MS-CL-MR-2-Horse tales #1D7As we enjoy the beautiful colors of the autumn foliage, our thoughts often wander to the impending cold weather, snow and ice of the oncoming winter. And horse owners will be wise to plan ahead during these waning fair-weather days, for keeping horses in winter has its challenges.
This year has been an especially productive one; with berry bushes and fruit trees laden with their offerings. Our horse pastures are graced by the presence of dozens of old apple trees, remnants of a long-forgotten orchard planted many decades ago. Most years the old trees will produce some fruit, which the horses and deer enjoy, but this year’s apple crop was exceptional. Not only were we picking apples by the bag-full for our own use but also for the horses — we store them in crates and boxes in the basement for ‘treats’ to enjoy over the long winter. However, with the bounty of apples produced this year, it became quite a challenge trying to prevent the horses from eating too many apples. Not only is there the concern of them becoming too high-spirited, but also the threat of colic posed by overindulging — as well as the worry of a horse having a small apple becoming lodged in its windpipe that can cause a horse to choke. And so we started the daily task of picking up buckets-full of apples off the ground.
The deer managed to do a fairly good job of cleaning up the apples by morning, but after a week or so, we found that we needed to step up our efforts and utilize the tractor to load apples by the scoop-full. And as the weeks went on, we finally had to close the gate to keep the horses out of the main pasture, as the apples were so abundant that even the deer weren’t eating enough to keep the ground clear, and work prevented us from being able to spend the time necessary each day to do so ourselves.
Good fencing is necessary for good horse-keeping. But one can only imagine how fencing will be tried and put to the test by hungry horses, or by those desiring to reach all the apples lying on the ground in the next field!
Preparing for winter usually involves checking your fences, gates and paddock areas, as on many farms, horses will be spending more time indoors during the cold and inclement weather. And especially after a summer/autumn of ‘freedom’ in spending time out grazing in pastures, fences and gates will need to be in good condition to keep horses contained, especially those that are longing for more turnout time.
For years we have used a combination of wood post-and-board fence; however, after 14 years, we are finding a number of the posts are starting to weaken at the ground level, especially in the areas of the pasture that tend to hold more water, and despite the fact that we treated the ends of the posts to extend their life. So now we are faced with replacing a significant amount of fencing, and thought we’d check our options to see what is available and what might best suit our needs.
There are a number of types of fence on the market today; however not all fencing is suitable for horses. And you also need to take into account what your horses will require — for example, if your farm is a breeding facility with stallions present; or if you are keeping ponies or draft horses; if you need to secure property lines, grazing pasture or exercise paddock. Horse fencing can be one of the most attractive features your farm, but whether formal or informal, should be in good repair, well constructed and maintained. Three of the most common types of fencing are wood post/rail fence; electric or ‘hot wire’ fence; and PVC plastic board fence:
Wood fencing is the most traditional type of horse fence. It is relatively inexpensive and attractive, if kept in good repair. However, be aware that horses can break through wooden boards, and the wood can splinter and cause injury. And the nails used in wooden board fencing can loosen and become a hazard if stepped on. Additional maintenance will be necessary if the fencing is painted. And, some horses will ‘crib’ or chew wood fencing out of boredom.
Electric “hot wire” fence is considered temporary fencing — and is best used for that purpose. Electric fencing now comes in many forms — from thin wire to wide ‘tape’ and braided rope. One of the drawbacks is the low visibility of the thin wire fence — deer will run through and break the fence, and horses can run through it as well, unless well flagged with flagging tape. However, the best usage is to use electric fencing in conjunction with other fencing, such as running a line of electric fence along the top rail of wooden or plastic PVC board fencing, to discourage horses from chewing or rubbing on the fence. To cut down on costs, or if an electric source is not available nearby, solar electric chargers can be purchased that work well, and can be plugged into a barn or other source of electricity when needed during times of low sunlight.
PVC ‘plastic board’ 3-rail or 4-rail fencing is becoming very popular. It is neat and attractive and can add visual appeal to a horse boarding or breeding facility, and lasts a relatively long time; however it is expensive. Plastic fencing is very visible to horses, who can suddenly bolt and fleeing from a predator or danger and hit a fence with tremendous force. However as visible as the fencing is in such a situation, or in a situation where a horse is rubbing an itch on a plastic board, it can break or pop off the post, as the plastic rails use locking plastic tabs rather than nails or screws. Again, as with wood fencing, a good solution is to add a line of electric fence along the top rail to keep horses away from the fence.
Also popular horse fencing is tubular panels. These are commonly sold at feed stores, and can provide excellent temporary fencing or paddock areas. They are very sturdy for any type of large livestock and can easily be moved and reconfigured and require low maintenance. However, they are expensive.
And woven or mesh wire is also commonly used for horse fencing. It does require routine maintenance and is best suited for flat areas; it is difficult to keep straight on steep, hilly or uneven ground.
Once your fencing needs are taken care of, make sure that your horses’ water sources are easily accessible. Horses require 10-12 gallons of ice-free water each day, and these needs become even more important during winter when grass forage is not available and the bulk of their diet is dry hay. In order to process that hay, a horse needs to consume enough water to keep their digestive systems functioning properly; a horse will not eat hay if he does not have access to water. And that water must be ice-free; and contrary to what some night think, horses cannot eat snow to fulfill their water requirements.
Now is the time to add gravel or other ‘fill’ if necessary to prevent puddles and areas of standing water that will become icy and dangerous to your horses heading into the cold weather. In addition, check the areas of high traffic around your barn, paddock and turnout areas to provide level footing heading into winter for the same reason.
If your horse is kept in a stall during winter, make sure that the footing is solid — in our clay-based stalls, we usually need to add more material in the center of the floor to prevent puddling. If you have wooden floors, check for broken or weakened boards, splinters, protruding nails. Rubber mats can wear after years of use, and heading into winter before the cold weather sets in is the best time to make any repairs to your barn and run-ins.
Make sure all electric wires and outlets are in good working condition, and repair or replace any that are not. Keep rodents at bay to prevent chewed wires that could cause an electrical fire by storing all feed and supplements in rodent-proof containers. And have a fire extinguisher and flashlights handy, along with emergency telephone numbers clearly posted.
Getting ready for winter involves preventive maintenance. Knowing that you’ve taken care of these important issues ahead of time will provide a sense of satisfaction that your horses will be well cared for heading into the cold weather season.