Sunday, August 16, 2009

At Least The Grass Is Free

I don't know how many times someone has made the comment to me lately about how are expenses must be so low most of the year because the grass is free. When someone makes a comment this stupid (sorry to be harsh but it is true) I usually just don't respond. I guess I've heard it one time too many lately because the last person that said it received the response of hysterical laughter, the kind where your sides hurt from laughing so hard. I couldn't help myself.

In case you haven't picked up on where this is headed grass is not free. In fact grass is expensive in both money and time. First of all you have to pay for the land. Even when purchasing cheap land at $3,000-$5,000 an acre per land that means we would have $6,000 - $10,000 per horse tied up in land costs as we allow two acres per horse. After we've purchased our free grass, I mean land, then you have to fence it. Four board wood fencing in our area costs between $6-$7 per foot, with gates costing double the amount per foot. The variation in cost depends on if each post is set in concrete or if the posts are just all pounded in and some other factors. So to fence off one pasture you are looking at another $10,000 minimum for a smaller pasture in fencing costs.

Then your free grass needs some run-in shelters at about $6,000 per shelter. And keep in mind if you want your fences and shelters painted that is an additional cost. And wouldn't it be lovely if the fence maintained itself and the horses didn't scratch their butts on it, crib on it, and do other lovely things that break boards. So after you've paid for the fence you get to keep paying for it as you replace boards. And those replacement fence boards (free of course, hee hee) are all cut with a $600 chain saw. Why do you need an expensive chain saw? So it will run when you need it to. Anyone who has used chain saws on a regular basis will know what I mean by that.

Then we have this free grass that has to be maintained. I took a picture of part of the equipment shed the other day. On the far left is the Kubota tractor hooked up to the small bush hog, then there is the Ford tractor hooked up to the 15' bush hog. You can't really see the 500 gallon sprayer used for weed control or the chain harrows used for dragging the pastures. The other stuff pictured doesn't count towards our free grass as it is various pieces of hay equipment and the manure spreader. So just in tractors and bush hogs there is easily $70,000 of equipment parked in the shed for maintaining that free grass. This is all definitely sounding very free to me!!

And just like any other piece of equipment this stuff all has to be maintained, belts and chains have to be replaced, tractor tires have to be replaced, the oil needs to be changed, they run on that free diesel fuel, etc. And of course you need a place to park this free equipment. The best part is that the free equipment runs itself and it takes no time at all to hook things up and get out there and mow over 100 acres. I'm sure Jason is having a good laugh over that right now.

The next expense in your free grass is keeping it looking nice and keeping it at optimum nutritional levels. This means we take multiple soil samples from all over the farm and have it analyzed on a regular basis. From these results we determine when to lime and when to fertilize. We fertilize at least once a year, sometimes twice. Lime is not applied yearly but every couple of years depending on soil tests. Each round of lime and fertilizer costs a few thousand dollars. It isn't necessary to do either of these and grass will still grow, but if you want the grass to have optimum nutritional value then you need to help out. We also re-seed various areas depending on need each year. Grass seed has been very pricey the last couple of years.

Allowing horses to continuously graze pastures is absolutely hard as heck on grass. Horses are pasture destroyers by nature. They do not graze evenly and tend to want to graze the same areas over and over and wreck them, so we do our best to mitigate their damage by re-seeding, liming, fertilizing, mowing and controlling weeds. Not to mention when it is really wet and they decide to gallop through the pastures, seriously damaging the free grass with every step. Throwing in the sliding stop, especially when wet, is just the icing on the cake for pasture damage.

To top it all off you have to have a barn to accompany your free pastures, equipment, fencing, and run-ins. We all know the joke that horses are born looking for a way to hurt themselves. Thus, from time to time they need access to a stall for injuries or illness. This means we have to have a barn standing there ready for use even if most of the stalls are empty at any given time. Nothing is better for a business than investing in a large asset that is not continually fully utilized and generating revenue. Obviously that was typed with sarcasm!

To summarize it would be a lot cheaper to have much smaller pastures and allow the horses to over-graze them and feed hay year round. MUCH cheaper. So the next time any of you are talking to me and decide to mention something about the free grass, please take a moment to reflect on the sheer stupidity of that comment and don't say it!

Grass can be done much more inexpensively. It does not have to be fertilized, limed, have weed control, be mowed, re-seeded, or anything else. However, if you want to have pastures that look decent, and ours look at least decent most of the time, and have horses living on them year round, grass is expensive in money and time. The hardest part to take with all of this free grass is when the weather thwarts all of your efforts anyway. We had a record breaking drought a couple of summers ago that our pastures are still recovering from. Mother Nature was not smiling on us that year!

