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For those of you with small farms (5 acres or less)....

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  • For those of you with small farms (5 acres or less)....

    We have 3 1/4 acres and were thinking of turning our 2+car garage (24 ft X24 ft) into a 2 stall barn. Can you give me any advice on small farm maintenance (from your experience). We would have 1 horse for me and a pony for my daughter. Hoping to put in a small ring (maybe 80 X100) and have about 3 paddocks. Any advice before we start this project?

  • #2
    I have about the same acreage and it can work but you really have to manage the grass or you will have nothing. I have attached paddocks to the barn so the horses can go in and out and it saves me from having to put them in grass paddocks all the time. I also have an arena and use it for turnout as well. I wish I had enough so they could be out 24x7 but it just not possible. At least they get out a lot with the attached paddock area and the arena.

    Don't forget hay/shavings/stuff storage. It is amazing how much space that needs. Some farmers will deliver small amounts of hay and store the rest for you. You will have trouble storing a years worth of hay in your converted garage would be my guess.

    Best of luck!


    • Original Poster

      thanks. the garage does have an upstairs, and i figure i can store maybe 1 or 2 months worth of hay up there. I am also trying to figure out whether this is cost effective option, or if i should consider boarding 2 horses. (I sold my horse a year ago, so i need to BUY the horses, too!). Basic Board in my area starts at about $600.00 per month, but most places are about $800.00 / mo.


      • #4
        There is a great book on this very subject. Called something like Horse Keeping on Small Acreage.

        Have you checked with the acreage requirements in your area to see if you are allowed to have two horses on that amount of land?


        • #5
          You might be better off using the garage as a Hay/Tack storage center, and building the stalls/shed elsewhere. The barn I work at does this.

          Also, I imagine that people may not be willing to pay full price board to keep their horse in a converted garage for full price board.


          • #6
            Check to make sure you can have horses in your area (CCRs? Permits?) Make sure your garage's upstairs can take the weight of 2000 to 4000 pounds of hay. Realistically, your garage will have two 10 x 10 stalls--it will take a great deal of modification if it is a "standard" garage---or is it a pole building type?

            I would recommend building a 12 x 24 overhang on the side of the garage that would then have outside (dutch type are great) doors so you can turn out directly into a sacrifice paddock area. I would use screenings or fine gravel in that area to eliminate mud. Design your fields so horses can rotate through them, to maximize grass.

            You'll feed a lot of hay (depending on where you live) so secure a good source.

            As to the cost effectiveness, it won't cost $1200 to keep two at home per month, but you'll invest a bit up front to create stalls/pastures---(mats, buckets, stall walls/doors, cutting through walls, fencing, gates, etc.)
            Proud member of the "Don't rush to kill wildlife" clique!


            • #7
              The book trubandloki mentioned is indeed called Horsekeeping on a Small Acreage, and it is by Cherry Hill. It is outstanding, and will probably answer almost every question you have. If you like it, she has several others that are also extremely helpful for small acreage farms.
              life + horses


              • #8
                Thanks Kerlin. I wasn't sure.


                • Original Poster

                  Amchara - this isn't for boarders...it's for me.

                  As far as town requirements, frighteningly enough, you only need 3 acres for at least 1 horse...you can have as many as you want on that 3 acres, it's up to you.

                  I can't afford to amend the barn that much. I figure i can do two 10 X 12 stalls across the back, and that leave me a 4 foot by 12 foot feed room in the back, and the from 12 X 24 to make a tack room/grooming area.

                  The garage looks exactly like my cape cod house...they mimic each other. It has steel girders in the floor supporting the upstairs. I think it should bear the weight of hay, but i will check into that. Thanks.

                  Will look into the book....thanks for the tips! i heard it was not any cheaper to keep your horses at home..guess it is true!


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by myalter1 View Post
                    Will look into the book....thanks for the tips! i heard it was not any cheaper to keep your horses at home..guess it is true!
                    No, it is true, the start-up costs are just a bit higher. (obviously.) You also don't get the discounts that bigger barns get (although I pay less for hay than the barn I lesson at....and only buy for three horses while they buy for 40...) but oftentimes that doesn't matter so much. Being able to have the ponies at home is lovely.

