Fitzhugh Creek LLC Farm and Emporium

Horse Barn Etiquette

I have long believed that on-off attention to horses is the best way to go for the suburban corral. The best excuse for this is that horses need the companionship of their fellows to generate true native behavior, what one of humanistic intentions would imagine to be the best on their accounts and ours. As well, the ability to turn out to pasture, away from human contact furthur enhances the wildness of their being and provides the needed exercise as well as extended socialization.

But, really, it is the lack of reason inherent therein that shines when one is afforded enough time to spend on training. Only through human contact can we possibly expect them to perform the ridiculous number of tricks we ultimately hope they perform for us, from walking into a dark metal box, to allowing themselves to be saddled and carry weight that approaches the absurd.

Nevertheless, the point at hand, how to address the whole process of handling horses in and out of capitivity, is tested extensively when the barn is turned out and brought in frequently. I have been doing a one day in and one day out cycle pretty much for as long as I have cared for them and I would suggest it for the working owner. And for the horses sake, a repeated schedule probably holds more value that any particular one.

Which, if I am not mistaken brings us to the meat if the matter, mucking out. I am of the opinion that any definition of horse keeping must also include manure compost making. Unless someone else takes care of them, but, then we aren't talking horse keeping but rather possessing as a commodity (Brahhh ha ha!). My off-on schedule lately has me mucking out in the morning, allowing them to eat hay for a good part of the morning, and then either a) turnout and muck out (again) or b) keep feeding hay as it is consumed. In the Winter three hay feeding works and it appears that two is good for Spring. That surely is dependent on the size of the manger, but bigger manger tends to cause more hay wastage. Feeding individual servings has a hidden advantage in that we learn how much each horse needs and can approximate what travel rations will be required.

Oh, yes, mucking. My preference is for non-shaving bedding. This means dirt or padding. I haven't had any experience with pourous padding that is designed to stand up to the weight and abuse of horses, but I bet that would be some pretty good stuff for some reasons and likely not so good for others. Shavings, I gotta tell you, are a nightmare and I only use them when I am forced to stall a horse. The compost derived from pine shaving muck is best used for mulch as it is very difficult to keep to temperature under normal conditions. For the same reason I try to avoid too much hay on the ground. An easy keeper or a good winter night usually help to keep the floor free of excess hay waste. Dirt is remarkably well suited for absorbing urine, providing a stable foot base, and preserving the edibility of food spillage while maintaining the health of the horse. One might think that sand, or around these parts, decomposed granite would be a good choice. But, when coupled with food pellet spillage, one risks a industrious and hungry horse to risk sand colic from mistaking the small chucks to be food. Where pellets are not fed, sand is actually a good choice since picking sand free hay off the ground is easy for them.

Unless you'd prefer to water your poop and restart it frequently, getting the poop up and in a pile quickly is essential to avoid drying and cooling which occurs regardless of season. For small operations, the pile generated after even a week is not sufficient to cap and roll (cute term huh I just made it up). In other words, you'll be adding to this pile for a while before you decide it is large enough to hold it's own temperature. This is really the critical point. To be entirely truthfull, I really have not tried to build the smallest pile I could, rather I try to build the largest that will hold temperature. Once built it will need to be turned 5 times in 15 days, and hold a temperature of 130 to 160F. If you don't have a long thermometer to measure it, you can shove a metal pipe into the middle for 10 minutes or so. If you feel the poop end when you draw it out and it burns you after a second or two then it is hot enough.

Ok fine, so that takes to about as much poop as one would like to think about before lunch. On to bigger and better things.