For the Birds

It’s Fall, and though we have birds at the ranch all the times of the year, they seem to be everywhere come Fall.  We are used to seeing birds in the sky, but these days, we see them mostly on the horse’s backs or at their feet.  Why is this?

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I really don’t know?

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I did Google it.  But didn’t get an exact answer.  Some say the birds are trying to keep warm.  Some say they are picking insects and food off the horses.  I wish that one were true.  I wish the birds would eat ALL the flys and ALL the mosquitoes.  But they don’t.  Maybe they eat some, but not enough to tell with the naked eye.

I personally think they are looking for dropped grain.  Either from the horse’s mouth, or from the horse’s manure.  (In the above photo, possibly they are looking at the pretty sunrise?)

 

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Food starts to get scarce in the Fall and the birds haven’t quite made it south yet, so they hang out with animals that are dropping grain.  Smart of them, right.

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I could be wrong.  Either way, I bet both species are benefiting from the other in some way.  Most times, nature tends to work that way.

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This is Ralph and Ernest hitching a ride on Liberty.  Or maybe it’s Edna and Bernice.  It’s hard to tell.  They all look alike.

 

 

Weekly News – Aug 18

Meet Flash, pictured here with his shareboarder, Hanna.

Video-ed here out in the pasture.

Pretty blue sky and green pasture.

 

Here he is again Video-ed with his owner’s grandaughter, Cassidy

He’s a good horse.  Very popular.  Possibly more popular than he’d like to be sometimes.

We had a lot of riders this week, both in the arena and in the pasture.

We also got started putting up a door on one side of our arena.  This has been an ongoing project for many months.  This week, we tried to mount the medal piece the barn door will slide on.  Unfortunately, after risking life and limb, on ladders and tractor buckets high in the air, the measurements were off.  So, it didn’t get finished, as we ran out of time.

 

We like to encourage wildlife visits to our Ranch.  Here we see Mr. or is it Mrs. Crane coming for breakfast in the rain.

 

This is Evie.  Her absolute favorite place to be is in the pasture.  Even when it’s pouring rain and the rest of the herd has run in to the shelters, she continues to eat.  Well, she’s not actually eating in this photo, but she was just seconds ago.

Evie also likes to groom and be groomed.  Who doesn’t, really?

And I’ll leave you with this.  Coming in from the pasture.  Finished with our ride, or our blog post, whichever the case may be.

 

 

 

 

The Good and The Bad

No two days with horses are ever alike.

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One day everything is going great.  Ms. Mare and Mr. Gelding are doing everything you want.  They are calm and collected.  The sun is shining.  Life is great.

The next day, you go out to the ranch and BAM – flat on your back in the dirt.  Ms. Mare won’t listen.  Mr. Gelding is pushy and demanding.  It’s raining and there is mud everywhere.

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Days at the ranch are really just like the rest of life. . .

One day work is going great.  The radio station is playing all the right songs.  The kids are calm and collected.  Traffic’s a breeze. The sun is shining and life is great.

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The next day – BAM – flat on your back in the dirt.  The car won’t start.  The bank account is overdrawn.  You get a parking ticket.  The kids won’t listen.  Your boss is pushy and demanding.

Life will always be up and down no matter how together and ordered you try to make it.

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Some days it feels like we’ve come so far at this Ranch.

Others days it feels like we have so far to go.

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Slow Feeders

Let’s talk slow feeders.  I believe horses should have free choice hay 24/7; but if you have a lot of horses (or even just a few horses), that can be a lot of money.  Enter the slow feeder.  Typically a slow feeder has some kind of netting that covers the hay.  The horse has to pull the hay out through the small holes in much the same manner he would pull on grass in the field.  This considerably slows down how fast they can eat.

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Some people worry about a horse getting frustrated by that, but I feel like some of our horses even prefer it to free hay as it feels more “natural” to them to pull on food as if it were attached to the ground.

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The first slow feeders we got are called Hay Pillows and they look like a pillow.  They zip open and closed.  They lay on the ground so that the horse is eating just as if it were eating grass with it’s head down.