                    Sucks in the winter sometimes, but it's worth it, really.


                    • #11
                      I kept 2 horses on a 2.6 acre property that had only slightly more than half the acreage dedicated to the horses. Had no arena but built a structure roughly the same size as your garage for the barn. Although I had stalls, I left the doors open except when I was feeding, and the horses voluntarily stayed outside virtually all the time. If I were you I'd consider a leanto across one side of the garage for horseshelter, and dedicate half your garage to hay storage, leaving yourself the option of actually putting a car inside once in a while.... I'd make a smallish pen or run attached to the leanto area and have it be the corral or sacrifice area. This is what we did with our little barn.

                      The back acre or so of our property was an undivided paddock that allowed for turnout every day to graze or goof off, and kept enough grass cover for horses to be left on their own for the occasional weekend. Someone could keep an eye on them and feed but they werent obliged to give them hay that weekend if we were away. I basically fed hay everyday of the year otherwise.

                      I had storage room for 75-100 bales of hay, had a great hay guy a couple miles away who had a HUGE barn and would let me pickup and pay for the 300 bales I reserved every year as I needed it. So I was never out of hay, never had to haul or store all 300 at once, and never had to worry about a humoungus fire destroying all, which is what I would worry about most when storing hay where horses live or adjacent to my house, as I am assuming your garage is.

                      Back in the day I gave 3.25 to 3.50 a bale and went thru roughly a bale a day, with less in the summer, more in the winter (this was in OH) and the little grazing they got in the summer months. I fed very little sweet feed, and my guestimated costs for feed was not much over a thousand a year for two horses.

                      I have a longer grazing season and a lot more grass now, need fewer than 100 bales a year, hay of course is much more expensive now. Assuming you dont go crazy fitting stalls and going for the white board fence look (we used field fence with a strand of electric then) you should save quite a bit of money over boarding. We built our barn ourselves for maybe 4 grand. Your major expense after fencing (build the best perimeter fence you can afford, then subdived with a strand or two of hotwire) will be hay. I'm paying 5.50 a bale now, paid 7 last year.

                      Just remember, if you dont have reliable horsesitters and like to take vacations away from home, you will either find yourself worrying all through the vacation or not taking one. For me, home is a vacation, but when I HAVE to travel for any reason my husband HAS to take his vacation time in order to be the critter sitter (more for the pets and other livestock, because my next door neighbor would horsesit and do a great job, she's just not the best person to chicken sit.....)


                      • Original Poster

                        Oops i left out some details. The "garage" is not attached to the house, and never housed a car; my hubby builds wooden sailboats in it. he has offered to move out to the covered woodshed (12x24) to do his hobby. The property is fenced 3/4 of the way with post and board (one whole side is chainlink, so we have to deal with that). When we have cleared parts of the land over the years, we have the oak milled into planks and use it for fencing. so, if we clear for paddocks we will do the same thing. i love the idea of buying bulk hay and storing it elsewhere, but not sure that is an option.

                        I just don;t really know whether to put the money into the property, or try and swing board on horses. my daughter had a pony to ride but she says she is afraid she will fall off him (she's 5 and he's a little big for her and can be fresh.) If i had a dead quiet pony at home, i know she would ride. She LOVES horses.

                        It's a big decision and i am afraid to commit to it out of fear....


                        • #13
                          I would look at the entire site before doing anything. You might find that having a prebuilt structure dropped off at your dooryard will ultimately be more cost effective and user friendly. And you can place it where it's optimal. Here's a few things I've learned over the years.

                          For hay storage, look into getting a used shipping container. They come in all sizes, can be rolled off a truck onto your spot, and are waterproof as well as being more fire resistant. I've seen them as small as 8x10 or 8x20, all the way up to 8 x 53. You can always hide them behind plantings or fences too.

                          Manure removal: I contracted with a local landscaper guy who comes and takes it away for free once a year for compost. Or check with companies that supply dumpsters for it. Recommend you use predators to keep flies down so the neighbors aren't unhappy. Do have a plan though; this stuff will quickly pile up on you.

