Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Spreading Compost

(post by Jason) Most of the time in Middle Tennessee spreading compost piles in late July would be a strange job and a fool’s errand if one were looking for it to have any sort of fertilizer value in terms of growing grass. The reason for this is that most of the time late July is very hot and also quite dry. Typically even our warm season grasses go into a semi dormant status depending mostly on moisture availability. 

We practice a form of modified manure composting on this farm, and I was saving most of last winter’s manure to spread in another couple of months in hopes of stimulating some cool season grass growth later this fall. All you have to do to compost manure in this climate is stack it and leave it alone for a little while. Turning it will speed the process but honestly the process happens here too quickly as it is. Composting slows down during the winter here but it never stops. When it is hot it is unbelievable how quickly the composting process takes place. When I explain this to people who live in cooler or drier climates they nod, smile and clearly don’t believe me. However if one were determined to do so it would be possible to make large quantities of passable composted manure in a month or less….honestly maybe less…. during the warmest part of the year simply by stacking it up. 

As I mentioned previously, moisture availability is normally low this time of year. However, moisture availability has NOT been a problem so far this summer; in fact we are having a pretty good rain as I write this post. When I thought it through I decided that I would really like to take advantage of this rare situation by applying manure to our warm season grasses in an effort to stimulate some growth right now. So that is what I did. I lost count of the loads I put out today but I spread everything I had accumulated across five out of six of our large pastures. I planned to spread until I finished today but as is often the case I ran out of day before I ran out of compost, tractor fuel or ambition. This leaves me four piles, maybe thirty loads or so in total, to spread across the one remaining pasture. Hopefully a couple of hours ought to see that job to completion and I will get after it as soon as it dries up. 


loading and spreading compost

Oskar and Donovan

Thor, Fabrizzio and Walden

Toledo and Johnny grooming

Clayton and Stormy just hanging out

Johnny and Murphy were having fun

Apollo having a good roll

Moe decided he needed to roll as well

Levendi looking very relaxed

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Fly Control

Last year and this year we have been doing some different things for fly control.   In general we don't really have big problems with flies, but in my humble opinion one fly is too many, simply because it is guaranteed that the one fly will make its way into my vehicle and never leave. I've tried many different natural sprays, sprays made with essential oils, and every brand of regular fly spray there is to buy and quite frankly none of them work very well. It seems you get maybe an hour, sometimes less, of effectiveness out of spraying the horse and that's it.  In thinking about it I just didn't see how it was healthy for any of the humans involved to be constantly breathing in large amounts of insecticide, not to mention the fact that it really can't be all that good for the horses to get coated in the stuff plus breathe the fumes, too get such minimal help. I might be more interested in accepting an increased cancer risk if the sprays really worked. But they don't so we started trying a couple of different things for fly control.

We started using fly predators from Spaulding Labs last year, and are doing so again this year. Fly predators do nothing for the flies already buzzing around. They feed on fly larvae so the goal is to break the life cycle and kill the flies before they ever have the chance to annoy horses or people.  So far we have been reasonably happy with our fly predators and they definitely seem to keep the numbers down. Their only downside is they aren't effective against all types of flies so they won't be effective as your only line of defense.

We also got a biting fly trap that you put in the pasture late last season. We almost never see the B-52 bomber horse flies but we do get deer flies.  It trapped a lot of flies but we didn't start using it early enough in the year to really know how it would work. This year we have two of these fly traps in two different pastures to see how they do and compare results. One has been up a few weeks but we just set the other one up a few days ago. The one we just set up already has at least a hundred dead flies in it and the one that has been up of course has more than that. That sounds like a lot but when you are talking about an insect population a hundred flies is nothing. That being said some sick and twisted side of me is quite pleased every time I look at one of the traps and see the dead flies in it. It gives me a real feeling of satisfaction which I probably shouldn't admit to publicly but there you go. We will have a better idea in the fall about the usefulness of the fly traps.

If anyone has any other tips and techniques to share for fly control we are all ears!