Now on to some pictures of the horses enjoying all of that free grass (I typed that with a laugh, I do still have my sense of humor).

You can't really see him but Cuff Links is grooming Levendi in this picture
Levendi grooming on Cuffie
Then they hung out together and enjoyed each other's company
Traveller (Traveller says free grass is very tasty!)
Norman and Bridget grazing together. Norman has become quite the ladies man lately!
Winston, Trillion and Faune
Lily and MyLight
Teddy, Lightning and Chili
Snappy and O'Reilly
Asterik, Faune, Trillion, Winston, Sebastian


Jason said...

I heartily second this post. And I'll note that Melissa forgot to mention a couple of items that may be of interest to our "free grass" people.

1. On the "outside", my time is worth $ 50.00 per hour, cash costs. Maybe some of you farm for fun (and do it for free), but I don't. I figure the time I spend here is worth exactly what it costs on the 'outside" and I think this way because every hour I spend here is an hour I'm not spending "out there" earning real money. Last year, I spent about 800 hours maintaining our pastures, fencing, and run in sheds. That's another $ 40,000 in cash costs accrued to our free pasture.

2. When contemplating an expansion (as we are right now), we actually compared the cost of setting up an intensively managed large barn (stall for every horse)with small paddocks and feeding hay all year vs. a pasture based operation like the one we have currently...figuring the cost of land, run-in sheds, and a smaller barn relying on pasture for much of the nutrition. Guess which one "won" in initial set up costs ? You got it if you guessed the barn and small paddock option hands down. We figure we could be up and running for about $ 5000 per horse space in a barn-paddock system. If bare land costs $ 3000 per acre (a big if anywhere in TN), our set up costs for a pasture based operation come in at just less than $ 7000 per horse space. We love what we do, and we love doing it on a pasture based operation, but believe me when I say the grass ain't free.

lytha said...

I made the mistake of telling my man, "We're getting hay for free!" because technically we are not paying for hay since we allowed a local farmer to harvest our field.

My man corrected me right away. The price of the field was not free (but we pay by the square meter here), and the property taxes on it, and the portion we actually rent, and don't own.

The fence was exactly what Melissa said it costs. The time we spent maintaining the fenceline is adding up now as blackberries, nettles, and weeds try to swallow the fence itself. The small machines we bought to handle those weeds were not the cheapest.

Looking across the street I see a field of ruined hay, farmers who did not pay attention to the weather forecast for their second cutting. Hay that was in neat rows ready to be baled got respread and abandoned. That could have been us. Then our hay will be even less "free."

OK I stand corrected, our hay is not free.


Anonymous said...

Horses on pasture 24/7 is so good for their health, and I'm so glad you can provide it. We have the same issues with our "free" grass, but on a smaller number of acres. I'm always amazed when I see horses out on "pastures" that are just bare, weed-ridden dry lots in disguise - it sure does take a lot of work to maintain good pastures.

ZionFarm said...

AMEN! I can't express how much I am agreeing with you right now! We just got done with some pasture maintenance the last 2 weeks. Definitley not an easy or free task.

ezra_pandora said...

I love when I hear something about people wondering why we can't just mow the grass to feed the horses. We live in the city. We could, but they'd die pretty quickly. I applaud you guys and the efforts you make to make sure the horses get the best nutrition in their food possible. Nothing in life is free and that's the truth of it.

lytha said...

I would like to respond to Kate's comment. These bare, weed ridden dry lot in disguise, I see them here in Germany too. And I think gee, they should do something...

but then I think, Wow, no matter what, it is better than a stall.

I recently boarded at a place where they did zero pasture maintenance, but I was so happy that my horse was not in a stall, I did not mind the conditions of the field. Every year the field was more consumed by weeds, leaving less grazing. Still, better than a stall, so I was happy!

But I agree, there is a way to maintain a field that it stays grazing friendly. Some people look into it!


Anonymous said...

You know, when people say something like that it probably doesn't warrant getting their head bit off. Its just innocuous small talk. You're probably never going to get a lot of sympathy for living on that beautiful farm and working with such nice animals without having to put up with their owners much.

Used to love reading this blog, but its kinda turned into various rants, bitches and a training diary for you (who, quite frankly, seem more than just a little spoiled). Would love to hear the stories of some of your retirees and their past careers. Or is there another blog you have that is just about the retirement horses? Not so much interested in your goats and show horses.

Wow! Ranting and bitching really does feel good. Carry on!

Jason said...


