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Survival Guide to at home horse keeping?

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  • Survival Guide to at home horse keeping?

    So, after years of being a BM I am moving on to a new career path. However, I will never, ever be a good boarder (I was too good of a BM! ) and am in the process of finding a little place to keep my two horses by myself. I have a couple of months to plan and organize, since I'm still on crutches from an accident. I would love any tips, tricks, or resources for keeping just a couple of horses. I'm great with taking care of a big, busy barn full of them, but just keeping the two of them (possibly 2.5 as I'm considering finding a pony or mini to keep my old man company when I haul Toby away) seems like it will have its own logistical issues. Like, how do you not spend a fortune on hay if you can only store a relatively small amount? How do you deal with manure? And those sorts of things.

    Obviously, so of these answers will be dependent on the facilities and also on how I end up earning a living, but for those of you who keep just a couple of horses, do you have any words of advice?

  • #2
    I think in some ways it's easier to have lots. When I helped out my trainer it was simple enough to just go on down the aisle and water everybody, turn around and feed everybody, load up the manure spreader etc. It took longer of course, but having one tenth the horses isn't exactly one tenth the time. I multi-task, and not always well because while I wait for the trough to fill and pick the pen often I forget about the water and the next thing I know it's splashing as it overflows and makes a mucky mess.

    However, if it's a big trough with only two horses you won't have to fill it very often.

    OK, the things that will be the hardest are the ones where you lose your bulk buying power. If you can, try to get together with your neighbors for routine vet care and farrier work, or at least use the same guy if he's decent, or see if they won't switch to your guy. Trying to establish a relationship with a new vet or farrier when you are only two horses is hard, piggybacking on to a neighbor so that there are four horses right next to each other is somehow easier. They'll already be going next door to you, it isn't out of their way etc, and if you work it right you can split the farm call.

    Same thing with hay. We club together with our neighbors, and when our mutual hay supplier lost his haylands lease and had to drop us, they did the legwork to get a new guy, set it all up and all we had to do was help unload and pay. Terrific relief to have somebody helping with that.

    If you don't have congenial neighbors and you still get along with your old barn you might be able to put your orders in with theirs also.

    And if you are able to buy in pallet sized lots you can ask about discounts on shavings or feed or hay. Feed is a little iffy because you don't want it to sit around and get vermin or mold, where in a big barn it's moving too fast for that to be a problem, but shavings and hay are just limited by your dry storage space.

    It's a lot quieter with just two and there are behavioral things that show up in a small group like being herdbound, but they can be worked out usually. Good luck with your new career path.
    Courageous Weenie Eventer Wannabe
    Incredible Invisible


    • #3
      The facility you have is going to dictate how easy or hard your life is going to be, and what compromises you will be forced (yes, forced!) to make. Think long and hard about what kind of time you're going to have, how much physical work you are willing and able to do every day, and what your budget is. Going solo is tough if you value hours in the saddle above everything else. I love having horses at home but it's a compromise of riding time for sure. Without having invested a substantial amount of funds in tractor, hay storage, automatic waterers, trouble free fencing, etc. I would not be able to pull it off. I'd type reams more but you know you can always contact me to ask. Or come visit.
      Click here before you buy.


      • #4
        Since you've already been a BM, this might be too basic a book for you, but has a lot of good info regarding small horse properties.

        Horsekeeping on a Small Acreage
        At its finest, rider and horse are joined not by tack, but by trust. Each is totally reliant upon the other. Each is the selfless guardian of the other's very well-being.
        (Author Unknown)


        • #5
          I agree with all of the above!

          For a while I had 1 horse, boarded her and she was a dream, never glued to any particular horse etc. Then moved to a small farm just with room for 2. Both got so stuck on one another that they turned completely nuts and in a panic if I took one out of the other's sight for as little as a few minutes.

          Now we have a slightly larger small farm, and have 5 at home now. This is a better number for us, because I can take one away and while that one might scream for a couple minutes, the rest don't call back. That one then settles in nicely to do a little work.

          Having 5, however, means that with a full time career and a farm to care for, the riding time is significantly cut down. I'm so lucky to have a supportive husband who helps me, even though it isn't his hobby in any way shape or form.

