As harvest season kicks into full swing in the fall, it becomes time to prepare all of your animals for the remainder of the season and the upcoming winter months. Farms and ranches with horses require particular care, as there are many elements to seasonal prep that could leave animals ill or handlers poorly prepared. First-year owners and seasoned hands alike must take special precautions to make sure their equine friends remain safe and secure until spring returns.
Make Annual Purchases
The fall is the perfect time to pick up everything you’ll need for the seasons ahead. If you’re harvesting and baling your own hay, it’s time to review storage capacity and volume. Otherwise, check all purchased hay for freshness and signs of mold or spoilage.
Pick up toys to help beat back the winter blues, and replace or fix any heated buckets that fail to activate, damaged manure carts, or similar equipment that requires repairs. Don’t forget the bedding and footing materials that you’ll need to make your stables safe for the equine residents as well as those tending to their needs. Purchasing before winter hits can even score you some great discounts, if you have the storage space.
Prepare the Pasture
The ground needs to be ready before the first frost hits. Make sure you bring in all of your animals, including horses, before spraying any of the many popular pesticides and weed killers to prepare barns, pathways or equipment storage areas for next year. Some of these can have seriously dangerous effects on horses, including many that are designed specifically to harm smaller creatures, such as rats and mice. Others may contain carcinogens that could cause serious health issues over time.
If your horses have a pasture, switch to a sacrifice pasture or indoor hay feeding as soon as you can to allow plenty of time for the grass to recover and naturally prepare itself for winter. A sacrifice pasture, a specific part of the feeding area that you allow animals to graze in as winter nears, can be re-sodded next year, ensuring your main pasture is able to handle the freezing months.
Streamline Stable Management
Create your stable management schedule for the winter. Manure will no longer be spread about as before, and you’ll need to clean the stables at least once every few days to prevent buildup during the fall and winter months. Manure left standing can quickly become mud and muck when the rains fall, making it ideal to cart off the refuse to a compost area before the rains set in and check stables daily during the rainy season.
Plan for regular exercise and ride safe. Be mindful of hunting areas and the potential for slick surfaces or mudslides during the often-rainy fall season. Go over exercise and cleaning schedules with everyone responsible for maintaining your beloved equines. Any missed time needs to be picked up by someone else to prevent the horses from suffering due to human mistakes. This includes sick days or days when workers may not be able to join caretakers due to weather.
Compost piles require special care during the rainy fall and freezing winter months. If you are able to sequester your horses away from the main pasture, fall provides a great time to lay compost. Take care to avoid allowing grazing when the compost is decomposing, however, as bacteria in the soil can harm horses even as it fertilizes the ground.
Follow the principles of winter lawn care by keeping the area raked and well aerated. The pitchfork is your best tool when it comes to preparing for the upcoming seasons, and you must take extra care to ensure that runoff from compost does not flow into rivers or other nearby sources of water. Prepare latrine lines and ditches to create secondary holding areas for runoff, if necessary.
When the weatherman announces frost on the horizon, even if it is 10 days or more out, it’s time for final preparations. Get out the blankets and double-check all electric equipment and lighting. No one wants a bulb out if they have to rush to secure a barn or chase down a freshly weaned colt. It may seem counter-intuitive to dedicate time to double-checking your preparations, but if you plan to inspect your readiness at the first forecast of frost, you’ll ensure your horses remain well all winter long.
Disclaimer: Of Horse! and sponsors do not endorse nor validate the accuracy of a blog post. Each article is the opinion of the blogger.