 acres or more to support a single horse. To get a better idea of the specific stocking rate for your property, contact your county extension agent.

A pasture needs to be enclosed with safe fencing and gates. Pasture fences and gates should be at least 5 feet tall and well maintained to maximize the horses’ safety and minimize the liability of loose horses on public or private property. Using electric fencing in conjunction with conventional fencing decreases the wear and tear on fences and adds to security as long as the electric fence is checked daily to be sure it is working.

There should be no old dumps or farm equipment in a pasture; horses can easily get hurt on items hidden by tall grass.

There should be easy and safe access to free choice, good quality water. Natural sources should be running, not stagnant. Know the source of the water your horse drinks. If it contains agricultural runoff, it could be high in nitrates. A trough or automatic waterer should be kept clean and situated to minimize mud and to prevent a horse from being crowded into a corner or against a fence.

Pastures should be well drained with no bogs or stagnant water and preferably the soil should not be not sandy.

The pasture should provide shelter – either natural (trees, rocks or terrain) or man-made (shed or windbreak) to ward off sun, wind, cold precipitation, and insects.

There should be free choice salt and mineral blocks at all times.

Pros and cons of pasture life. See the book Horsekeeping on a Small Acreage.

Horsekeeping on a Small Acreage by Cherry Hill

Horsekeeping on a Small Acreage by Cherry Hill

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Horse Management:

Keeping a Horse in a Pen or a Run

©  2010 Cherry Hill © Copyright Information

Just when we were getting the horses used to some grazing, we got some crazy weather that dumped a lot of rain on us. Being that this is a semi-arid area with between 15-17 inches of moisture per year, we are ALWAYS glad of any rain or snow. However, because of the low annual moisture, our pastures are very fragile and it would take them a lot of time to recover from hoof damage during muddy weather or “whole plant grazing”. That’s often what happens when it is wet here – the horse takes a bite and instead of the grass breaking off, the horse pulls the whole plant out, roots and all.  I think of how long it took that grass plant to establish and survive over the weeds yet in one casual nip, its gone. That’s a bad thing !

So to be the best stewards of the horse AND the land that we can be, when it is muddy, like it is today, the horses must stay in their large sheltered pens. They are often called “sacrifice pens” because the pasture that once was where the pens are now has been sacrificed – there is no vegetation.

Keeping a horse in a large pen or run is often a necessity so here are some guidelines about pen life for horses.

Horsekeeping on a Small Acreage by Cherry Hill

Keeping a Horse in a Pen or Run

When you want your horse to have some room to move around but you don’t have access to a pasture, a good set up can be a group pen or individual run. These are usually located adjacent to a barn or other covered shelter and can vary in size from a bare minimum of 16’ x 60’ individual run off a stall to a 60’ x 100’ or larger pen off the end of a barn or loafing shed for a group of horses.

A good pen has safe, durable fencing and comfortable, well-draining footing. The pen should be located on high ground and be situated such that the horses can take shelter from cold wind, wet weather, hot sun and insects as needed. There should be a clean place to feed and a comfortable place for horses to lie down. To prevent feed from blowing away, windscreens can be attached to the outside of the panels.

The land in pens and runs is considered “sacrifice” because no vegetation is expected to survive the constant traffic. If the natural lay of the land doesn’t slope away from the barn or shed, then excavation should remedy this so that the shelter under the building is high and dry and the pen or run gradually slopes, about 2 degrees, away from the building.

Depending on the native soil, footing can be added to provide cushion and minimize mud. Some choices are decomposed granite, road base, and pea gravel.

A sheltered feeding area with rubber mats allows a horse to eat off ground level without ingesting sand or wasting feed.

In the loafing area of the pen, bedding can be used to encourage a horse to lie down but it usually invites a horse to defecate and urinate there also. This behavior can be minimized or eliminated by locking a horse out of the loafing or eating areas except during specific times.

