Your neighbors enjoy their view of your place: horses frolicking on green fields and eating healthy forage from the pasture grass swaying in the breeze. You’re pleased too, because you know your pocketbook is benefiting from reduced hay bills. The environment is happy; abundant pasture plants are putting the nutrients from horse manure to good use, nutrients that might otherwise wash off your property and possibly cause contamination issues.
That’s your farm, right? Or, does your pasture resemble a weedy confinement area, one that turns into mud from the lightest rain?
Enhancing the horse property landscape with native plants promotes native wildlife, helps to control erosion, provides a visual buffer, and filters pesticides, fertilizers, and nutrients. Native plants are extremely adaptable and there is a diverse palette of natives to choose from—no matter where you live! Here are some ideas for how native plants can enhance your property and work for you.
Horses for Clean Water has many wonderful educational opportunities available throughout the Pacific Northwest this summer and fall. I hope you’ll plan to come join in on the fun, learning, and horse’n around!
As horse owners, we often wrongly believe we are destined to put up with flies, insects, and rodent infestations. Other times, we become so frustrated with the situation that we resort to chemical warfare, potentially adding unnecessary and harmful toxins to the environment. Encouraging insect-eating birds to move into horse areas is an excellent low-tech, cost-effective, and eco-friendly method for pest control—one our grandparents probably utilized on their farms.
Biting insects can turn ferocious this time of year, it's their last big hurrah. No matter how much fly control you use, there will still be a certain amount of flies, especially on those hot, sunny days. However, there are some ways you can keep your equine friends more comfortable.
Tips for June:
- Eliminate flies and mosquitoes.
- Keep pastures and plants productive.
- Protect and maintain farm equipment.
Like many people these days you probably struggle to weave chores, work, riding and family time into your life's fabric, leaving leisure activities behind in the dust. This month, we're making a case for attending an equine class or event—why it can be worth the effort, and why so many people have thanked us after they made time to attend one.
Horses can expend a tremendous amount of energy stomping and swishing at irritating pests that can harbor disease, cause eye infections and inflict painful bites. Since our domestic horses can't roam and escape insects like their wild counterparts, here’s a few strategies to help keep them fly-free and happier this summer:
At the Xerces workshops in June, I noted two big things that we horse owners can do to help out with the world-wide pollinator decline:
Decrease General Insecticide Use and Don’t use Neonicotinoids
Increase Pollinator Habitat
Traveling with Your Horse?
Check out our blog on horse lodging resources, and if you’re
in the Nampa/Boise ID area, come visit us at Sweet Pepper Ranch!
Plus: West Nile Virus Update, Trying to beat those weeds?, Why Wildlife Don’t Usually Need “Rescuing”
It’s gratifying when our readers share their stories. What’s working on their farm? What are their goals? What tidbits have they learned along the way and what issues are they currently facing? Hearing their stories can be a great way to view our own experiences, both our successes and our failures. Sometimes from a different vantage point we can assimilate fresh ideas to help out on the farm.
This month we travel to Urban Cattle in Thurston County, Washington, a farm whose owner has been attending Horses for Clean Water classes and tours for over ten years now. Here’s what she shared with us:
HCW: Can you tell us why you initially set up your farm, and what your current objective is?
This farm has served to recharge me from a demanding career. I work to raise seed stock Herefords cattle that pose desirable genetic traits that can be measured by DNA testing and expected progeny difference (EPD’s), which is based on ancestry. It is fun to choose from the array of Hereford bulls with leading genetics and then see how the offspring turn out.
HCW: What new skills have you enjoyed learning?
Working to be a good steward of the land and my animals has taught me a lot, from carpentry skills and rumen function to dung beetles and birthing calves. Horses for Clean Water got me launched into best practices with their great practical information, especially dealing with the rain and manure issues that come with raising livestock in the Pacific Northwest.
HCW: Can you tell us some of the improvements you’ve made that have helped you manage your cattle and your land?
I have implemented a number of practices. One of the main improvements has been constructing a winter confinement area that is free of mud. Manure is collected daily; I have also constructed a manure composting building that is conveniently located nearby it for chore efficiency. For the composting system, I pipe forced air into the bins and occasionally turn it with the tractor to augment the rate of decomposition. In addition, I use a lightweight rototiller to break the drier, composting manure into smaller pieces to further speed the process. Often I have paid people who have done some small job for me with organic compost at their request.
Another improvement is that I now utilize both pasture rotation and strip grazing via portable electric poly wire fencing and step-in posts. By setting the electrically charged wires high, the calves can pass underneath and graze the best grasses, with the cows to follow when the fence line is moved. Most cattle people will tell you, they are really grass farmers.
Additionally I add nutrients to my pastures as needed, and it seems that liming is always necessary for my soil type. Dung beetles break up the manure enough such that I have not used my harrow for a few years now. I stay away from worming medication and fly control methods that could hurt the dung beetles.
Flies are controlled with wasp predators and Rescue® brand fly attractant bag traps. I also use a fly spray for the horn flies - different types of flies are killed or trapped by different methods. No one method kills all species.
I have enhanced the property for wildlife by providing plants, water sources and shelter for a variety of animals. A progression of native pollinator plants have been planted and provide nectar and pollen for bees, from when they first emerge all the way through fall. I have purchased plants at Conservation District and Native Plant Society sales.
Also, I have installed about a dozen bird houses that are usually inhabited by tree swallows. Snakes have rock warming areas and the rough skin newts have logs and other woody debris in the forest to utilize. The list goes on - this year I am going to try a moist mineral container for butterflies.
HCW: Any last comments or achievements you’d like to share with our readers?
Realize that making your place the best it can be is a process that takes time. As much as we want it to happen overnight it doesn’t, but there are benefits to going slower. I think you will make a better choice on your upgrades when you have the time to think them through. Attend farm tours so you can get ideas about what might work for you. I encourage everyone to get the infrastructure done first before purchasing your animals. Then when you have the animals you will have more time to enjoy them.
Recently I have been awarded a Pollinator Habitat Enhancement Grant from The Natural Resources Conservation Service, part of the US Department of Agriculture. I would recommend and encourage others to check out this program.
You can read more about Urban Cattle in our photo corral.
Spring is in the air, which means it’s time to enlist some help to stay pest free and chore efficient throughout the summer and fall.
Who are the helpers? And how can you tell who is friend and who is foe?
Every month I am lucky enough to talk and work with horse people from all over the country – all over the world, actually. I love what I do, and I am grateful for the cool horse people I get to work with. Take Katie and Dan Gillis who recently purchased 40 acres of land which includes a barn and alfalfa field in nearby Kuna, ID.
Do you crave the satisfaction of seeing your horses frolic and graze on lush, green pastures?
May is an optimum growing month around North America, especially for grasses. A quick assessment of your pastures now can ensure they are healthy, productive and beautiful throughout summer and fall.
Getting Ready for the Busy Season Ahead
Spring is just around the corner, in some parts of the country daffodils are poking their heads up and may even be blooming. That means now is the time to get things done around your horse property so you will be ready for the upcoming growing season. Here are a few tips to get you started:
A little more than a year ago I was invited to travel to Australia to be the keynote speaker at a conference on horses and land management. One of the other speakers at that event presented material that changed some of my thinking on horse care. His presentation was on the link between climate change and infectious disease risk for horses. Dr. Gary Muscatello, a microbiologist and faculty at the University of Sydney Veterinary Science Department, was the presenter. Let me summarize key points from his presentation.