          We don't own a big tractor, or a gator / mule, or any of the things that make caring for a barn easier and less time consuming. Some day. But for now using the wheelbarrow through deep rutted mud or knee deep snow is not a good time lol. If you don't have these things, keep in mind that the barn chores might take a little longer than you'd like!

          Our hay guy is fantastic - we tell him what we'll need for the year, and he holds all the hay for us and delivers the next load when we get low. We're locked on price for the year, but he allows us to pay as we go. It's amazing, when prices here went to $8 or $10 a bale last year, we were still getting deliveries at $3. If you have the ability to work out something like this, I highly recommend it!

          I really love having my kiddos at home. It's hard work some days but getting to sit outside and watch them in their little herd happily munching in their pasture is completely worth it.

          Good luck with all your research and I'm excited for the changes you have on the horizon! Keep us in the loop on how the transition goes! =)


          • Original Poster

            Our hay guy is fantastic - we tell him what we'll need for the year, and he holds all the hay for us and delivers the next load when we get low. We're locked on price for the year, but he allows us to pay as we go. It's amazing, when prices here went to $8 or $10 a bale last year, we were still getting deliveries at $3. If you have the ability to work out something like this, I highly recommend it!
            Wow! What an incredible deal!!!


            • #7
              Best thing I did on my place? Built my stalls so that horses have access 24/7 and put one side of the barn into the fenceline with a window that allows a person to feed without entering the fence. That way, I don't have to worry about turnout or getting home from work to bring them in if there's a storm. Also, non-horsey people can dump feed through a window for you when you can't be there.

              One barn is just two stalls, side by side, and each stall has a front door and a side door. That way, no horse can trap another inside a stall. It's also nice if you need an extra entry or exit way one day. The other barn is just a single stall right now, with the same design. The horse who lives there has to be pastured separately because he's a big redneck around other horses. I'm going to build a feed/tack room onto that one someday, with the door facing outside the fenceline.

              I built both my little barns myself. DH helped me set the poles and put on the roof, but other than that it was a one-woman job. I'd never built anything before, but I bought a copy of How to Build Small Barns and Outbuildings and Horse Housing and bought some tools from Lowe's. Saved tons of money!

              Manure management? On my farm, my four dogs take care of that. They dig big tiger pits in my fenced front yard, and I trundle the manure over from the barns and fill in the holes with it. I have a very green lawn and giant rosebushes.
              I'm not ignoring the rules. I'm interpreting the rules. Tamal, The Great British Baking Show


              • #8
                i moved my 2 horses to my best friends house years ago.( he lived 3/10 mile from me)
                I hated it. I did morning feedings and stalls, and my friend did evenings. no one had time to ride with me, the barn became a place i worked, so i did not ride as often. winter was a huge pain, bc of watering. ( until my friend installed Nelson auto waterers) but it was still hard. I LOVE being a boarder. If you do know that this is what you want, that is great. just know what you are getting into.


                • #9
                  Your barn setup will greatly influence your work load. We have a 4 stall barn with big overhangs. The 3 horses can come and go as they please. In the winter, I put heated buckets in the barn. I have a water hydrant in the barn aisle and one outside. I have lots of electric outlets, and good lighting. Our loft holds enough hay that I only buy hay 2 or 3 times per year. I spend 20 minutes feeding, am and pm. It is pretty easy to do the mucking while feeding because the horses usually put their manure outside instead of in their stalls. Horse care is pretty easy if the barn is laid out well.


                  • #10
                    Welcome to the world of small horse-keeping.

                    My one horse lives at home. I have set things up so that it is EASY to take care of him. When I broke my foot this summer, my husband was able to do everything except clean the stall, and he is not a horse person (yes, he is a keeper).

                    My horse has a stall and lives in/out 24/7. I have a three stall shed row (Horizon Barn). Murphy has one stall, middle stall is feed and tack, third stall is hay storage. I can fit about 100 bales between the hay stall and half the middle stall. This is enough to last me nearly a year.

                    He has a large (100 gallon) water trough with a tank heater in winter. This means that if we lose power for a week following a winter storm or hurricane (both have happened), he has water (unless it freezes). If I am busy or out of town, I never worry about whether he has water.