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We really like using hay pillows and the horses like them too.  We use multiple pillows, spread around our feeding area, so the horses move from one to the other.  Movement is something we are always trying to encourage.

The biggest problem with them is that we live in Illinois and we have times when it rains and gets super muddy.  This can make it very messy.  Sometimes we’ve lost them in the mud as they are the same color. Or it snows and the zippers freeze shut.  Or it rains and then freezes and then the zipper really freezes shut and sometimes the whole pillow freezes to the ground.  But in ideal weather (do we ever have that) or even when it’s not so ideal, we really like using them and continue to do so.  We’ve learned to rotate them out.  We have 9 and put 4 out at a time and let the others dry out.

Then I found a place called DIY Slow Feed Hay Feeders. They have all kinds of ideas for making hay feeders and they sell the netting you can use.  We really liked the ones where you use an empty 100 gallon water trough.

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You buy stiff, plastic tubing and eye bolts, etc. and you attach them to the netting and then to the plastic feeder – they have directions and all kinds of ideas on their website if you’re interested in making one.

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Anyway, we really like them.  Though, it did take some trial and error to get them right. The directions say just tuck the blue tubing under one eyebolt and it will stay put.  Well, we have a few select geldings in our herd who figured out if they just bash the feeder around a little, they can get that tubing right out from under the eye bolt and then they stick their head under the netting for free hay!  Some would say this is very ingenious of them.  Others would say it’s super annoying.

You can see on the picture below where they are trying to lift the blue plastic up, so they can stick their noses under it.  They haven’t managed to do it quite yet, but. . .

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So we ended up putting medal rings on four sides of the plastic trough and then an eye bolt on each end and we use caribiners attached to the eye bolt and the ring to hold the netting in place.

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This can be tricky sometimes to unhook when it’s below 0 temps and your fingers are struggling with the medal and want to fall off, but it’s worked the best for us.

Some of the select geldings I talked about will knock the feeders over to get some of the small pieces of hay to fall out of the net onto the ground – especially if there are bits of alfalfa in the hay.  Some would say, ‘oh how smart of them’, others would say, ‘how lazy’ – you decide which.  But the feeders have stayed together, so far.

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We did try a third slow feeder pictured below, but the netting holes are too big so it doesn’t slow them down at all.  We do still use the plastic container though, without the netting, to just put hay in to keep it off the ground.

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We also use hay nets that we got from the Hay Pillow people that we attach to fence posts.  The horses like those too.

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Using a combination of all of those we have four water trough feeders, four hay pillows and three hay nets.  That’s a total of 11 places for horses to eat from.  We have 15 horses in the herd.  We also spread some loose hay twice a day.  Once they gobble up the loose hay, they each find a place at a slow feeder and rotate around.  It keeps them moving and eating most of the day/night (all day/night if we get it right).

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Nothing replaces a big field of grass, but when we don’t have that, the slow feeders work out nicely for us.  And we hope it keeps the herd healthy and happy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paddock Fencing

We have this paddock that is fenced off in the pasture.  We only put two strands of fencing since it was inside other fencing and we figured it’d be fine.

This is a summer picture of it.  (all I could find).  You can see the two strands of fencing.  horses arriving 3

Well, we have a few horses (they know who they are) who step over the bottom wire and under the top and go through it.  It’s actually impressive, if it weren’t so annoying, and potentially dangerous.  Although, they seem to know exactly what they’re doing.  Then other times, they just run into it?  It’s strange to me that horses who have lived with fencing and gates their whole lives, just, sometimes, don’t understand fencing – or gates.  And then other times, they understand them perfectly?

So, in the snow, we mended, or maybe amended, the fence this week.

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We tightened the top and the bottom strand and added two middle strands – like the rest of the fencing.

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So, we will see if they leave it alone.  It’s not electrified like the perimeter fence is.

I never thought I’d be mending fences in winter, but turns out that’s part of the life of a horse rancher.

Mud

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On a horse farm, rain equals mud.  Lots of rain, equals lots of mud.

