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.

major feed bag

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.


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.

eating jr

gray bucket

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.

feed buckets

eating nevada 3

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.

eating nakota

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.

eating princess

eating belle2

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.

feed buckets 2

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.

feed bucket done close

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.

sasha cheyenne eating'

nyssa shelter

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.


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?

arena build 7

arena build

arena build 6

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/

arena const 5

arena const 4arena const 11


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.

arena wall const3

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.

arena inside

arena wall2

Then came the sand.  Three truckloads.



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

rachael riding in arena first time

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.

inside stall area 3

stall area 5

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.


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

inside tack area

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.








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.

fence posts del 2

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.

digging posts4

digging holes

digging holes 4

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.



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.

fence clip2

Then we strung the coated wire.



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. . .



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.




tractor at sunset

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.


Planting Grass

The field we are leasing has been planted in corn for many years.  We now had to decide what is the best way to plant grass?  Should we till, should we leave the corn debris?  Should we broadcast seed?  Should we drill it in?  What kinds of grass should we plant?  I did tons of research on grasses.  We want to make our pasture as diverse and native as possible.  Like a wild meadow.  I contacted some farm agencies, and some conservation agencies.  Neither had much experience with horse pastures.  Farm agencies mostly focus on livestock like cattle and sheep and goats and conservation agencies concentrate on prairie restoration, but don’t generally use livestock.  They tend to use controlled burns to keep invasives out and maintain hardy grasses and forbs or wild flowers.


I talked to Taylor Creek Restoration Nursery in Wisconsin about grass seed and what prairie grasses are best in this area.  They were extremely helpful.

I also contacted Openlands, a Lake County, Ill conservation group.  They came out and brought a grass specialist and a farm specialist.  Again, no one had much experience with horses.

I had been reading books about the Equicentral System developed by a couple based in Australia.  They talk exclusively about horse pasture, how to maintain it, grow it.  Everything about horse pasture.  It’s a wealth of great information.  I also liked their Facebook page and many of the posts are very helpful.  From them, we decided it was best to set up rotational grazing.  The grass specialist from Openlands suggested five pastures, but we wanted them big enough for horses to move and run if they wanted because I believe movement is essential to keeping horses healthy, along with a diverse pasture.

I wanted as much native prairie grasses as possible, which tends to be mostly warm-season grasses, because those handle the weather conditions in this area best, and are great and natural for horses.  They take a few years to really grow though.  The first few years, native grasses focus mostly on their deep root growth and little on tall grass.  We are bringing horses onto the land in September and need some of it to grow faster.  We decided on three pastures.  One 10-acre pasture is cool-season, non-native grasses, Timothy, Orchard, Kentucky Bluegrass which should grow fast. I also added Native Virginia Wild Rye and Canada Wild Rye which are two cool season native grasses that grow well in Northern Illinois and I hope grow faster.   This pasture we plan to use in Spring and Fall.

Then another 10-acre pasture is native, warm season grasses.  We have Big Bluestem, Indian Grass, Side Oat Grama, Canada Wild Rye and Prairie Dropseed.  This pasture we plan to use in Summer.  We don’t plan on using it for grazing till next summer, if we can?

Then we have a 5-acre pasture we plan to either use as pasture or as hay or both.  We aren’t sure how it will work out.  This has Big Bluestem, Indian Grass, Switchgrass, June grass and Canada Wild Rye, which are all native grasses.  I was told horses like Switchgrass better as hay than as growing grass.

The Openlands people also recommended no-till and drill in the seed.  We had hoped to plant the seed ourselves to save money, but I couldn’t find a grass drill seeder to rent.  And I found out renting a tractor around here isn’t cheap either.  So we ended up hiring Applied Ecological Services, who works with Taylor Creek Restoration Nurserys which is where we bought the seed.applied eco svcs truck

They brought out a tractor and a drill.  It took them three days to plant all the seed.

drill seeding 6


drill seeding 4

drill seeding 3

applied eco s truck and trailer

I was panicking because they got delayed from rain and it was getting later and later into April.  Finally at the end of April, it was all planted.  I couldn’t see any of the seed though.  Was it there?  Was it going to grow?  Will the corn debris be in the way? Did we pick the right grass seed?  If the grass doesn’t grow then we have big problems.  It’s very nerve-wracking.

We went out last weekend (May 13) and there were little pieces sticking up here and there, but not much.

My daughter, Rachael went out last night (May 17) after we’d had quite a bit more rain and more was growing!  It’s still not a ton, but it’s growing.

Between the two dandelions, you can see some . Ok, you have to squint.

grass may 17