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.

 

 

 

The Arena Saga

Our Arena, or as some people lovingly call it, The Pony Dome or That Big Hoophouse Thing.

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It started its life at the end of May 2018, but was abruptly put on hold because its owners had not gotten their permits in time.  Ooops.

The builders, who had come from Iowa, packed up their things and had their rental equipment picked up.  And the arena sat as a skeleton for months – as people drove by the property wondering – What the heck?  Is that?

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End of July came and we finally had the permits, so the crew rented the equipment again and came back from Iowa and finished up in three or four days.  The company we bought it from is called ClearSpan and they were very easy to work with and very good. https://www.clearspan.com/

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Now that it was done, we realized, it’s not done.  We need a wall around it.  A heel wall, some call it.  More money, more work.

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We took some of our unused (and hopefully not needed for fencing) fencing posts and made a fence around the perimeter.  Then Kevin bought a lot of 2 x 4 wood and made a frame on the top and bottom.  Then we screwed in 4 x 10 sheets of wood.

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Then came the sand.  Three truckloads.

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Once we got that all spread out.  It was rider tested.riding in arena

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On one end, we also wanted to build a stall-type area for grooming and tacking up.  And a tack-type area for tack we use everyday.  More money.  More work.

The side for the horses, is built with mostly corral panels.

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The side for tack, we had a bit of a flooding problem, so haven’t worked on yet.  The goal is to make some sort of wood, deck type floor so if it rains a lot it doesn’t get anything wet.

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That’s our ATV in there.  Isn’t she pretty?  Or he handsome?

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Right now it’s a little rough.  But we will get it looking good eventually.

What I like best of all about the arena is that the horses use it.  They come in at dusk to get away from the bugs.  They come in when it’s raining.  And though, we have another shelter they can use,  they all fit in the arena and can hang out as a herd.  And that makes me happy.

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Fencing

fencing2If you’ve ever put up fencing on a farm, then you know the work is never done – ever.  We’ve been working on putting up our fencing, for, I’d say, about 3 years now.

First we ordered the posts – 600.  Yes, 600.  Good God.

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DSCF9350Then we rented a post hole digger.  A walk-behind, one-man post hole digger.  We managed to dig about 3 holes with that.  Tons of muscle, lots of sweat, and even more cursing.  We looked up and we still had 597 holes left to dig.

digging the hard waySo, we called the rental place and reordered a skid steer with an auger.  Not cheap, but that worked much better.  We got about half the holes dug with that but on the second day it started leaking some kind of fluid.  So, back it went.

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digging holes

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Then we decided to buy an auger attachment for the tractor.  Also not cheap.  That had a super-chewer blade at the end.  The problem was, every hole or two, a bolt broke if you weren’t super careful.  And we were super careful, but the bolts snapped anyway.  Turns out this is a safety measure.  With too much pressure, bolt breaks first and then if you keep going the whole thing explodes and no more auger attachment.  So, Kevin bought 547 bolts and kept changing them out.

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Running out of time, we rented a mini skid steer from Home Depot, so we’d have two people digging holes as we still had about 200 to go.  That worked pretty well.  So, slowly, but surely, we got all the holes dug.  (sorry, no pics of the mini skid steer)

So, now we’ve got roughly 500ish poles in the ground.  We are putting coated wire (to be electrically charged) on the top and bottom of each post, threaded through these plastic thingys.  No idea if they have an official name.  So we screwed in roughly 3,246 plastic thingys.  My math could be slightly off here.

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Then we strung the coated wire.

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DSCF9463Then we drilled holes in the middle of those two wires, to insert more cord that isn’t electrically charged.  That’s roughly 3,246 holes drilled.

Then we strung that cord.  Or we are in the process of doing that.  This week we will finish threading, tighten and electrify – – –  To be continued. . .

Tractor

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So, we bought a tractor.  It’s an International Harvester. It was a deal.  Partially because we had to drive five hours to Michigan to get it.  Partially because it’s like 32 years old.  Someone once told me tractors run forever.  Is that true?  Clearly not completely, because this one already broke down. Kevin fixed it.  Something having to do with the steering column, cable? I’m not sure.  The back window also shattered when he was trying to open it.

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I haven’t driven it yet, but I am sure we will use it a lot.  I think owning a tractor makes us officially farmers.