As you prepare for Old Man Winter, these 9 helpful tips will help you protect your horse farm from the sleet, snow, mud and bitter cold – while keeping your horses healthy and comfortable.
1. Bring in footing material for paddocks, confinement areas, and other high-traffic regions. Laying down some kind of footing material, usually sand, crushed rock, or some type of wood product, will help eliminate mud and cut down on erosion. This spells easier chores for you, and a safer, healthier surface for your horses to spend the winter on.
2. Check gutters and downspouts. Now is the time to think of repairs or additions to be made to your roof run-off system. Keep rainwater clean by diverting the water away from your paddocks to areas where it won’t get contaminated. Good places to divert the rainwater include a grassy ditch, a dry well, a rain barrel, stock watering tanks, well-vegetated woods, or an unused portion of your pasture.
3. Bring your horses in off your pastures. For winter protection, it’s best if you allow the grass plants to produce a good amount of leaf, at least 4 inches. During the winter months, pasture plants are dormant and unable to regrow, so pastures can’t survive continuous grazing. Also, soils are saturated and easily compacted during soggy winters. The best option for managing your horses during winter is to create a winter paddock and confine your horses to this area during the winter as often as possible.
4. Tarp your manure piles. In preparation for winter rains, sleet or snow, tarp your manure pile and shavings pile. This will help prevent runoff into ponds and streams, and keep nutrients in place. It will also help keep the nutrients you are trying to save in the compost and prevent them from being washed out into the surface waters, where they can cause a potential problem and contribute to more mud and yuck. Try to store manure as far away as possible from streams, ditches, and marshy lands to avoid environmental problems. Pick up manure on a regular basis; when mixed with mud and rain, and melting snow manure will quickly turn into packed mud that your horse and you will have to deal with over the long winter months. Manure should be picked up every 3 days in stalls, paddocks and other areas where horses are confined to.
5. Servicing equipment. Service power equipment and tools used around the farm by changing oil, flushing antifreeze and tuning up engines. It is smart to have a portable generator to provide power for your house or outbuildings. Make sure these things are stored in an easily accessible garage or barn. The same goes for snow blowers, snow plows and other winter-related machinery. Insulate above-ground pipes in the barn and make sure all extension cords are in proper working order.
6. Lighting. Inadequate lighting is probably the most limiting factor in caring for and enjoying our horses in the winter. A good lighting system goes a long way toward getting chores done and making our horse lives more pleasant. Adequate outdoor lighting is wonderful for an arena or riding area, but it is critical for daily manure removal in paddocks. Are your stalls bright enough for grooming? You want to be able to have full visibility when feeding at night, perhaps installing lighting along a walkway or adding additional lighting to the occupied stalls.
7. Buy your winter supply of hay. If you haven’t already, purchase your winter’s supply of hay now. It could mean cost-savings for you, since many third and fourth cuttings happen in the fall if Mother Nature has been kind with the weather. As the winter wears on, hay prices generally rise. You’ll also ensure that you have a secure supply of feed when it gets scarce in midwinter and others are hunting around for a good hay source. When shopping for hay, choose green, leafy, fresh-smelling hay that’s free of mold, weeds, dust, foreign objects, and discoloration.
8. Set up a water supply that won’t freeze or get icy cold. A horse drinks 8 to 12 gallons of water per day. Research shows horses prefer water temperatures of about 45 to 65 degrees and tend to drink less when water is very cold. A decrease in water consumption can lead to colic, so make sure your horses are drinking an adequate amount. On very cold days, either break or remove ice in the morning and again in the evening. Also consider getting a stock tank heater or heated stall buckets. Plan ahead and have this equipment on hand before the snow flies. Again, when the temperature drops to sub-zero readings, tank heaters and thermal buckets sell out fast.
9. For your horse. Thoroughly clean and condition tack before the threat of frozen fingers sets in. If you have washed and waterproofed your horse blankets, shake them out and make sure no rodents have damaged them while they were stored. Protect oral, injectable or topical medication and salves from freezing. Either ensure that they are in a cold-protected area of your barn or take them into the house for the winter.Prepare your horse’s feet. If you plan on pulling shoes for the winter, do it now so they have a chance to acclimate before the ground hardens. If you plan on keeping shoes on your horse, talk to your farrier about traction options.In addition to preparing your horse and farm, make sure your winter coats, gloves, hats and scarves are all in working order and don’t need to be repaired or replaced.