                    I also use a freedom feeder hay net in the stall. It holds about half a square bale and lasts him 1-2 days. Save hay waste in the stall, and also makes sure that if I am late with dinner, he has something to eat. I have rubber mats outside the stall so that he can snack outdoors too.

                    Having electric and water easily accessible to the barn and trough are REALLY important.

                    Manure is the biggest issue. Right now, we haul much of it away and compost some of it for ourselves. That is a major pain. I would like to set up a 3 bin compost system, but we really need a tractor for that, and it is not in the cards for now.


                    • #11
                      Forgot to add, rubber mats in the stall. I use pellet bedding, and I clean the stall and bank it during the day, leaving enough bedding to absorb wet spots. When I feed in the evening, I pick the stall and spread the bedding. I find it much easier.


                      • #12
                        We have my two horses at home on small acerage.
                        Make sure you have enough land for pasture rotation. This saves my land, and a whole lot of heart ache!
                        Buy a tractor with a front end loader if you can. I really wish I had taken people more seriously when they told me to buy a tractor! We have only had ours a couple months now, but it has made life so much easier!!!!


                        • #13
                          MkEvent's website! www.thepitchforkchronicles.com
                          Tack Cleaning/All-Things-Tack nut
                          ~DQ wanna-be~


                          • #14
                            Loafing sheds that can be converted to stalls if needed....but try starting with just the shed. You can divide with partition of paddock fencing if you need to keep seperate for feeding.

                            If not loafing sheds, entry to turnout through a series of paddocks attached to stalls.

                            Instead of a mini,
                            I would consider having ONE stellar boarder who knows the place, the routine and the horses inside and out to act as worker (back-up and vacation farm watcher). Make her a heluva deal on board, train her well and you have way to have some time off. Taking care of three is not much harder than two, and the boarder isn't your vet bill of something happens.


                            • #15
                              I've had two at home for years now. Set up your barn so you have shelter, stalls, direct turnout to paddock and on to pasture. I don't like the 100 gallon tanks--too much waste for 2 horses as it always gets dirty before it gets empty. I have a 50 gallon or so (maybe smaller?) which I can dump and fill quickly.

                              In my barn, I have two stalls with Dutch doors to outside, sliders to inside, then an overhang with mats so I can feed outside. Sacrifice paddock which opens onto pasture.

                              I can store a year's worth of hay--it is surprising how little space that is. We feed 100lb. orchard--I like the best quality hay for less waste. We can stack 120+ bales in a 14 x 14 x 20 foot space.

                              I use pelleted bedding, which makes stall cleaning faster and it composts much better than shavings. We have a small "mini" tractor (Kubota) that does all the mowing and moving we need on our 5 acres. I buy my bedding by the ton and store it. Two tons almost gets me through a year, if I turn out 24/7 in the summer.
                              Proud member of the "Don't rush to kill wildlife" clique!


                              • #16
                                In our area we can get bulk sawdust but the bags are all various forms of shavings which are never as absorbent. Storage and delivery of sawdust for a small operation generally isn't reasonable.
                                A friend that DH and I routinely farm sit for switched from bagged shavings to pellets about 9 months ago. She buys it a pallet at a time. It is so much nicer with the pellets than the shavings. Much less waste, much more absorbent. They sometimes get dusty and a quick squirt with the hose helps that.
                                Oh, well, clearly you're not thoroughly indoctrinated to COTH yet, because finger pointing and drawing conclusions are the cornerstones of this great online community. (Tidy Rabbit)


                                • #17
                                  I buy 2 round bales at a time. 1 goes in my garage and I peel and stuff haynets 1 a week and I have enough for 4 horses during the work week. The other goes out to the pasture. My hay guy lives ten minutes away and he's cool with this arrangement.

                                  I bed on straw and burn the leftovers in an oil barrel every night. It takes about 10 minutes to get the barrel going, but I can burn 1 days worth of manure/ straw overnight. I love that I don't have a manure pile, and the straw saves me oodles of money. It costs me at most $9/ week to bed on straw.

                                  Farm layout is key. I haven't had to use a halter in months. I open their stall gates and they walk out to their pasture. Open the pasture gate and they walk to their stalls. I also have a sacrifice area that is in the where the barn is so I can leave their stall doors open and they can come in during nasty weather or go out into the dry lot.


