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Planning a small, backyard farm

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  • Planning a small, backyard farm

    A friend of mine wants to turn her 10 acre property into a horse farm. She is having a tough time with the town, due to part of the property being on a buffer zone for wetlands. Another concern is part of the property is also hilly, so she is worried about erosion. She wants to be able to use as much of the property as possible while also preserving the land as best as she can. She's only planning to have 3 (maybe four if she breeds her mare) horses. Private farm. She asked me how she should think about dividing up the property for turnout space (at least 2 pastures, a sacrifice lot and a riding ring); how much property would be needed to rotate pastures during the summer months so that the grass isn't destroyed; and how large of a sacrifice lot do most people section off.

    Can anyone share their experiences/layout of their small farm? Can anyone point me to internet sources or recommend books that offer guidelines?

    Thanks in advance!

  • #2
    There is a book, "Horse Keeping on Small Acreage" by.....I want to say Cherry Hill? It's an excellent read and a must have for this sort of situation. I found it useful, and I have 90 acres!


    • Original Poster

      I actually do have that book and told her to check it out. How many acres do you feel is needed per horse if you are to keep grass going? I think the Zoning rule is one acre for the 1st horse, then 1/2 acre per additional horse, but not sure. However, doesn't seem like it would be enough to keep grass plentiful.


      • #4
        I think alot of it depends on where you live. An acre per horse used to be the rule of thumb, but you'd still need to be feeding hay and possibly grain with that. Where is your friend's farm?
        For farm layout, I have each stall leading to a private paddock and the paddocks leading to private or semi private pastures. The paddocks can act as sacrifice areas and it gives the horses a little bit of space to roam around besides being in their stalls if the weather is too bad for pasture turnout. When I used to work full time and the weather forecast was bad, I'd leave the stalls/paddocks open so the horses had a place to escape the weather if I wasn't home to let them in. It saved me alot of worry!


        • #5
          If her "tough time" with her town is a zoning issue she could be SOL.
          When I bought my 5ac it was zoned to allow 1 large animal for the first 3.5ac and and each additonal animal required an additional acre.
          So my 2 horses just met the legal allowance.

          Since then zoning has changed due to development and you are now required 5ac for one large animal. You also cannot subdivide any lot of less than 10ac.

          She can petition for a variance, but don't be surpised if she gets turned down. Zoning Boards are funny animals.

          If she does get her permit then I suggest she plan for horses out 24/7 with access to shelter & water.
          My barn is located centrally between two pastures with the paddock surrounding the barn as my sacrifice area. Stall doors are left open to the paddock.
          That way horses can go in or out of their stalls and I can close off either of the two pastures (or both) with just one gate.
          They stall themsleves for feeding - they see me coming and head in for breffy or dinner.

          I know this may not work for everyone, but my two geldings have worked it out so they get along fine with this arrangement.

          Makes my life a lot easier as I can be away for varying amounts of time and not worry about feeding horses. They have either pasture or hay I toss out in the sacrifice area.
          Also a heckuva lot less stall-picking is required as they are much oftener out than in.
          The paddock is either picked or when weather permits I mow the piles down - I call this "mulching" and so far, in 5 years, it has worked.

          I did put up an indoor arena, but find myself riding in my "outdoor" (lawn to the North of the house, West of the barn/pastures) or on the property where I've mowed some paths more often.
          *friend of bar.ka*RIP all my lovely boys, gone too soon:
          Steppin' Out 1988-2004
          Hey Vern! 1982-2009, Cash's Bay Threat 1994-2009
          Sam(Jaybee Altair) 1994-2015


          • #6
            First, get in touch with the ag person at the local county extension office. They can help you a great deal in telling you what the recommended horses/acre ratio is, what to plant, how to rotate, how to plan your farm, where to put the manure pile, etc. In my case, my manure pile is SUPPOSED to be 250 from any property line. With my flag shaped lot and only 5 ac., 250 feet is not only very far away from the barn, but I'm not sure I can actually get the pile 250 feet from ALL property lines. Assuming I can cheat on the side I share with the power lines, I won't worry about it there. Have I moved my manure pile yet? No.

            Several other things to check out: First, look into "pasture path". That's a way of keeping your horses out 24/7, barefoot, well fed, and well exercised. Second, look into hay boxes. They're boxes with "grates" between the horse and the hay and it occupies the horses all day long trying to get at the hay. Sort of like a hay net but permanent and usually on the ground. This is healthier for them. Fat horses slim down and thin horses relax and fatten up. (I have not yet done either the pasture path or the hay boxes just yet.)