Pen fencing can be made from metal panels or continuous fencing. Panels don’t require setting posts so are more adaptable to changing pen size or shape. Whatever pen fencing is used, it needs to be tall enough (5’ is OK, 6’ is better) and strong enough to withstand roughhousing, rubbing, and playing across the fence. Panel connections should be tight and safe.

Pros and cons of pen life. See the book Horsekeeping on a Small Acreage.

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Monitor Your Horse’s Feed:

Turn Your Horses out on Pasture Gradually

©  2010 Cherry Hill © Copyright Information

This is that time of year when we begin introducing our horses to pasture again – gradually.

I start by giving the horse’s a normal hay ration in the morning and turning them out at 10 AM for 1/2 hour. I do this for several days.

I keep an eye on each horse looking for signs of discomfort or loose manure. If all is well, the horses are left out for an hour. I do this for several days.

Then I increase turnout time by 1/2 hour per grazing period and hold at the new level for several days.

When the horses are up to 2 hours of grazing, their morning hay ration is reduced according to the individual horse’s needs.

When the horses are up to 4 hours of grazing, I sometimes split turnout into two 2 hour sessions, one in the morning and one in the evening.

At about the 3 week point, the horses are grazing for 6-8 hours per day and receive token hay rations.

At that point, I shift to our normal turnout program which is to turn the horses out at dark until just before dawn. Here, this time of year, that is about 10 PM to 6 AM.

Then each morning we “jingle” the horses, that is gather them up and put them in their individual sheltered pens where they can get out of the sun and stay away from insects. According to each horse’s individual needs, hay is fed at mid-day.

Using this management plan works well for us here at 6700 feet in semi-arid Colorado. It allows the horses to get used to the pasture grass gradually and the horses are conveniently located up at the buildings during the day for grooming, tacking and riding.

Horsekeeping on a Small Acreage by Cherry Hill

Horsekeeping on a Small Acreage by Cherry Hill

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Keeping Your Horse Healthy – Part 1

©  2010 Cherry Hill © Copyright Information

Mary keeps her two horses at the same boarding stable where you’ve just moved Jones, your new gelding.  Mary’s gelding Blaze has heaves, requires specialized shoeing that costs twice the normal fee, gets special feed for his dry skin, and each day has a 50/50 chance of being sound to ride.  Her mare Dolly is gorgeous but she’s constantly on a diet, is a chronic wood chewer and tail rubber and frequently colics.  The problems that Mary has with her horses have you in a panic every time Jones lies down or stumbles.

The bad news is that Blaze and Dolly might always have these problems and Mary will always have higher than normal feed, veterinary, and farrier bills.

The good news is that all of these problems are preventable with good health management.  If you are a keen observer and follow good horse management, Jones will stay in tiptop shape and your budget won’t bust!

Our horses depend on us to take good care of them.  We need to pay specific attention to feeding, sanitation, grooming, hoof care, veterinary care, and facilities management.

FEEDING

Cherry Hill's Horsekeeping AlmanacYour horse will quickly tell you that feeding is the number one priority!  In fact, a good appetite is the best sign that your horse is feeling well.  But if you left it up to your horse, he’d eat himself sick.  So you need to keep your horse at a healthy weight.  If he is too thin, he may lack energy, be weak, cold and less able to ward off illness.  If he is overweight, his limbs are unduly stressed and he’s more likely to founder.  Know your horse’s weight so you can feed and deworm him accurately.  Use a weight tape to encircle his heart girth.  Record his weight and monitor it frequently.  A long winter coat can be deceiving.

Hay is the mainstay of any horse’s diet.  Grass, the traditional “safe” horse hay, includes timothy, brome, and orchard grass.  Alfalfa hay which has higher protein, three times the calcium and more vitamins than grass hay, is often fed to young, growing horses and lactating broodmares.
Good hay is free of mold, dust, and weeds and has a bright green color and a fresh smell.  It is leafy, soft, and dry but not brittle.

