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Top tips for winter horse property preparation

August 16, 2023
Top tips for winter horse property preparation

Farmers and ranchers typically use late summer and early fall to do their prep work for winter. Horse owners should take note and do the same, as fall is the ideal time to tackle winter preparedness. Cooler temperatures are easier to work in and better for plants and crops to establish root systems. Plus, the timing is right to get a leg up on tasks that will make it easier to get through wintertime challenges.

Use this “to-do” list to help you coordinate beneficial fall activities, which will undoubtedly provide a more chore-efficient winter with less weather-related stress.

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1. Apply a “green band-aid” to bare spots in pastures. Fall is the ideal time to fix bare spots by overseeding pastures (at least six weeks before the first hard frost, which for most of North America typically occurs from mid-September through mid-October). Warm fall soil encourages root growth, which will continue until the ground freezes. In areas with mild winters, roots may continue to grow all season. Once early spring rolls around, roots either begin new growth or continue growing at a faster rate, while also beginning top growth. When summer finally arrives, fall-planted grass is far better equipped to deal with heat and drought because of its well-established root system. By contrast, grass seed planted in the spring will get a much slower start due to the cooler soil temperatures.

Other good reasons to plant in the fall include dependable rainfall, cooler weather (which most grasses prefer), fewer pest and disease problems and less competition from weeds. Drier fall weather also makes it much easier to prepare soil than it would be in the springtime.

Encourage a thick, healthy stand of grass by overseeding with forage plant seed on existing pastures. Overseed areas that are thin or have bare spots.

Talk with local extension offices or conservation districts about ideal forage plants for your soil.

2. Plant trees and shrubs. Fall is also a great time to place native plants, which can be beneficial on a horse property. For example, native hedgerows can act as wind or dust barriers and provide an attractive visual boundary between neighboring uses. Native plants can act as mud managers alongside paddocks and confinement areas to help reduce flows, absorb water, and filter sediments and pollutants. Check with your local conservation district or Horses for Clean Water if you have any specific questions on this topic.

3. Provide shelter for your horse. Shelter requirements may vary depending on your specific horse and location. However, horses typically need a way to get out of driving rain and/or wind. They can usually regulate their own body temperature if allowed to do so. Your horse’s shelter doesn’t have to be complex. It can be as simple as a three-sided run-in shed, a stall with a paddock, or a shelterbelt of trees.

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4. Bring in footing material for paddocks, confinement areas and other high-traffic areas. Now is the time to think about the sand or gravel you will need for footing in confinement and heavy use areas, such as in front of gates. These materials are easier to access 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 become slick and muddy during the rainy season. Put down 2 to 6 inches of material for each of these areas.

5. Begin a horse manure management program. If you don’t do so already, now is the time to start picking up manure on a regular basis. A horse creates 50 pounds of manure per day. When mixed with winter rain or melting snow, this quickly becomes 50 pounds per day of unsightly and potentially hazardous muck. All manure should be picked up at least every three days in stalls, paddocks, confinement areas and high traffic areas. Composting is a great way to manage manure and turn it into a valuable resource for your property.

6. Spread compost. Early fall is a great time to spread compost. Compost is a rich source of soil enhancement. It adds micro- and macro-nutrients 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 one-half inch thick and no more than three to four inches per season in the same place. Check with your local conservation district for more advice and to ask if they have a manure spreader rental program.

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7. Check gutters and downspouts. Roof runoff systems should be cleaned and repaired in the fall. Gutters and downspouts “keep clean rainwater clean” by diverting roof runoff away from your paddocks to areas where it won’t get contaminated with manure or create mud. Good areas to divert rainwater to include a grassy ditch, a dry rocky landscaping area, rain barrels, stock watering tanks, well-vegetated woods, or an unused portion of pasture. Doing this will greatly benefit you by reducing the amount of mud your horse spends the winter standing in. It will also make daily chores easier.

8. Reroute surface water runoff. Runoff from driveways, parking areas, and hillsides can add significantly to the problem of managing mud in confinement areas. 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