As the days grow shorter it’s time to prepare for the dark, wet days of winter. We know the challenges that await us in these winter months: rain, mud, darkness, and cold. The constant, never-ending rainy days can make chores difficult and alter the routines of our horses, but planning ahead can make the winter manageable, and safe, for horses and horse owners alike. Here are our top five tips for winter horsekeeping in the Pacific Northwest.
1. Create a Heavy Use Area (HUA)
HUAs are the key to mud prevention and good pasture management. A HUA, or sacrifice paddock, is a place where your horse can be outside without harming your pastures. Installing a light near the HUA makes chores easier on dark winter days.
2. Divert Stormwater
Make sure out-buildings have working gutters, downspouts, and underground outlets that take roof water away from horses and working areas. Ideally, the outlet for the gutters should send water to a well-vegetated area that does not receive a lot of use. Clean water can also be collected by stock watering tanks, rain barrels, or dry wells.
3. Construct Manure Bins
Place manure storage near the heavy use area for chore efficiency. Be sure to cover the manure pile with a tarp and secure with stakes or weights, if it does not have a roof. Covering your manure pile will help it decompose faster, reduce mud and odors, and prevent weed seeds from landing on top and contaminating your clean compost. It’s also crucial for protecting water quality.
4. Rest Pastures
Remove horses from pastures when saturated or short. Leave three to four inches of grass to maintain plant health. 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.
5. Improve Soil Health
The best way to find out if your pastures actually need fertilizer is to do a soil test. By finding out what your soil needs are, you will be able to choose a fertilizer with the right amount of nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium. A soil test will also tell you the pH of your soil along with recommendations for the application of lime. Acidic soils are common in our area and limit the availability of many nutrients.
Contact Snohomish Conservation District about our free agricultural soil tests. To learn more visit www.snohomishcd.org/soil-testing or call us at 425-335-5634.
By Michael Hipp, Resource Planner | From Volume 28: Issue 2 of The Nexus