Sunny & Stella Get a Round Bale Feeder

Since Sunny and Stella moved to our backyard, we’ve noticed them wasting a vast amount of hay. They love to stick their noses way into the middle of the round bale, pull the hay out, and then let it drop to the ground. Then they poop on it.

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After researching dozens of different types of hay feeders, including everything from slow-feed nets to Bale Buddys, my handy husband decided he would just go ahead and build one himself. I, for one, am glad he did.

Here’s how he did it:

Four six-foot long pressure treated 4X4s are beveled on each end to create skids.

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At each end, and two feet on center along one skid, notches are cut to half the thickness of the 4X4 and the width of a 4X4 to receive the vertical posts.

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The bottom of the vertical posts, which are not pressure treated, are notched to fit into the pressure treated 4X4 skid.

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The 32″ long vertical posts are set into the skid that forms the back wall of the feeder.

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Holes are drilled and 4″ galvanized carriage bolts are inserted through the skid and the post.

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The nut and washer are on the inside of the feeder beneath the floor so there is no chance a horse could scratch its nose on it!

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The remaining three skids are notched only on the ends, to receive the vertical posts.

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1X8 rough pine boards are nailed to the posts of the back wall with 3 1/2 inch galvanized nails. We wanted the space between the boards a little narrower than you typically see on hay feeders, so there would be no chance of my accident-prone horse somehow getting a hoof through.

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The floor is assembled with two full-length 1X8 boards on the sides, and eight 25″ boards on the back and the front portions of the floor. This leaves an almost two-foot wide gap in the middle of the floor for the round bale to settle into, so it centers itself in the feeder.

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Up to this point, all construction was done indoors, with boards cut to measure, but not yet assembled, except for the back wall. At this point, we moved the entire project out to Sunny & Stella’s paddock. Stella was extremely interested in the construction project, to the point that we had to pause until the hay became of even more interest. Now work could resume.

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Once all the pieces were assembled, the gate (which was pre-built in our basement) was attached using 8″ galvanized tee hinges. A 6″ barrel bolt secures the gate.

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After watching Sunny almost poke her eye out on the corner of the post (did I mention she’s accident-prone?), we decided to bevel the posts for safety.

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This would have been easier to do with a compound mitre saw in the basement before the boards were added to the posts, rather than a hand-held reciprocating saw out in the middle of the paddock, but we think they turned out just fine.

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The finished product, with a (partially eaten) round bale rolled in place.

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Sunny and Stella approve.

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Twenty-Five Days

Anyone who knows me, or has been following my blog, knows that I’ve been working for years toward having my horses at home with me. This has not been an easy task, and involved having to completely renovate and sell our city house (still not accomplished, but almost there), buy a suitable little farm close enough to the city that I could still commute to my job (not at all a simple proposition, as farm land in the area where we wanted to live rarely comes up for sale), and then build the perfect little barn for my two horses (who have never actually lived in the same place).

Well, somehow, we managed to make almost everything happen (like I said, city house is still not on the market, but that’s our next goal)! On Saturday, December tenth, Sunny and Stella came home. The process of preparing the site, building the barn and fencing off the winter paddock was long, arduous, roller-coaster ride of a process. My husband, my father-in-law, and my step-father built it from the ground up with their own hands, and were hampered the entire time by relentless rain, high winds, and a water problem that just wouldn’t go away. There were days when I felt it would never be finished, and days when I started to question whether we’d made the right choices. But on that day, twenty-five days after the first post went in the ground, when my horses got to enjoy their new home together for the first time, I knew that it had all been worth it.

Day 1:

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Day 25:

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The struggle isn’t over. In fact it has just begun, of course. Currently there is no water or electricity in the barn, and the tack room hasn’t been built yet, so everything needs to be shuttled by hand (including feed and water) from the house. Sunny is a hard-to-keep senior with what I can only describe as early stage dementia some days, and Stella is a saucy pony who gets fat on air but still feels she’s entitled to every scrap of food in existence, so even their day-to-day feeding arrangements are a challenge. We’re at the beginning of the worst time of year in Nova Scotia (temperatures can go from twenty below to ten above in a matter of hours, leading to a freeze-thaw cycle that just won’t quit), and currently Sunny has an absolute hissy-fit if I even think about taking Stella 30 feet outside the paddock to the riding ring.

And despite all of these things, I cannot even begin to express how absolutely blessed I feel to have this farm, and these horses in my back yard. Even the worst day, with them at home, is better than the best day with them somewhere else.

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I have so many plans and hopes for the upcoming year, but my only real resolution is to remember, no matter what, that my dream has come true, and that everything else is just the sugar on top.

