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? for those with small personal farms:tractors, manure, design

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  • ? for those with small personal farms:tractors, manure, design

    So, this is for those of you who have a small personal farm. I am beginning the process of purchasing a small farm (5-7 acres) for my own horses (I would have 2-4 max) and I am wondering, do I NEED a tractor? Would a riding mower be sufficient? How do you manage manure? I would also be building the horse facilities myself...what can you not live without, or wish you had put in when you (or whomever) built your place?
    When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.

  • #2
    You don't absolutely have to have one. I didn't for many years. But they are SO nice to have (if you get one you NEED a front loader!) Things to have - hot water, water run to each pasture, and fencing you can trust. Also, grade and put gravel at every gate to every field!


    • #3
      I have seven acres, and seven horses (two of which are gone with kids to Dad's during the school year)

      must have: tractor, manure spreader, excellent fencing (mesh) such that nothing gets out OR in, brush hog, in-out stalls with paddocks

      wish I had: bucket on tractor, hay chute from loft to lower level

      I built everything myself, except the shell of the pole barn which existed when I bought. what a fun project!

      I purchased "Horse Keeping on a Small Acreage" and "Horse Housing" by Cherry Hill about three months before moving in and knew EXACTLY what I was going to do before I started.

      these books were life savers.


      • #4
        Another vote for the Cherry Hill books - worth every cent you spend on them (and anyhow, they're not that pricy).

        And like Flying Hearts says, you don't need a tractor, but if you can fit it in your budget buy one.
        FH is also on the money about gravel (unless you like slogging through mud) and fencing. Don't skimp there.
        In hindsight I wish I had done perimeter fencing when I still had the $$.
        Some day.....

        I have 2 horses on 5ac and make do with the lawn tractor that came with the house. But I am slowly & surely killing it. I have to replace blades yearly. Mowing pastures is not what it was intended for.
        I got a small dumpcart (300# capacity) and that helps but a sub-compact sized tractor with FEL would make life a lot easier.

        I compost manure and spread it - by dumpcartfulls - on my gardens and soon-to-be wildflower meadow. Friends also take away a lot of the pile in the Spring. But I am considering getting a small dumpster as well. Amazing how much 2 horses poop!

        As for necessities:
        *Water (frostfree pump at the least) in the barn
        *Electric in the barn
        *Gates wide enough for big trucks - 16' would be good
        *Space for at least a week's worth of hay stored inside the barn
        *12' wide aisle - more if you can do it
        *Stall hardware that can be used one-handed

        That's all that pops into my mind now.
        Have fun and report back here (with pics!)
        A manure spreader is another nicety and I am coveting the Newer Spreader myself.
        Last edited by 2DogsFarm; Oct. 16, 2008, 12:57 PM. Reason: forgot manure question
        *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


        • #5
          We also are getting by just fine with a riding mower on our little farmlet. I will note, however, that our neighbors on either side both have large tractors and are willing to help with bigger jobs. We also make copious use of temporary electric fencing to have the "organic mower/fertilizers" graze down as much of the grass as possible, including our small lawn areas.

          I agree with the other posters that -- absent similar helpful neighbors! -- if you can afford a full-size tractor, you will probably find it useful at least some of the time.
          Equinox Equine Massage

          In the depth of winter, I finally learned that there was in me invincible summer.
          -Albert Camus


          • #6
            We started with a flat 3 acre Field and built a house, barn and put up a fence around 2 acres. Our little garden tractor is on its last bolt but it lasted 8 years of very hard work and still going with the help of a little duct tape.

            A real tractor would have been and still is some thing I could use but just can't afford. Never needed a manure spreader. Between my gardens and others gardens we don't produce enough composted manure to go around. I haven't had enough compost left over to spread on the pasture except for one year and that was DH who had that done and it wasn't composted yet so I wasn't happy about it.

            My barn has running water and lights but not hot water. I don't have any major regrets but I couldn't do again, not enough energy or time for that.
            No hour of life is wasted that is spent in the saddle. ~Winston Churchill


            • #7
              The reason for having a tractor is mowing height. Riding mowers cut too short. This has the ability to kill some grass species off. I wasted so much money reseeding paddocks just to wonder what happened to the timothy and orchard grass. I took a class in forage management and learned that many species of desireable pasture grasses store their sugars (food for the grass) in the 6-8 inches of grass stem. when you cut or graze the grass too short you deprive the grass of it's store food and it dies off. You want a bush hog or finish mower that you can set for higher cuts. Mowing paddocks with a riding mower just sucks to be honest. If grass gets long and wet the smaller mower really struggles and clogs badly. I'm so much happier having a Kubota tractor. Look for a used one with a front loader and a mower.