            Going on - I have 5 ac. and it was all set up before I got here, so I couldn't plan the arrangement myself. I have a dry lot (sacrifice lot) right off the barn that is approximately 60x100. I've had as many as 5 animals in there. Five full-sized horses is a bit much, but if two of them are ponies, it's not so bad. I also have a full-sized arena (100x200) out back.

            I've subdivided my "fields" into 6 sections approximately 1/2 each. It's best if the sections are long and thin. They get more exercise if they have to walk the length and come back to the barn for water. That's the way my place is set up. I also have an overhang where I put out hay for miserable days. I keep horses off the grass when the ground is too soft, too dry, or the grass is too short. This goes for the summer too.

            My horses seem to want to stay on the level areas and not eat on the sloped areas. They also don't like to go back into the trees anywhere, especially near the power lines. I guess the woods on the back of the property is too scary or the ATVs on the power lines are. Especially when they can't be seen!

            I currently have 3 horses at home and they're in half the time. My max is now 4 and I'd rather leave it at 3.

            I hope that helps.
            Laurie Higgins
            "Expectation is premeditated disappointment."


            • #7
              Barn/paddock flanked by pastures...

              Originally posted by 2DogsFarm View Post
              If she does get her permit then I suggest she plan for horses out 24/7 with access to shelter & water.
              My barn is located centrally between two pastures with the paddock surrounding the barn as my sacrifice area. Stall doors are left open to the paddock.
              That way horses can go in or out of their stalls and I can close off either of the two pastures (or both) with just one gate.
              They stall themsleves for feeding - they see me coming and head in for breffy or dinner.

              I know this may not work for everyone, but my two geldings have worked it out so they get along fine with this arrangement.

              Makes my life a lot easier as I can be away for varying amounts of time and not worry about feeding horses. They have either pasture or hay I toss out in the sacrifice area.
              Also a heckuva lot less stall-picking is required as they are much oftener out than in.
              The paddock is either picked or when weather permits I mow the piles down - I call this "mulching" and so far, in 5 years, it has worked.

              We just bought our own ranchette and this is exactly how we are setting it up. Two pastures (front and rear) There is a sacrifice paddock that with barn/shelter (really just an open shedrow area) The sacrifice paddock opens either to the front pasture or rear pasture. So with that gate, can control which pasture they have access to.

              OR, if needed, can keep them in the sacrifice paddock.

              Since we are in CA, no real need for a barn. Just putting up a pasture shelter with a huge overhang for us to groom, tack up, shoe, vet stuff, etc.

              Good luck to your friend!
              Equine & Pet Portrait Artist
              **Morgans Do It All**


              • #8
                I have two geldings at home on four acres of land. It took some creative planning and a few meetings with the building inspector to pass my wetlands issue. In my town, we are agricultural zoned BUT must have 75' between the wetlands (in my case a small natural pond) and any structure, however I could use the area between the pond and the barn for turnout with no issues. I also have a small sacrafice dirt lot off the two turnout stalls (it's about 1/4 acre). They can come and go as they please and have also worked out the mealtime system, going into their respective stalls. They are 24/7 turnout and spend their days napping, snacking, and playing.

                In the summer I will have a 1/2 acre grass turnout I plan on using only a few hours a day as a treat for my guys, rather than dedicated turnout. In addition, I also have two other 1/4 acre areas where I plan on essentially letting the grass grow and using temp fencing (electric) for these temp paddocks during the summer and fall months. I resigned to the fact that living in the southeast region in NH on a public servant and carpenter's income, this was the most land my BF and I would be able to afford. So... we make the best of it. We have the powerlines and conservation land around us so I can ride three seasons, school in my huge driveway or the multiple sand pits around me.

                I love my Horseguard fencing which is my primary fence for my two respectful geldings. I also ran water and electric to the barn and the barn is wired to run with the generator. Add more lights than you think you will need... cause you will need them... especially when the vet comes late at night! Also, tell your friend to build with prevailing winds in mind... here were faced the turnout stalls to the south and the back of the barn takes the brunt of the wind leaving the barn feeling MUCH warmer even though it is wide open.

                I can support three big guys if I choose, but only plan on adding a mini donkey to the clan. I am spoiled with my super simple routine!
                Gone gaited....


                • Original Poster

                  Thanks for the responses!

                  My friend is Zoned to have the horses, it's whether she can use ALL the property she wants to. She's submitting paperwork to the Town Board soon, so now trying to get a bunch of details together to present her plans. We live in horse country, so I'm sure they will work with her. But the wetlands are a touchy situation-she has to show the horses won't harm the area. Like I said, she doesn't want to put horses ON wetlands, but part of the property falls on the buffer zone (not sure how far off the wetlands it is.) She also won't be building any permanent structures on that area, so the concern is about grazing and where to place fencing.