                          Fence panels: A beautiful thing for temporary pasture rotation. See any used ones, grab 'em. Or try Tractor Supply. I was impressed at the ones I got there and they were inexpensive too.

                          Drainage,drainage,drainage, drainage. Really pay attention to how water runs on your property and plan accordingly. Plan for the 100 year floods. Poor drainage and mud is a huge drag.

                          Fences make good neighbors. Spend the money to make sure your fencing is up to the job. If you can afford a perimeter fence, go for it.

                          Prebuilt sheds; I just got in some run in sheds this summer, and I can say they are awesome! My only regret was waiting this long. By the time I would have made these, I would have invested more than these cost delivered to my site. Well worth it to have shelter on demand. Also check out Shelter Logic for summertime run in sheds.

                          Sawdust Storage: We built an actual bunk in the side of a hill. You may find that using a prefab fabric shed works well (Shelterlogic, farmtek, etc) Tarps have significant drawbacks if you are anyplace with any snowfall.

                          Make it easy. If you can install a hydrant AND electrical outlets at the head of your sacrifice area, do it. Then you can have heated H20 tank in the winter and have plenty of water for them.
                          Stalls with run ins are awesome too. And ideally, have your manure drop in a logical place, as close as can be without being smelly.


                          • #14
                            I have around the same acreage... with a 34x36 barn, loft storage for hay, and. My barn is setup so that the horses have 24 x 7 access to a small sacrifice paddock and a small pasture... my largest pasture doesn't have access to the barn. Make sure you're able to keep your paddocks picked up, and have a place to compost. For only 2 horses and with smaller stalls, you might want to consider using pelleted bedding... its easier to store and there's a lot less waste to manage. If you use a sacrifice area... be very, very careful when turning them out on grass, as I had a bad grass colic episode in the spring after only a 2 /12 hour turnout.

                            The biggest problem I have is how hard they are on the land... you have to lime, aerate, pick up, and fertilize intensively. I compost my waste and spread it.

                            A few big, but very worthwhile investimensts... chain harrow for dragging, compost spreader, and if you have a loft like me... a hay elevator. Carrying 60-100 50 lb. bales of hay up stairs is not fun, especially in summer.
                            Lowly Farm Hand with Delusions of Barn Biddieom.
                            Witherun Farm


                            • #15
                              Don't be afraid if it's your dream. I have a quote on my wall from John Wayne:

                              "Courage is being scared to death but saddling up anyway."

                              Two years ago I sold my home and moved to a very small home on small property in a predominately horsey community. I had to have a barn built, fencing, etc. and then brought my three horses home after boarding for 20 plus years. I'm a widow, my two kids are away at college, so I was doing all of this on my own, and I wasn't sure if I was biting off more than I could chew.

                              It was scarier than heck, but it's been a blast. Yes, winter stinks, and it's a lot of work at first to get it all organized and find your own routine. But I love it, and I really feel like I know my horses so much better since they're home. I know they have the best care, they're happy and relaxed and I love just seeing them out my window every day. If you have a good hay man, a good source for shavings, someone you trust to cover for you in a crisis, you'll be fine.

                              I call my place "Now or Never Ranch", because that's how I felt. If I'd waited any longer to just jump in and do it I knew I'd talk myself out of it.


                              • #16
                                There's a decent book about it: Horsekeeping on Small Acreage. We've got 4 acres. I went for the run in shed rather than for a barn, and other than needing a stall occassionally for lay up, it works well for me and my horses. The two times I've needed to keep a horse stalled for weeks at a time, I've boarded them.
                                "Passion without knowledge is a runaway horse."


                                • #17
                                  I have 2.5 acres and 3 horses. Right now they have access to just about half of it, but will soon have access to the whole thing (with the ability to contain them in just part of it at a time). It is certainly possible.

