Winter has officially begun - are you and your horses ready?
If you haven’t already prepared for more rain and cold here in Western Washington, it’s not too late. Here are a few tips and tricks to beat the winter weather this year and establish more permanent solutions for next year.
Lighting Makes Chores More Pleasant
As we lose daylight, don’t find yourself doing chores in the dark. Install lights to help you do chores more efficiently and safely. Have a routine in place; this will make chores seem easier and more manageable for you, and your horses will become accustomed to it as well.
Create a Special Dry Area for Your Horses
Update or create a paddock for winter confinement. Known as a “Heavy Use Area” or “Sacrifice Area”, this is an area you sacrifice to keep your pastures healthy and mud-free. Horses should be kept in confinement areas throughout the wet season. Saturated soils and dormant plants cannot survive continuous grazing and trampling. When soils are wet they are easily compacted, suffocating the roots of grass plants and doing long-term damage to vital air and water channels in the soil.
A heavy use area, or sacrifice paddock, is a place where your horse can be outside without harming your pastures. Materials such as gravel, sand or hog fuel are used to create a mud-free environment for your horses when the weather doesn’t permit them to be on pastures. These materials are also great for walkways and around gates.
No Manure = No Mud
Horses produce about 50 pounds of manure a day. If it’s left to be trampled into the soil by livestock, it will quickly turn to mud. To keep your heavy use area working for you, pick up manure daily or at least, every three days. Cleaning manure out of confinement areas is the simplest and most important thing you can do to prevent mud. Place your manure pile close to your heavy use area. It will help cut down on chore time and be more efficient.
Covering Compost Bins and Use of Shelters
Covering your manure pile will help it decompose faster, reduce mud and odors, and prevent weed seeds from landing on top and contaminating your final product — clean compost. This is also crucial for protecting water quality. By covering your manure pile, you’ll keep bacteria and nutrients from washing off, leaking off your property and into nearby streams and rivers. Many water bodies in our area exceed the state standard for bacteria and nutrients, making them unhealthy for swimming, fishing, and other recreational activities. It’s important to think about our impact on these shared resources when you are designing and managing your horse property.
A compost bin system is a smart way to manage a manure pile and to aid the composting process at the same time. If the pile is not undercover, a tarp is the most inexpensive way to cover your pile. Plan to weigh the tarp down with boards or bricks to keep it in place. By covering it, you can regulate how wet it gets in the winter. Compost should be as moist as a wrung-out sponge. Too wet or too dry inhibits the composting process. It also needs some oxygen so that it continues to cook, or break down. The hot compost process will also kill weed seeds.
Do your horses have somewhere to get out of nasty weather? Now is the perfect time to get those shelters built or repaired to keep wind and rain off your horses. Place your shelter next to your heavy use area for constant easy access. Feeding in a shelter is also recommended as it keeps hay and grain dry. In case of foul weather, be sure to have a backup water supply if you lose water due to a power outage. It’s also important to have a way to supply water when temperatures are below freezing.
It’s really important to direct water away from high-traffic areas during the winter months. Install gutters and downspouts on barns and shelters to divert clean rain water away from animal confinement areas, stall entryways, and other high traffic areas. Ideally, the outlet for your gutters should send water to a well-vegetated area or filter strip. Clean water can also be collected in stock watering tanks, rain barrels or cisterns. Water that exceeds the capacity of stock watering tanks should be diverted away from confinement areas.
Winter is here, so don’t find yourself fighting the weather this year. Prepare now and think about what else you can do next year. To schedule a site visit or find out more about winter horse care, contact us at 425-335-5634 or farmplanners(at)snohomishcd.org.
Getting Help on Your Farm
The District has many grant opportunities to help landowners install practices such as heavy use areas. Reimbursement rates depend on the funding source, the practice you want, and your location.
Best management practices that may qualify for cost-share include:
- Gutters, downspouts and underground outlets for existing buildings
- Heavy-use areas/sacrifice areas
- Use exclusions - fencing animals out of waterways, wetlands, and ditches
- Compost bins/waste storage
Reimbursement rates range from 50 to 100 percent. Landowner covers 100 percent of the costs of implementing the project up-front, and will be reimbursed after the project is completed.
The District determines eligibility for cost-share based on highest priority and the greatest likelihood of improving water quality in the local watershed.
The District will provide you with an engineered design for your practice and instructions on maintenance.
Labor is reimbursed at $20 per hour and is subject to prior approval.
Projects are limited by county/state/federal regulations and will be determined upon application.
Find out more about the District’s cost share program and see photos of some installations at: http://snohomishcd.org/cost-share-basics or call 425-335-5634 and ask for a farm planner.