                  For the sacrifice lots-did you anyone add footing to it? And what size seems ideal for 2 or 3 horses?


                  • #10
                    I'd advise your friend to forget about the riding ring and use the land for pasture instead. It's amazing how quickly you get used to riding in a pasture. I am so glad that we didn't turn any of ours into a ring. The sacrifice paddock, on the other hand, is a must.


                    • #11
                      My dry lot was built before I bought the place, but it was put in with a base, fabric filter, french drain, and grit or screenings (blue stone) on top. It used to be probably a good two inches, but it's mostly washed away into the fields now.

                      If you plan it right and do it right, it should give you great footing and won't be muddy up to their hocks. It'll cost you up front but save you misery down the road. Make sure you figure out a way to keep the footing from eroding away.

                      My husband and I have been "discussing" the issue for three years. He's convinced that "organic matter" is going to overtake both the dry lot and the arena and the footing will all have to be replaced. Even though we've been here 6+ years and there's no danger of manure overwhelming anything yet!
                      Laurie Higgins
                      "Expectation is premeditated disappointment."


                      • #12
                        With 4 horses, some buildings and wetland on part of the property, she may need to manage her place more intensively than folks with pasture for all the acreage. Animals may not be allowed to get near the wetland, to prevent breaking down sides like a creek or river, contaminating the water with urine like cattle do. Dirt along the edge erodes easily in rain or flooding.

                        For myself, I want my equines outside, but would not consider doing 24 hour turnout on pasture. WAYY to much to eat, they don't need that quantity of intake. Sure it is easier on the horse keeper, but not the best for equines.

                        Good pasture takes work, fertilizing, seeding, cutting, attention to the soil, to produce a good product. Not sure what kind of land she has, dirt will produce better pasture than dirt with big rocks in it. I spread our daily stall cleaning to return to the land. I get intensive spreading on one paddock each winter. In spring I lightly disc that paddock, drag it, so the sawdust is spread well, dirt is open to better absorb the fertilizer applied and nutrients from manure. Sawdust acts as mulch, holding in moisture, protecting the grass plant roots from sunburn and overgrazing. As time passes, grass develops deep roots, spreads to make absorbent turf cover. Takes a while though.

                        I would have at least 4 larger, grazing paddocks. Allows better control of grazing, they will do a better job eating in smaller area. Mow after horses are moved on out of a paddock, to allow longest growing time before they are back in. Change the horse paddocks often. Again, with partial day grazing, horses are not so hard on the paddocks, grass lasts longer. You may not need to do supplemental hay, if grazing is good. We don't give extra hay when ours come in for the day over summer season. Sure DO NOT need the extra calories. The working horses get an extra handful or two of grain when they come in. All get a small helping of wet beet pulp, while inside.

                        I am keeping 7-8 horses on about 12 acres, with just grass most of the summer. You have to be attentive to the dirt, growth of grass, seasonal needs like fertilizer and mowing. You may have small windows that these things MUST be done in, or you have lost the opportunity to improve your pastures. My pastures are mowed when they get about 8 inches high, no more or grass sets seed. Once it sets seed, grass goes dormant for the REST OF SUMMER. You can't mow pasture too short, needs to be about 5 inches tall for root and soil protection from the sun and hooves. Again, you have to mow when grass NEEDS mowing. August often has no mowing because there is no rain. Still some nibbling, but sometimes no growth. My turf with the long roots grows leaves to eat, just not height. Old turf can take August heat better when well cared for, good mulch layers. Horses may need some hay at this time, but each year and each pasture is different.

                        I would not call 4 equines, intensive grazing, but depends on how big pasture paddocks are. We have large barnyards, opening into the various pastures. Horses can be out, not allowed into the pasture areas for various reasons. I love the barnyards. We do not have any stalls that have paddocks. Especially multiple horses with multiple open stalls. Someone always gets hurt in these situations. A lean-to shed would be a better idea.


                        • #13
                          The problem is environmental. Find a GOOD environmental planner and LEARN about managing land to reduce environmental damage.


                          • #14
                            "Once it sets seed, grass goes dormant for the REST OF SUMMER. "

                            I did not know that!

                            The only issue I have with a sacrifice paddock is I've heard horror stories about horses that colicked and they found bluestone in their tummies....I'm so paranoid, I wouldn't do a bluestone paddock...but have no idea how else to do dirt lot without mud!
                            For things to do in Loudoun County, visit: www.365thingstodoloudoun.com