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"10 Tidbits"


September 2009
It's a buyer's market these days in real estate.this is great news for horse lovers everywhere who have wanted their own little "piece of dirt" to call home. Whether it is an estate home in wine country or the cute little yellow farm house on an acre, for business or just for fun, horse people everywhere are taking this opportunity to purchase property for their horses. Here are 10 Tidbits on setting up property for horses.

1.)  Planning is Key. A careful, well designed, plan is crucial. Make a list of the key elements you want for your farm, then sub-lists of what is needed for each. A plan on paper will help clarify things much more than relying on vision in your mind. And it's much easier to change your mind on paper than after buildings have been installed. Draw it out, several different ways, then decide.

2.)  Corrals or Barns.or both??? Determine how many horse houses you will need (think beyond the actual number of horses you own-do you need a catch pen or will you be breeding and increasing your herd?). Do you prefer an indoor barn, barn with in/outs, pipe corrals, mare motel, open paddock with run in shelter, grass or dirt pastures? Lots of choices. It is great to have a selection, but this will be dictated by budget, space and weather requirements. If the property already has a set up on it and needs refurbishing, determine which structures to keep, which parts to remove, what items can be recycled. When starting from scratch, go online and look for ideas - if you have the space, consider 16x16 barn stalls instead of 12x12 (your horses will LOVE you!) or make a large run off the barn that can be shared between multiple stalls/horses by opening the back doors of the stable. Determine the materials you want to use, the number of houses, the sizes. Take into account who will be performing the labor when choosing materials - DIY-'ers might not want to "re-invent the corral" and just put up pre-fab pipe corrals. Or the look of a rustic wooden barn is your dream, so a pole building style is priority. Cinder block is also an option, and they now have pre-made concrete walls that they deliver and set up for you!

3.)  Safety First. Putting in housing for horses requires knowledge of everyday horse behavior and how to provide their housing such that they don't get hurt. Horses will get into trouble whenever possible. Just when you think you've built the perfect paddock, the horse finds a way to show you nobody's perfect! First time horse owners should consult professionals and other horse owners for their opinions.

4.)  The Environment- take into account natural drainage on your land, flood zones, wind and rain directional patterns, potential snowfall, fire danger. In 13 years on a ranch, one Southern California owner encountered El Nino & 100 year floods, electrical storms, 80+ mile per hour wind storms, 2 fires, mudslides, and freeze-overs. You never know what Mother Nature will throw your way. Try researching the area's past weather patterns and talk to neighbors who have lived nearby about their weather experiences.

5.)  Convenience - Think about your daily routine with your horses: will you water them with buckets or automatically? How far away is the water source from the barn/corrals? Where will the hay/feed be stored so it's close for 2-3 times per day feeding, but the horses can't get into it? It is recommended not to store your hay in the barn for fire safety-will you have a separate hay barn? How much hay will be stored at any given time - will it be bought weekly, monthly, quarterly or yearly? Will you clean daily, and how will the manure/shavings be disposed of?

6.)  To fence or not to fence? That is never the question! Horses need boundaries. Think about a perimeter fence - both to keep your animals in, but also to keep unwanted predators out! White vinyl fencing looks beautiful, but many horse owners end up having to hot wire the entire area because it breaks easily under horse-power and sometimes the white coating rubs off onto the horses! Also consider the height of fencing-pasture fences should be at least 5' tall and will last longer with mesh fencing and/or hot wire to prevent the horses from sticking their heads through. An arena fence could be shorter but what if you want it to double as a turnout? Another consideration is do you want shared fence lines? Part of a perimeter fence can serve as partial fencing for a pasture or turnout; turnouts can be built right off the side of an arena to share the fence. If caring for any hard keepers (stallions or draft horses for example), a separated and tall fencing system may be required. Barbed wire and horses don't mix at all. Horses will chew wood, and can get nasty splinter injuries. Don't forget a natural, living fenceline - fast growing trees, bamboo, hedges - beautiful for perimeter fencing but probably not for horse housing. Take pictures of places with fences you like, then determine which will work best for your place.

7.)  Investments - Some of the best money spent has been for professional grading (barn pad, arenas, driveways), invaluable equipment (water tank or trailer, tractor, arena drag, ranch truck), and for specialty projects (electrical, barn assembly, concrete). Sometimes spending money on a qualified professional will cost up front but will pay off tenfold in the long run. Take the "DIY" approach on improvements when you can (become an expert on painting, for instance!) but don't rule out hiring a licensed contractor or referred handyman . Also, check with local building codes for requirements & proper permits. This will save you and earn you some $$$'s in the long run. A properly permitted building is worth much more at resale than un-permitted structures .

8.)  Emergency Plan - Once you have been through an emergency, you learn the hard way what to do. Be prepared - have extra supplies for both humans and horses ready to load (if not stored in horse trailer or camper). Consider stocking several bags of hay pellets - easier to grab during evacuation and stores well as compared to grain. If you have horses and other animals, get a truck and trailer. Pillowcases or cardboard boxes with holes for air work great for kitty crates. Have a generator on hand or get out immediately and rent one in a widespread emergency. If you have a water tank on the property, be able to hook the pump to a generator or have another valve installed for gravity drain when the power goes out. Keep in mind that fire crews may use your water from the tank. Keep halters/lead ropes near the stalls/outdoor paddocks for easy access. Set up the property with multiple exits if possible. Park valuable ranch vehicles in the arena or large cleared area in case of fire evacuation (if they can't be removed). Lastly, take a video documentary of your property on a regular basis (stored in safety deposit box) or after major improvements are done - this will provide vital proof to the insurance agency in case you lose everything and must rebuild.

9.)  Tools and tricks of the stable trade. Everyone with horses has manure forks! Keep them stored on the wall for easy access. For the barn, the necessities list includes a push broom and dustpan with long handle (so you don't have to bend over to pick it up), a cordless blower is nice for keeping floors clear, a leaf rake and hose (for dirt floors) with spray control valve, manure cart, rolling groom cart or shelves for grooming items. It is also good to keep wire cutters and a set of farrier tools handy - pulling off a sprung shoe or freeing a horse tangled in the mesh fencing requires quick grab of the right tool. A set of hay hooks, a moving dolly (to easily move bales of hay around) and utility knife should be kept near the hay supply. One ultimate "barn tool" is the John Deere Gator (or other utility vehicle) - flatbeds or the cargo box helps disperse feed, carry tools, can be used as manure transporter, arena dragger, paint supply carrier, horse hot walker.endless uses!!!

10.)  Manure Happens. It's a simple fact of life with horses. If space permits, composting is a great alternative to paying for removal of waste. There are companies are dedicated to setting up compost systems for horse owners. Composted horse manure is GREAT for fertilizer; find a landscaper or gardener that will pick up your composted manure for free or even pay for it. Worm farmers have used horse manure with much success. The bedding you choose is also a factor in how much waste is generated- straw is the largest volume for waste; shavings don't break down very fast; mini shavings and rice hulls help reduce the amount of bedding removed daily. Outdoor paddocks most often are not bedded, thereby cutting down the amount of waste. The old standby of dumpster service still is used widely, and a lot of these companies are now recycling this material. Once the manure is cleaned from the horse housing, it has to be loaded into the dumpsters, thereby requiring more equipment like a skip loader or more difficult labor like building a raised ramp to dump into the container from a platform. For large operations, workers have used trash cans, filled up each day, trucked to the container and dumped in. Whatever your preference, just remember to keep the horse housing clean - this will prevent diseases, flies and complaints from neighbors!



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