                                  • #18
                                    I boarded for years and finally got our own place 2 years ago. Like others have said, it does cut down on ride time, but it is so worth it! With a full time regular day job, I had to figure out how to keep things simple.

                                    Our barn is a 3 stall barn with dutch doors off the back of the stalls. They open to a sacrifice paddock, which opens to an 8 acre grass pasture. I leave the doors open 24/7 (unless one needs to be in a stall for some reason). The water trough is in the paddock. I feed round bales in the winter.

                                    All of my horses also eat grain twice a day. I call for them, scoop their feed, and they come into their stalls to eat. I close the dutch door on the back of the stall but don't latch it, so that no other horse can come in. When they are finished, they mosey on back to the pasture on their own.

                                    I have to tell you, I RARELY have to pick stalls. They typically only come in to eat, and that's it. When I do pick, I use a gorilla cart and dump it in a compost pile in the woods on our property. It makes great garden fertilizer.

                                    As for hay, my hay guy lives about 15 minutes from me. He will deliver our round bales, or I can pick them up 1 at a time in my truck. We do not have a tractor, so had to get creative. We bought a utility trailer with a ramp on the back. My husband put a wench on the front of the trailer which plugs into the battery on our ATV. We use the wench and tow straps to pull/roll the round bale onto the trailer to move it to the field. It does take 2 people, but until we can afford a tractor, this works for us.

                                    Good luck! You will love it!


                                    • #19
                                      This isn't as much about horsekeeping advice than job adjustment advice. I don't know what your new adventure is going to entail, but devoting 8 hours every day to someone else, somewhere other than the barn severely cuts into your barn time and you begin to have to prioritize what gets done. Things that you have time to do when all you do is manage a barn are going to be come special projects if you put riding as a priority, but there are days when you have to go to the feed store or fix the fence and you don't get to ride.

                                      What everyone else has said about making it easy - 24/7 turn out, easy for someone else to step in and do your routine in "5 steps or less" - because there will be days when you have to be at work longer than you thought - become more important than making sure the aisle is swept and the spare bandage bin is organized.

                                      It's not that I don't want to have a clean aisle, but if I want to get to ride, shower, and get to work on time, sweeping gets relegated to weekends.

                                      It's hard to comment on logistics when you don't know what the facility is like - but you've gotten some excellent advice - you KNOW how to care for horses, and it may be hard to do things in a manner you used to consider to be cutting corners.


                                      • #20
                                        Originally posted by yellowbritches View Post
                                        Like, how do you not spend a fortune on hay if you can only store a relatively small amount? How do you deal with manure? And those sorts of things.
                                        If you're willing to spend the money to buy and maintain pastures, your hay bills can be pretty low. I've got one horse, and about 6 acres in rotation - I don't need to feed any hay at all. That said, you can store a decent amount of hay for one or two horses in a not-too big space. I have a 16x12 "hay bay" in my barn that could probably hold about 100 square bales with no trouble - I think there's about 60 in there at the moment, with room to spare.

                                        Letting the horses live out keeps the manure pile small - my pony has access to a bedded stall 24/7, but she only comes in there to eat. She spends all of her other "inside time" hanging out in the run-in shed, but only uses it as a bathroom when the weather is bad, so even that doesn't require much clean up.

                                        As you know, the setup you find or build is going to make a ton of difference in how smoothly the place runs, but as some other folks have mentioned - set it up so that "non-horsey" people can cover for you in a pinch! It's kind to them, and you'll find that the things that make it work for them safely and easily will save you time and effort on the days when you have to "do the barn" in a hurry, too.

                                        As far as the bulk savings - if you can't find someone to go in with (I haven't), you pretty much have to bite the bullet and accept that you're "just another backyard horsekeeper" (with a couple of horses), rather than a "pro" (with a big barn full). It's a good place to be, though - I may have to pay a little more per bag for my feed, but I only need to buy one or two bags at a time anyway, and I don't have to deal with anybody else's approval if I want to change brands or formulas, or I want to do things differently. If I haven't had a chance to sweep the aisle for a few days - nobody complains - my pony is happy, I'm happy and that's all we have to worry about! It is a little bit of work, but it's really great.