              • #8
                I see you're in AZ, so you probably won't need one. It's sure easier with one, though. I get a lot of snow in the winter, and have to keep long driveway clear for access in and out of the property. The only way to manage was to buy a small tractor. I use it almost every day in the winter.


                • #9
                  Originally posted by chicamuxen1 View Post
                  The reason for having a tractor is mowing height. Riding mowers cut too short. This has the ability to kill some grass species off. I wasted so much money reseeding paddocks just to wonder what happened to the timothy and orchard grass. I took a class in forage management and learned that many species of desireable pasture grasses store their sugars (food for the grass) in the 6-8 inches of grass stem. when you cut or graze the grass too short you deprive the grass of it's store food and it dies off. You want a bush hog or finish mower that you can set for higher cuts. Mowing paddocks with a riding mower just sucks to be honest. If grass gets long and wet the smaller mower really struggles and clogs badly. I'm so much happier having a Kubota tractor. Look for a used one with a front loader and a mower.

                  That all depends on where you live and what kind of grass you have. I am still trying to find a way of killing this southern Bermuda grass; like a weed. It can grow under a concrete slab.

                  We set the garden tractor on its highest setting and just by mowing the pasture was able to reduce the weeds down to near nothing. I can't be bothered planting grass. One year I decided to over seed rye for the winter. Had green grazing all winter but then both my horses coliced repeatedly for weeks. Turns out the Rye produces too much sugar when temps are cold at night and warm during the day. Mowed the rye down as close as I could and never planted again.

                  You are lucky you don't have to deal with this stuff.
                  No hour of life is wasted that is spent in the saddle. ~Winston Churchill


                  • #10
                    Absolute must -- 20 hp tractor (or bigger, but an old 20 hp Ford will do just about anything except bale hay), preferably 4wd, with loader. Did without a loader for 50 years, and don't know how I ever lived this long without one.

                    Everything else is balance between (1) how much time you have to spend on it and (2) how much money you want to spend on it.


                    • #11
                      I know people do it, but I can't imagine not having a tractor. Besides the mower and front end loader a post hole digger is nice - necessary if doing your own fence. If you use round bales a bale spike is nice. There are always projects that come up that are easier or doable because of the tractor.
                      Epona Farm
                      Irish Draughts and Irish Draught Sport horses

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                      • #12
                        Ditto the mower thing. Don't mow lower than 6", and many mowers won't mow higher than 4". You can get a swisher, which is like a bush hog but has it's own engine, and tow it behind an ATV. Get a good reliable mower and a used ATV. You can use the ATV to pull the spreader, harrow, dump cart, and swisher, but the mower can't handle that much work.
                        Man plans. God laughs.


                        • Original Poster

                          Thanks for the input! For clarity, while I currently live in AZ, the farm will be in NC. I used to have a 10 acre field with run-in shed in NY and always wished I had a tractor, not so much for mowing, since I had 6 horses out 24/7 and they kept it fairly well mowed(except for thier toilet area), but for moving manure, plowing (NY) and moving large, dragable items! Also, for those of you who compost your manure, what do you bed on? I used to work on a farm that composted it's manure and they MADE us bed on straw, which I have vowed will only happen if I breed! How does bedding on woodchips effect the compost?
                          When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.


                          • #14
                            The best thing to bed on if you are planning to compost is sawdust or pelleted bedding. Less of it ends up in the manure pile than shavings, and since wood is high in carbon but low in nitrogen, it makes poor compost. Plus the shavings don't compost very quickly as they are too big.

                            I am in FL and only have 2.5 acres, but I get by with borrowing my neighbor's riding mower during the rainy season. My 3 horses have access to almost the entire 2.5 acres, so there is very little to keep mowed. They do a pretty good job themselves. If I were going to buy anything it would be an ATV and a bush hog attachment, just to keep the weeds down. A riding mower will not handle weeds, so I currently pull them by hand.


                            • #15
                              I use shavings and it will fully compost in 6 months. Only thing I do is make sure the pile doesn't get too wet or too dry so it keeps cooking properly. During droughts I will put a sprinkler on the pile and if we are getting too much rain I throw a tarp on it. During normal weather patterns I do nothing.

                              I throw all yard debris on my pile; Christmas trees, pruned tree branches and so on. I try to add brown then green matter so it is mixed.
                              No hour of life is wasted that is spent in the saddle. ~Winston Churchill


                              • #16
                                We use wood shavings for bedding. Well, it is shavings, sawdust, wood chips, etc. It comes from the same place but we never know what it's going to look like when it gets here.