                                  I have mine out 24/7, and I have a 37x14 run-in shed that can be closed off. If I ever need to keep one of them contained, I can do it. But I also don't have stalls to clean or bedding to store. Keeping them out that often does require more pasture maintenance. I pick up manure a couple times a week or it kills sections of the grass. I have to go out and pull weeds to keep them from taking over (an endless job since it was mostly weeds when I bought it 2 months ago). When it doesn't rain, I have to put out sprinklers.

                                  I compost my manure in a back corner of my pasture. Since I am in FL, it breaks down very quickly. I am using the compost for a veggie garden, and one of my neighbors has asked for some for his trees.

                                  It does take planning, and the ability to adjust your plan as things change.


                                  • #18

                                    We have 3.88 acres and when we moved here there were NO horse facilities! So, we first installed our fencing, and then built a "run in shed" across the backside of our Garage. It's 12' deep by 22' long.....it was "perfect" for our horses up until 2005 when we purchased two 12' x 36' shed row barns [amish built] Now, we have 4 12'x14' stalls and a tack room and feed room. It's really nice now....the horses have the interlocking stall mats, and we are very happy with all of the work we've put into our place. We just want to expand and so we've decided to sell.

                                    We have 4 separately fenced paddocks and if we don't sell our place, we're going to fence in another 2 paddocks. We also have a 70' Round Pen and a parking area at the barn for our trailer and other farm equipment. We are planning on finishing a Dressage arena this fall....if we dont sell before the contract expires.

                                    You CAN make this work....just take your time. I think the easiest thing we did was attach the run in....it's just 2 sides and a roof.....works great! We could still use if for a run in now....we just don't need it anymore....so we store our hay in there.

                                    Best of luck to you!
                                    Fox Call Farm
                                    Berryville, VA


                                    • #19
                                      Another vote for Cherry Hill's book. We own about 5 acres, but much of it is wetland. I have only one horse on the property, but could have two more. He has a paddock that is also ridable that is about 130 X 90. There is an extra spot that is 40 X 60 just in front of the barn. My horse has mild COPD, so he is out 24/7.

                                      We had to go through a major permitting process and committed to removing the manure. We store it in garbage cans and haul it to a composter every 3-4 weeks. I would like to hire a dumpster, but noone wanted to drop one for one horse.

                                      We did a drop off the truck shed row, and it has been great. I store 1-2 months hay in one of the extra stalls. Using pelleted bedding substantially cuts down on manure waste and time spent cleaning his stall.

                                      Check with your home-owner's insurance policy to make sure it is OK to have your horse at home. I changed companies. You probably want to add a liability policy in case your horse gets loose.

                                      I used 2" X 4" no-climb with electric on top. Keeps kids and animals out, and the horse in.

                                      I agree that you need to consider drainage and footing. We had to excavate substantially and bring in truck loads of sand to make the area horse-friendly. It was more expensive than anticipated.

                                      Also agree to have water and electric. Doing it up front is easier, because you don't have to dig a trench later. Cannot agree enough on the tank heater, if you are in a cold area.

                                      It is much cheaper to keep the horse at home. I feed top quality grain and hay. Factor in increased property taxes and insurance, but given the current costs in MA, it cost about $217 for hay, bedding, and grain. The advantage for a horse like mine that has allergies is immeasurable. He needs an in and out situation. He could stay out or stay in, but I was not able to find a boarding situation with a run-in. He also needs his hay soaked. I hate to do it, I cannot fathom how I can get barn help at a boarding barn to do it. Even with extra tips, it was tough. And at that point, I was paying full board to have my horse live out. It was because I had the option of a stall at any time, but for the most part, he lived out.


                                      • #20
                                        2.5 acres with 2 horses. Lots of good ideas posted. Pick up poop every day. If you leave it, it will kill the grass underneath.
                                        Having horses at home is wonderful. You get to know them so much better and being able to oversee their care is a huge plus. Have you done self care before? Do you have horsey friends close by if you need them? Do you have places to ride close by? I don't think I'd like my little prop. as much if it wasn't in a horsey neighborhood with lots of good riding areas and quiet roads.
                                        The only downside for me, like one poster said previously, I hate taking vacations! Already dreading one coming up 3 months from now and only for 3 nights! Best of luck.