You can count our Pacific Northwest winters being cold, wet, dark and windy. During most winters you can add snowy and icy to that description. There often are at least a couple storms that wreak havoc on our normal horse chore routines for days on end, stretching into weeks for the unfortunate. As it is with most everything, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Here is a list of preparations that if done in the fall will help ease you through a difficult winter season. Follow up by attending any of Horses for Clean Water’s free educational events to get more ideas and assistance with implementing these techniques.
Bring in footing material for paddocks, confinement areas and other high traffic areas.
Now is the time to think about the hogfuel or gravel you will need for footing in sacrifice areas, paddocks, walkways, and in front of gates. These materials are more available in the fall before demand is high. Plus, it is easier for delivery trucks to back into paddocks and drive through pastures in the dry season rather than once these areas have become a slick and muddy mess during the rainy season.
Begin a manure management program.
If you don’t already pick up manure on a regular basis now is the time to start. A horse creates 50 pounds of manure per day. When mixed with winter rainwater this quickly turns into 50 pounds of muck per day. All manure should be picked up at least every three days in stalls, paddocks, confinement areas and high traffic areas.
Tarp your manure piles.
This will help keep the nutrients you are trying to save IN the compost and not allow them to get washed OUT into the surface waters where they can cause a potential problem. Be sure to store manure as far away as possible from streams, ditches or wetlands to avoid potential environmental problems.
Early fall is a great time to spread compost. Compost is a rich soil enhancement. It adds micro and macronutrients and replenishes natural microbes all of which improve the health of soil and plants. Spread compost in pastures during the growing season no more than a ½ inch thick and no more than three to four inches per season in the same place. Check with the King Conservation District about borrowing their free manure spreader!
Consider liming your pastures.
Have a soil test done for your pastures. If it indicates your pastures need liming then fall is an excellent time to do this. Fall applications allow the lime to neutralize soil acidity as it reacts with the soil over the winter. Changing the pH allows the grass plants to out compete weeds during the next growing season. Contact the King Conservation District to see how they can help with soil testing.
Check gutters and downspouts.
Now is the time to clean as well as make needed repairs or additions to your roof runoff system. Think “keep clean rainwater clean” by diverting rainwater away from your paddocks to areas where it won’t get contaminated with manure. Good places to divert to include areas on your property such as a grassy ditch, a dry well, rain barrel, stock watering tanks, a fishpond, a well-vegetated woods, or an unused portion of your pasture. Doing this will greatly benefit you by reducing the amount of mud your horse spends the winter standing in and making daily chores easier for you.
Reroute surface water runoff.
Runoff from driveways, parking areas and hillsides adjacent to confinement areas can add significantly to the problem of managing mud. Ditches, grassy swales, dry wells, water diversion bars and culverts are all useful means for diverting water away from confinement areas and barns. It is considerably easier to build these now than during the next downpour.
Review equipment needs for daily chores.
Having the right equipment for chores not only makes things more efficient but also insures that you’ll be more likely to get those chores accomplished when it’s dark and cold. Consider getting a manure cart that’s easy to push and dump into the compost pile. Is your manure fork half broken? The heavy-duty plastic-tined type with a bent edge is made specifically for cleaning horse stalls and paddocks. Wooden handles or ones wrapped with tennis grip tape (or even vet wrap) are easier–and warmer–to grip than metal handles.
It is a good feeling to be prepared as possible even though there is undoubtedly some adventure lurking around the corner. Following this list will help you get ahead of the majority of problems, have you better prepared for the coming winter months and we get you in good position for next summer.
Next stop: join HCW and our FREE educational events open to all horse and small acreage livestock owners to get a head start on winter chore efficiency and horse keeping.