Laying Out Your Small Horse Farm
Creating Your Management Plan
Have you ever dreamed of owning a small horse farm? Before you head out to find several acres for your dream farm, it's important to have a layout and management plan in mind. The difference between a mediocre versus well-designed farmette is all in the details.
Making Every Foot Count
Gone are the days when having a 20-plus acre farm is the norm. Today's horse owners are more likely to have farms that are 5-10 acres in size, especially if they are near the suburbs. A smaller facility means that everything needs to be carefully thought out.
Buying 10 acres for 2-3 horses sounds like a lot of space at first. However, once you add a barn, hay/bedding/miscellaneous storage, manure bin, riding ring and trailer/equipment parking - there may be little real estate left for pastures. This is where prioritization comes into play. If you want a 100'x200' ring and 5 acres for pasture, you may have to forgo large storage areas. Decide what is most important to you and design your farm around that.
A Lot or a Little?
One of the biggest challenges of a small farm is storage space. If you do not want to add extra storage facilities, consider building a barn with a gambrel or other pitched roof to allow for hay and miscellaneous storage. You can also use an extra stall to store shavings and various farm equipment. Keep in mind it may cost more to buy in small quantities (weekly rather than bimonthly); however your horses will appreciate having the extra space to graze.
Keeping it Green
A well managed pasture will not only keep your farm looking beautiful, it will provide forage and a space for your horses to exercise. Small farms are often victims of overgrazed and overstocked pastures. As a general rule of thumb, you should allot one acre per horse. Likewise do not let the horses graze the grass down to three inches or shorter. The shorter the grass, the weaker it becomes and longer it takes to regrow.
A sacrifice or dry lot is a good pasture management tool. While it will take up some real estate, it is an excellent way to allow your horses to get out and exercise when the pastures are too muddy or you want to control grazing in the regular pastures. A dry lot can also be used as a small area or round pen depending on its design.
The average horse produces 8.5 tons of manure a year.Therefore it's important you have a plan on how to dispose of all this waste. Options include: weekly removal of a manure bin, composting or allowing local gardeners to collect from your manure pile.
Manure also needs to be dealt with in the fields and paddocks. Horses will not graze around manure piles. Therefore you will often find lush grass around the piles in your pastures. Once a week go through your paddocks and pick the piles, this will allow for a more even growth throughout your pasture. If you have larger fields, develop a routine chain harrowing schedule to break up the manure.
When laying out your farm, design it so large trucks, trailers and emergency vehicles can access all aspects of your property. You never know when either a rider or horse will need assistance in the barn or field. An emergency is not the time to find out your gates don't open wide enough for help to get in.
Plan for the Future
Horses are just like potato chips, most horse owners can't have just one. Even if you go into the barn building business with only two horses in mind you may accumulate more over time. Plan accordingly in case one more horse appears at your pasture gate.
Do you own a small farm? What has worked well in your barn layout? If you had it to do again, what would you design differently? Let us know!