One dream that brings many residents to larger properties in the Foothills is having their horses at home. The ease of enjoying more time with them by just walking out the door. If you keep your horses at home in our mountain area, you know that our location does not fit into the average book on “horsekeeping on small acreages”. Of course, even from property to property the technicalities can vary greatly because of geography, sun exposure, covenants, flora and fauna. Here are some ideas to consider while you enjoy having your horses at home.
Fencing and Pasture
Fencing is a very broad topic and varies from neighborhood to neighborhood with what the covenants dictate, what the ground will allow and of course what you can afford. Whatever you do, consider the wildlife that we enjoy and share the mountains with along with your horses. The Division of Wildlife has a “must read”, excellent brochure on many types of fencing and specifications that work for wildlife and livestock – go to www.wildlife.state.co.us and find “Fencing with Wildlife in Mind”. In general, elk and deer need to be able to safely jump the fences and calves and fawns need to be able to safely crawl under.
With our arid climate and in order to protect your land from erosion and being picked down to dirt fairly quickly, it is always important to have a sacrifice area, lot or runs to keep your horses off of a larger turn-out area for periods of time. Maybe you only have enough for a small lot, but if you have an area that is larger, it is worth some cross fencing to allow a little grass to grow for your horse to enjoy and feel like a horse. In order to preserve the beauty and integrity of your property, see the past article called, Pasture Track System at https://mtnhomes4horses.com/track-system/
The fencing on your lot or runs should be made of very safe, secure and sturdy materials since the horses will be in there for longer periods of time and will likely be using it for itching, leaning, and reaching. Other things to consider are the level and space between the fence to prevent a leg, head or other body part from being stuck or rubbing their mane out.
For fencing materials, there are many options that can be aesthetically pleasing and fairly inexpensive to obtain. Look for local resources that are readily available to save money on the freight and materials. Beetle kill wood is one example of this in Colorado, whereas in Texas it may be pipe and cable. One application is “Zig Zag” or “Worm” Fencing that uses long straight trees, is attractive, requires no post holes, is relatively easy to install and if you or someone you know is mitigating Lodgepole Pine off of their property, it can be quite inexpensive or even free.
For the majority of the properties up here, there is just not any way to get around feeding horses some amount of hay year round. Our grass is not the type and just does not get enough moisture in our semi-arid climate to recover that quickly. There are a few properties that can and the rest of us suffer from pasture envy. Our local “stocking rates” are on average around one 1,000 pound horse per 30 acres of dry pasture, but a water source can improve that number. Using rotational grazing by cross fencing sections or cells of your pasture will increase the grass production and pasture health, but not your stocking rates. The principle used on local land is called “take half, leave half”- Your horses eat down half of the forage and then you remove them from that portion for about 30 days to let it recover. Many people in our area limit the pasture turn-out time of their horses to a number of hours that works for them, their land and grasses. One disadvantage of this is that the horses may only eat one type, their favorite type of grass during that period, making the recovery for that grass difficult. It is important to mention that when your pasture or lot has trees in it, it critical for the horses safety to trim any dead branches off from ground level to a couple feet above their eye level to keep them from poking eyes, legs and other body parts. The Small Acreage Management Team at the Colorado State University Extension Service will come evaluate your property at no cost and determine the number of grazing days for your animals and property (720-634-3927, more resources for managing small acreages at www.ext.colostate.edu ).
Hay Storage and fencing can be related if you don’t have a place in your barn or a hay barn to keep it from other hungry hooved animals. If elk and deer get into your hay, it is not only costly to you, it is not good for them. Refer again to the above DOW brochure on “Fencing with Wildlife in Mind” for great hay storage solutions. Some options include fencing in a storage area that must be 7-8 feet high to keep elk and deer from jumping in. Panels, similar to large wooden pallets, are also functional and can be moved around to different locations. While in use, the slats on the panels should be vertical to prevent them from being climbed and also secured together to create a complete barrier. Of course, hay should be kept securely tarped (remember the wind!) and off of the ground.
Keeping horses at home can be very rewarding for owners by enjoying the ability to feed, care for, ride and manage their horses themselves. Putting some thought into your individual property, its strengths, weaknesses and how to keep it aesthetically beautiful for years to come, with the native wildlife in mind, benefits our community as a whole and ensures your properties value for years to come.
Heather McWilliams © 2019