I’ve never been on a horse farm without mud.  Do they exist?  I suppose they exist if you don’t let the horses out of their stalls at all.  But I’m not sure that’s fair, as sometimes it’s wet for a long time around here.

A few weeks ago, we got a ton of rain.  Which turned our world to mud.

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So once it stopped raining and things dried up, we decided to buy pea gravel, limestone screenings and driveway gravel.

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Some for the driveway.

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Some for a trail we made for the horses from the arena, past the shelter and out to the pastures.

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We spread the piles with our tractor as best we could.

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The horses watched.  Wondering why they were not allowed in.6971BE3F-6A3C-4BE3-BFB3-48822FEFB96D

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We also have a trail of pea gravel from the arena out to the shelter.IMG_0184

 

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Then we added limestone screenings outside the arena.

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And onto the walkway into the arena.

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And into the stall area inside the arena.

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It looked beautiful for about 5 minutes and then the horses promptly started pooping on it all.

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We are doing our best to remove the poop from the trail of pea gravel and limestone daily – in order to keep the gravel there at least through the fall, winter and spring season when it can get so muddy.  It is a lot of poop though, so we fall behind a lot.

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It’s not perfect, but it’s minimizing the mud at least for now.  We’ll see how long it lasts.

 

Feeding the Herd

Horses love to eat.  And, who can blame them.  Grass, weeds, oats, hay – what’s not to love?  And when it comes to eating, even the most mild-mannered horse –

Well, their manners fly right out the barn door.  There’s pushing, there’s shoving, there’s crowding.  Like a subway station at rush hour.

Most barns have stalls or they tie horses at feeding time to separate them.  We don’t.  We opted for feed buckets.

They are kind of what the name implies.  A bucket type thing that gets hung around their ears, so they can eat their food (while free to roam) and no one can steal the food from them.  It’s been a process figuring it all out.

When we first started, we bought some ready-made, mesh-fabric feed bags.feed bags 1

We didn’t use them long.  First, they were mesh, so sand and dirt got in them if the horse was eating in the arena or on wet ground.  Second, they were a b*&%$ch to clean.  You had to turn them inside out, and food got caught in the corners.  No.

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So, we thought, let’s try real plastic buckets.  The first ones I got were from Home Depot.  Mop buckets with a spout.  They were really too big and bulky and we had to tie cord around them as there was no place to hook a cord onto.  They weren’t right.

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One of our boarders suggested using  TubRugs with horse blanket leg ties for the straps.  So I promptly ordered three of those to try.

In the meantime, I bought some smaller grey buckets from Ace Hardware.  There was no spout and there were plastic holes on the sides you could hook the straps to.

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Those worked pretty well, though they aren’t very heavy duty, so some of them got cracked and some of the strap holes broke.  We still use some of them, but we moved on.  The TubRugs arrived and work out decently.  That pink one back there I got from Tractor Supply in Wauconda, if interested.  The others from Amazon.

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The trick is getting the straps right for each horse.  If they are too loose, the horse’s head comes out of the bucket and they struggle to get it back in to eat – and they get a little upset.

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feed bucket clasp2They are nice too because the horse can really move around in there and get the morsels left in the corners.

I also got some more heavy duty buckets from Menards and from Tractor Supply.

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We like these a lot as they have a medal ring on the side that the leg straps can clip onto making it sturdy; and they aren’t as flimsy feeling as the TugRugs.

feed bucket claspThe horse doesn’t have as much ability to move his head around in it though and sometimes food gets caught in the sides/corners that the horse can’t get till you take it off and set it down on the ground without the straps around them.  Then, of course, another horse comes along and steals it from them.

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We use Sharpies or Paint pens to put their names on each one, then change them up and cross out the name and add another and completely confuse ourselves.

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One of the main problems with this way of feeding is if you have horses that eat slower than others.  We have a few senior horses in our herd who eat slow, so we separate them from the herd when we feed.

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All-in-all, it works out.  There are moments of chaos when we first start putting the feed buckets on and all the horses want theirs at the same time.  But things calm down as soon as the more aggressive members of the herd have theirs.  I’m sure there will be more tweaking as time goes on, but for now it’s working.