                                We waste a lot of bedding but that is because we have a few broodies that must be stalled at night and with their foal they totally demolish a stall every night. We pile it up, not very high since we don't have a front end loader. It composts very fast and we do absolutely nothing to help it. I think the fact that it is not very tall helps it to compost faster. The worms crawl in from below, it gets plenty moist from top to bottom, etc. It is definitely composted in 6 months. The tippy top layer of wood chips/shavings make it look like it is not composted but as soon as you dig in you find it is fully composted. I don't know about it being poor quality due to the wood and carbon. We did an experiment and planted veggies this year directly in the 6 month old compost in addition to a typical garden in soil but with some compost added in as fertilizer. The veggies in the straight compost not only grew faster and much larger (like 3-4 times larger) but they were also definitely more prolific than the veggies in the garden. With that in mind we made a new pile this summer which is closer to the house. We will build a frame around it next Spring and make that the base for a raised garden bed.

                                I know that sounds kind gross but again, this waste has a lot of wood shavings, etc. in it. It is not all manure. Some people are able to scoop out straight manure and deal with very little bedding waste. We waste a lot, unfortunately, and it is still good compost. Maybe all the shavings actually help it compost faster.

                                I suppose we do inadvertently add some "brown" to our manure pile when we scoop manure out of the pastures and paddocks. The stallions poop in the same spot and it is pretty much dirt in that area. So I imagine we are picking up a little dirt and good bacteria to help the composting process.

                                The other thing is that we have allowed people to come pick up our compost for gardening (advertised on Craigslist). We have repeat "customers" all the time. It's free and they have to do the work. But it relieves us of the compost and they said our compost is a gardener's dream. You could always do something like that to help keep your manure pile low.

                                Yes, if you can manage it, get a small tractor. Riding lawn mowers have short lives on a farm. I think it is smarter in your situation to put your money into something that can stand up to your jobs over time...if you can afford to do so.
                                Altamont Sport Horses
                                Trakehners * Knabstruppers * Appaloosa Sport Horses
                                Home of stallions: Ambrosius af Asgard "Atlantis" & Hollywood Hot Spot
                                Birmingham, AL


                                • #17
                                  I use a combination of pine shavings (med size) and wood pellets for bedding and they compost completely and beautifully over the Winter.
                                  I do nothing to help the pile except dump fresh loads on top.
                                  In Spring I have gorgeous black, odor-free compost.
                                  It alarmed the heck out of me the first year when I noticed it steaming by itself

                                  I attended a gardening seminar with an agent from Purdue Ag dept who told me the shavings, even soaked with urine, are great for composting because of the nitrogen content.

                                  I dump fresh loads on my veggie garden and flowerbeds when they are done producing or blooming for the season and they compost over the Winter. Not so pretty, so you might want to save the well-composted stuff for the front of the house and other "public" areas.
                                  I too plant veggies directly into the composted stuff and everything grows like there is no tomorrow.
                                  Ask me about the Summer I had the brilliant idea of planting 15 zucchini plants (for the blooms and big leaves) in a bed by the barn entirely made of composted manure.
                                  By the middle of Summer people ran from me approaching with yet another huge bucket of zukes.....
                                  *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


                                  • #18
                                    I get by with my polaris ranger with dump body. Makes moving hay, stripping stalls, picking up manure in pastures, etc a breeze...just go to manure pile and dump.

                                    I do have access to a big mower though on the family farm, and also due to proximity to the family farm I make my manure piles bordering various fields and my brother-in-law just spreads it at the right time. If I had to push a wheelbarrow to all those spots though I'd never be able to do it! Though I would probably be able to lose this last 20lbs so maybe I should consider it!

                                    Tractors are nice because you can get lots of implements. Post-hole diggers, aerators, etc. I have family members that have all these and that are willing to come over and work in exchange for lasagna or other edibles within my limiting cooking realm. I'm a lucky girl. If I didn't have all that, the polaris might not work so well, but in my case it's the best thing since sliced bread. I can drag my pastures and riding ring, move 15 bales of hay which is about what I have room to store anyway, strip a stall...it's a super-handy little thing.


                                    • #19
                                      gotta have a tractor! you can do SO MUCH with them! move heavy things, drag the arena, renovate pastures, flip compost, etc etc.

                                      i cant even imagine how i would take care of my little micro farm without it!

                                      Love My Tractor!


                                      • Original Poster

                                        Hmmm, the comment about an ATV with attachments is attractive...have to ask my pops about it, as he has stated it will be his job to maintain the farm (he's retired and looking for something to do!), but has anyone worked with a gator? I know you can get almost all the attachments for an ATV that you can get for a tractor, except the front loader, I guess. More to think about!!!
                                        When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.