If you'd like to really contribute some fresh ideas to writing this blog, both spoiled Melissa and spoiled me agree that YOU'RE HIRED !!! LOL !! (Of course, we'd need to know who you are first !!):)

We've written upwards of 150 blog posts about 35 resident horses. Fresh ideas are *VERY* welcome even if they come tinged with a little criticism !!

Dressager said...

Haha! And people think that all horse owners are just flowing in the money! FREE grass! That's rich.

Down here in Texas, water costs more, adding on to the expense of FREE grass!

While the pasture set-up y'all have is very expensive, the horses do seem to enjoy it. A lot. So maybe that compensates a little. And the pastures always look so pretty! That's got to be a lot better for the horses than just sitting in a dirt pasture around a round bale all day.

You guys do a lot for these very special horses. Very cool :)

Signature sporthorses said...

Excellent post!!!

RuckusButt said...

Whoa anon - who is biting whose head off? I was a bit surprised about the tone of the post at first too, it was different from Melissa's usual positive attitude. But, as anyone who has repeatedly had things said to them that couldn't be further from the truth knows, it gets old. I agree that Melissa is fortunate to not have to deal with the horses owners all that much, lol (though I'm sure most are great people!).

Melissa - for what it's worth, I enjoy hearing the other tidbits from your life. You have a lot of experience with horses and I find your honest discussion of your life very informative and thought provoking. I think about what I would do, what my options would be etc. I think that is valuable, so thanks!

Java's Mom said...

Holy Toledo! Melissa, way to stir the sleepy blog world pot. First off, I love your rants, I can only think of two and good for you for keeping it real. The requests and comments you sometimes get as a barn owner are rude, bizzare, ignorant and those are all OK, and we are all allowed to talk about how odd the comments can be sometimes. I'll leave it at that... :) You rock, don't change a thing.

Jason said...

LOL !! This post seemed to stir folks up pretty good if it did nothing else.

We have excellent and caring clients..I wouldn't trade ANY of them and that is the truth. We are blessed in what we do and we know it.

I'll be the first to admit that much of what we do regarding grazing and pasture management could be done in much more cost effective ways than we do it, and just as effectively as far as the horses are concerned IMO.

Much of what we do is done to please our clients (or ourselves) at least as much as it's done to please their horses. In any business, a clients perception is the business owner's reality.

In fact, I think I'll type my next blog post about doing things cheaper and see where it goes !

LuLo Designs/Blue Eyed Tango said...

Wow, what the heck did I miss Melissa? Please try not to let these comments get your blood pressure up! Easier said than done, I know... but not worth it. I do agree with a few things Jason reiterated and AND MORE in his ARE blessed to have been able to buy the land (or inherit), to buy the equipment, to have the great clients and their horses and to have your health to do the work, to have a husband tell you to go buy a horse you can ride now so his wife can have a joyful ride and to have a husband who does this type of work "full time"!!!! This is your livelihood! Yes, we do it much more simply....because we have to!!! However, we are no less "blessed" just because we don't have all of the "stuff" in which to get the job done. We don't have acres and acres of fencing around our pastures nor beautiful new barns (or even newly painted ones) but I consider having what we do have a blessing nonetheless because I may have it better off than the person who has to board their horse because they do not have the land, the barn and the time to dedicate. It sounds as though what these people are dealing with is good ole fashioned "jealousy" and that's a choice! All attitudes are a choice. Nothing comes "free" it's all at a cost no matter how much you spend on a farm!! You guys are doing a fabulous job, don't let anyone make you "feel guilty" for what you work hard to achieve or because you may have more than most or do it differently. There will always be people out there to tear you down. It's your choice if you'll let them (which I know you're not). Personally, I wouldn't give them the time of day! Let them be miserable, it's their choice and we all have that same encourage or discourage someone, to build a person up or tear them down! I choose the higher road...that's what we're supposed to do!! Go guys....keep up the good work! Luanne

LuLo Designs/Blue Eyed Tango said...

Melissa,I didn't even get a chance to comment this morning on your photos! I had to go clean stalls and wash water buckets! Love Cuffie as you know, what a cute mug! Traveler's comment was funny! And as always, the horses look peaceful....just where I would want to board a horse!

Kathleen said...

Melissa, I for one love your blog, and part of the reason is because of the variety in your posts! I love hearing about the world's cutest fainting goats, the daily activities on your farm, and yes - even pasture costs and maintenance. Yes, you and Jason have a beautiful farm. And you work hard to keep it as such.

I think that if the first anonymous poster doesn't like what s/he is reading, s/he is more than welcome to go elsewhere.

Carry on!