Question about pasture reboot/natural horsekeeping
I have a question I was hoping some of you could help me with. I keep my horses as natural as possible, and have recently redesigned our property to a modified paddock paradise arrangement (not a continuous loop, but a chain of smaller areas that all feed into each other), 24/7 turnout, feeding only hay. The benefits were amazing, condition, hooves, joints, digestive problems... everything improved. We have run into some problems, however with our mixed herd, we just have too many different kinds of horses with different individual needs, six total including two ponies and several seniors. My skinny horses lost way too much weight, my middles were barely holding, and my fatties were way too fat. Feeding everyone separately and then turning them all out together has not worked, the hard keepers take too long to eat their forage. I have already cut our "chain" in 1/2, separated my hard keepers, added alfalfa and supplemental feed where necessary and it is better, but the easy keepers are still way too fat, and I am beginning to be concerned about their health. Plus one herd has no access to the gravel, which has been very beneficial to their bare feet, unless I rotate the herds frequently, which requires me to catch each horse, pen them up, move the other herd, then place each horse in the other paddock. I have an idea that would allow me three paddocks in the stall area, one for each feeding group, and gates for each that would open into what is left of our "chain" (roundpen, bigger pasture with gravel, long narrow pasture, and arena). This would allow us to feed appropriate amounts, but would also limit movement as each group would get the full run only every three days. Transfers would be easy, just open the gate, and they will come back in for their feed. So my question is, what would you consider more important for the best health: correct levels of feed ensuring proper weight, or as much movement as possible? Believe me, I would love to have both, but it's proven impossible on our limited acreage... and either way they are way better off than they were stalled with limited turn out. Thanks in advance!
No, sorry I dont have any pictures. My camera is out of order. I can describe what we have though. Traditionally, a PP is a track, like a racetrack, a continuous loop with an open area in the middle. Most people use the middle for hay, grazing, arena, etc. All of their needs (feed, water, shelter, minerals, etc) are spread out along the loop so they have to travel to meet their needs, plus they move as a herd so automatically get more exercise and stimulation. Grass is usually nonexistent which allows you to control their diet. Fantastic for any horse, but especially those with foot problems, sugar problems, weight problems, etc. You can get really creative with gravel, water, sand, obstacles, toys, etc.
Our setup is a bit different. The stable was already there, along with most of the features a boarding stable would have (arena, roundpen, hot walker, etc.) Very traditional, shaped like a big "c" with tons of small stalls and a paddock area in the middle with the hotwalker, tie rails etc. Used to house over 20 horses. We opened up the entire middle section of the "c" into huge run in stalls by opening all the doors and removing most of the dividing walls. The top and bottom of the "c" were used for our rabbits and equipment storage. we made pastures, the paddock area, the round pen, and the arena all "chain" into one another via fenced tracks and gates, the arena and round pen are on opposite ends of the chain and can be used by simply shutting a gate, but the rest of the time they are open to provide more space for the horses. We spread the resources around so they have to walk from area to area to get what they want, all away from the shelter (unless the weather is really bad, I do feed in the aisle of the barn in that case). The front pasture includes the old parking area from when the barn was open to the public which was great, instant gravel for hoof stimulation/self trimming. We do allow grass, though they keep it quite short so they never have a chance to gorge. Right now we just divided the stalls and paddock down the middle with hot wire tape, so we can run two herds. I have already noticed a difference after a week of splitting, both in movement (negative, they are not moving as much as before, but they are moving) and condition (positive for the separated horses, neutral for the others). If we do separate into three herds they will have less movement than now for two days, but much more for the third, however the diet will be much better.
Well so far I have one vote either way... lol, that's the problem I'm torn too. Both are really important to me.