Kennedy and Toledo

Flyer, Lotus and Faune

Darby having a good roll

Rocky and Largo grooming

Since they were completely ignoring me as I called (screamed their names) them repeatedly for breakfast I took their picture. Wiz, Dutch, Renny, B-Rad, Murphy and Sebastian



Lofty leading the procession in for breakfast followed by Donneur, Asterik and George

Merlin and Lucky

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Insurance Renewal

This week I've spent a decent amount of time doing some of the mundane, definitely not glamorous tasks that are part of running a farm. Every few years redoing our insurance coverage is a giant hassle. Most years it is just a couple of pages of paperwork to sign and that's it, but some years these pesky insurance companies feel the need to be thorough. Obviously they do not understand or care that I am busy. They want to review our board contract, they want pictures of every building from all sides, they want pictures of the fence, they send an inch thick packet of paperwork to fill out about the horses, the farm, things that happen regularly around the farm, etc. I realize information needs to be updated and all, but I find this type of thing extremely boring and tedious. So of course I avoid dealing with it until the last possible minute. I always justify procrastination by saying that I work better under pressure. 

Trudging around the farm taking pictures of all sides of each of the three barns, six run-in sheds and six miles of fence felt like a serious waste of my time. Not to mention that I then had to download all of the pictures, then attach them all to an email and send them. (I am fully aware I am whining so no need to point it out). Anyway I decided to make things easy on myself and took only two pictures of each building, I took them on the diagonal so I could get two sides in each picture. I took exactly four pictures of the six miles of fence.  It felt like an exercise in stupidity since all of the fence is the same, all four board wood fence with the exception of a couple of cross fences done with Horseguard. 

As I waded through the massive stack of forms that needed to be filled out one thing that did make me pause and think for a minute was the question about the value of all items stored in the buildings. As I started rapidly listing various pieces of equipment, etc. the horse blankets made me pause and think for awhile.  Exactly how does one value 100+ used horse blankets, many of which have clearly seen some use?? Things that make you go hmmmm.

I was thinking I should probably get some quotes from a couple of other insurance companies since we have not shopped our policy in a few years. Between the general liability, the CC&C (care, custody and control), and then insuring the buildings, contents of the buildings and all of the equipment our insurance premiums are a rather large expenditure. I must admit I am now having an internal conversation with myself after wading through all of the paperwork - "do I really need to spend the time answering the same questions over and over and over?" I know, a rather pathetic internal dialogue to be having with oneself yet I am admitting to having it. I have not yet come up with a firm answer for myself . . .

I hope everyone else has been doing something far more interesting with their time than insurance renewal paperwork!

Hemi and Apollo

Levendi and Moe; who needs a freshly scrubbed water trough when you have a puddle in the pasture? Sigh . . . 


Calimba and MyLight

Lighty, Africa and Sebastian

Alex and Darby

Donovan made the most of the brief rain shower we had yesterday. That is some seriously complete coverage. 

Oskar and Kennedy had an extended grooming session

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Sunday Stills

George rolling while Asterik looks on

Lotus and Silver

Moe and Trigger

Chance and Homer

Baby and Tony

Grand and Elfin found a shady spot to graze

Largo and Oskar hanging out in the woods

Lily and Traveller

Dutch, Renny and Wiz


Thursday, July 18, 2013

Stress and Boarding

Jason and I have been boarding retired horses for almost a decade. One conclusion that we have come to through the years is that many of our boarders (I am referring to the people here, not the horses) come to us with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in regards to boarding. When I hear some of the stories they tell about things that were (or more typically were not) done in their previous boarding situations it is no wonder their tension levels appear to be reaching astronomical heights at the mere thought of taking the leap and trusting another farm with their horse.  If I had genuine reasons to wonder if my horses was being fed or had water I would be a basket case as well, not to mention moving my horses ASAP.

I must have been lucky in my boarding days as I never experienced a truly awful situation where I honestly needed to wonder if my horses were receiving appropriate care. From time to time there were things I would have changed, but I've even felt that way having my horses at home. I might be able to give them the exact program I want in terms of feed and turnout, but their are other trade-offs that come with having the horses at home.