Feed about 2 pounds of hay per day for every 100 pounds of body weight. A 1000 # horse would get 20 pounds split into two 10 pound feedings. Feed hay by weight not flakes. Two flakes of dense alfalfa hay could weigh as much as 14 pounds while two flakes of fluffy, loose grass might only weigh 4 pounds!

Grain should be fed only to horses that require it; many do not.  Young horses, horses in hard work, pregnant mares, and mares with foals usually need grain and supplements.  Oats provide fiber (from their hulls) and energy (from the kernel) and are the safest horse grain.  Corn has a very thin covering so does not provide much fiber but provides twice the energy content as the same volume of oats.  Commercial feeds come as pellets or grain mixes.  Pellets can contain both hay and grain.  “Sweet feed” grain mixes are usually made up of oats or barley and corn, molasses and a protein pellet.

Grain should be fed by weight, not volume.  A two pound coffee can holds 1.1 pounds of bran, 2.1 pounds of sweet feed, and 2.9 pounds of pelleted feed so feeding by “the can” is inaccurate.

To avoid competition, fighting, and unequal rations, feed each horse individually.  If a horse gobbles his grain, it can cause choking, inadequate chewing and poor feed utilization.  To slow him down, feed hay first, and then grain.  Add golf ball sized rocks to the grain and use a large shallow pan rather than a small, deep bucket.

Minerals Because soils, hay and grain vary widely in their mineral content, your horse needs free choice trace mineral salt.  Trace mineral salt is regular “table salt” (sodium chloride) with important minerals added.  An even better mineral block is a 12% Calcium/12% Phosphorus Trace Mineral Salt Block.

Water If a horse lacks water, he can lose his appetite and colic.  A horse drinks about 8-10 gallons of water a day usually an hour or two after eating hay.  But be sure a horse always has good quality, free-choice water.
In winter, a horse should not be expected to eat snow, as it would take too long and too much body heat for him to melt it.

When a horse is hot from exercise, only let him sip water.  Walk him in between sips.  When he has stabilized, feed him grass hay and allow him his fill of water.

Horsekeeping On A Small Acreage Pasture Since pasture provides excellent exercise and nutrients, make best use of it by grazing it when it is 4 to 6 inches tall.  As soon as it is grazed down, move the horse to another pasture.
Before turning a horse out to pasture the first time, give him a full feed of hay.  Limit grazing to one-half hour per day for the first two days; then one-half hour twice a day for two days; then one hour twice a day and so on.  Pasture horses can quickly become overweight or founder from too much lush pasture.

Feeding Safety Since the digestive system of horses is designed to handle small frequent meals, feed two to three times every day.  Feed at the same time every day.  Horses have a strong biological clock; feeding late or inconsistently can result in colic and unpleasant stable vices and bad habits.
Make all changes in feed gradually whether it’s a change in type or amount.  If your horse gets 2 pounds of grain per feeding and you want to increase, feed 2 ½ pounds for at least two days.  Then increase to 3 pounds.

If you are changing hay, feed ¾ “old” hay and ¼ of “new” hay for 2 days.  Then feed ½ old hay and ½ new hay for two days.  Then feed ¼ old hay and ¾ new hay for 2 days.  Finally, feed all new hay.
Don’t feed a horse immediately after hard work and don’t work a horse until at least one hour after a full feed.  If you feed 2 pounds of grain or more per feeding and your horse has not been exercised for a few days, warm him up slowly to avoid “tying up” his muscles.  If your horse will be out of work, decrease his grain ration.  When he comes back to work, increase grain gradually.

Feeding at ground level is natural and provides a horse with a good neck and back stretch.  But if a horse eats sand with his feed, it can accumulate at the bottom of his intestine and he could colic.  Use feeders or rubber mats in the feeding area and consider feeding psyllium to purge sand from the intestines.

Gateway SU-PER Psyllium

Feeders need to be clean and safe.  Moldy or spoiled feed can cause colic.  Sharp edges, broken parts, loose wires or nails can injure your horse’s head.  Tie hay nets securely and high enough so your horse can not get his leg caught in the net.

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