On the flip side of the coin we have met a few people who have what appears to be self created PTSD from their boarding experiences. On a few occasions we have been told extensively how special and unique their horse's needs are, and the description of these needs always starts with the declaration that no one knows their horse(s) like they do, and apparently no one is capable of ever knowing their horse like they do.  We then proceed to hear about their amazingly high maintenance horse's needs for special this and special that, and can't handle this or that, and of course they are sensitive about everything and anything to do with turnout (they don't like being hot, being cold, cannot handle flies, can only stay out a short time, cannot handle group turnout etc.).

All of these special requirements and descriptions are usually followed with the statement that if all of these special things, routines, feeds and supplements are not followed the horse will suffer dire consequences. We do have a couple of residents that are very high maintenance, however it never has anything to do with being fussy about turnout or needing 14 special supplements and special feed. Is it wrong of me that I sometimes wonder if their previous barn owners and managers had PTSD from dealing with this?

To be fair when horses come to our farm most of them are going through a pretty dramatic shift in lifestyle and training demands, so they may very well have been the horse described to us that could not survive without their special feed, their special supplements, special ointments and sprays, and their special turnout needs all while being handled with kid gloves.  What we usually find is the horses in question become a lot more "normal" as their daily life takes on a more natural routine, and over time their owner finally begins to believe us when we tell them that they do, in fact, own a pretty normal horse with pretty normal needs.

We generally start things off following the old program to the extent that we feel comfortable. There are some things we simply are not going to to do, and if the owner cannot get comfortable with that then we don't allow the horse to come at all.  We provide a lot of mental health support to the owner as we gradually shift the horse's program to a much simpler, more normal approach to life. Sometimes we can literally see physical signs of relief as the stressed out owner gradually realizes that we are not crazy, we really are going to take good care of the horse, and we really might actually know what we are talking about when we tell you your horse is - gasp - normal.

Horses, and especially caring for horses, seems to create almost unlimited scenarios to stress out all of the parties involved. After all, even if you do everything absolutely perfectly, horses will still find ways to get injured, sick or maim themselves in some way. I'm pretty convinced that horses could live behind foam fencing with padded shelters on laser leveled land with nary a tree branch in sight and they would still manage to get hurt. It is no wonder there appears to be a lot of people in the horse world suffering from PTSD.


Silky was very relaxed

Thomas and Hemi grooming

Sparky and Griselle

Chance and Trigger playing halter tag


Norman and Traveller

Sebastian and Africa

Snappy, Lucky and Thor

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Preventing Hay Fires

(post by Jason) Every summer that I can remember someone I knew lost a barn to hay that heated and started a fire. These fires weren't mostly caused by lack of knowledge on the part of the farm owner. Most of the barns that burnt were on working farms run by people who had a lifetime of experience at putting up hay. But they guessed wrong about one or more batches and it wound up destroying at least a partial winter's worth of feed at a minimum.

It's easy and sometimes very tempting to bale hay too wet, especially if it only lacks a few hours from being truly ready to bale and there is imminent rain in the forecast. I'm guilty of doing so myself. Even though it never did actually catch fire I lost a stack of 90 round bales to heat damage three years ago.  We had run out of room in our hay barns and I had this stack under a tarp, and it was my first and last experience using a hay tarp. I probed that stack each and every day and it still surprised me how hot the bales in the center were when I had to tear the stack apart to keep it from burning. Even a heavy dew can keep hay that would otherwise be fit to bale too wet to do so safely for most of a morning, believe it or not.

Given that many of you store and feed hay on your own farms I thought the article from VA Extension below might offer up an excellent refresher course on managing freshly baled and stored hay.

Please read the excellent article below for some tips on how to manage freshly baled and stored forage.




Slinky and Thor

Noble and Lightening

Faune and Flyer

Homer, Apollo and Levendi

Kennedy and Stormy

Clayton and Largo