Happy 2017 to all of my followers. May you keep dreaming big, and may all of those dreams come true.

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A nice little farm for Sunny & Stella.

I grew up with horses in the back yard. I got my first pony when I was nine, and from then until I went off to college, we always had a horse or two (or six) at home. My formerly non-horsey parents became experts at mucking stalls and making bran mashes. Horses were as much a part of our lives as breathing. I remember cold winter mornings, when my dad would come to the barn with me to help do chores, and breezy spring evenings when my mom and I would sit on the tack boxes in the aisle way after night check, listening to the horses munching on their hay. Every weekend was spent at a horse show or clinic. Family vacations and camping trips were things other people did. Horses were our lives, and we wouldn’t have had it any other way. And I’ve been waiting for over two decades to get back to that life.

Fast forward to a month ago. That’s when we spotted it on the internet. A nice little property, with what looked like some good fields, at a manageable price, in one of my very favourite parts of Nova Scotia – a little place called Elderbank, in the Musquodoboit Valley. Two days later, we went to see it. I think I spent about 10 minutes total looking at the house – just long enough to make sure it was livable. Then I headed out to the fields. Here’s what I found:

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In an instant, I could imagine Sunny and Stella in this field. I could picture the fencing, the barn, the riding ring… everything. I’d been planning and dreaming and scheming for so long, and now, standing in this field, I could see it all. I knew we had to have this place.

The past four weeks have been a roller coaster. This hasn’t been an easy purchase. Things didn’t exactly go smoothly, and we had more than our fair share of moments when it seemed like the entire deal was doomed. There were certainly times when it would have been easier to give up. Just walk away. Look for another place. But then I’d close my eyes and remember standing at the top of that field on that sunny day in June, imagining my horses grazing contentedly together, and I knew we couldn’t give up. We had to keep going. They say nothing worth having ever comes easy, and now I know exactly what they mean.

We got a text message from our agent today. The deal was done. The sold sign had been put up. The property is ours. We close in three weeks. We did it. It just goes to show that good things don’t come to those who wait. Good things come to those who decide what they want, and never give up on it.

Welcome to Devonwood Farm.

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Building my Perfect Barn – Part 5: Exterior Drainage and Mud Management

Hi again! Back to the BMPB (Building my Perfect Barn) series with the fifth installment – outdoor drainage and mud-management. This topic came up while I was having lunch with a group of horsey friends last weekend, and it got me thinking… how am I going to keep my precious wards from standing knee-deep in mud during our (ridiculously long) mud season(s)?

Obviously the first consideration is building the barn & paddocks in the right place; using the natural lay of the land to help facilitate proper water run-off. In a perfect world the barn will be built on high ground, surrounded by a about a 2% grade (ground falling 2 feet every 100 feet). Having said that, and knowing that the “perfect world” scenario might be hard to find, here are a few ideas I have for keeping the barn from flooding, and keeping the paddocks as mud-free as possible.

Image found at http://www.ecoterr.com

Rain Gutters & Downspouts: It always surprises me when I see barns without rain gutters. My plan is to direct the water from the roof off to a lower-lying area away from the paddocks…

Image found at http://www.thehorse.com

…or, better yet, collect it in barrels to use on gardens and lawns, to conserve water.

Image found at http://www.nestegg.typepad.com

Sacrifice Paddocks & Footing: As you know, each of my stalls will open into a separate paddock, so that horses have access to shelter/water while I’m at work all day. These will be “sacrifice” paddocks (meaning a non-grassy area which is ‘sacrificed’ to allow the grass pastures to rest and grow, and to keep them from being destroyed by hooves in muddy/freezing times).

In order to keep the paddocks from becoming mud holes, I need to create a base/footing that is conducive to dryness. Currently the plan is as follows:

1. Excavate down about 6 inches to remove the organic material that will become muck if left to its own devices;

2. Install geotextile fabric (landscaping fabric) to create a layer between the soil and the gravel, to keep them from mixing. From what I hear/see/read, this is the absolute best way to eliminate (or at least diminish) muddy paddocks;

Image found at http://www.craigmarloch.co.uk

3. Cover the geotextile fabric with one to two inches of large gravel (1 1/4″);

4. Finish with a four to five inch layer of pea gravel (3/8″ round stone).

Image found at sweethorsesbreath.blogspot.ca

French Drains: All of this should keep the paddocks and the area surrounding the barn relatively un-soup-like, but just to be sure, we will also be making use of French drains as necessary. The traditional French drain is just a trench, filled with gravel or rock, which provides easier access for water, allowing it to be redirected away from, say, your barn or paddocks. Most French drains also have a perforated pipe installed, to help keep the water flowing, and to stop it from backing up and creating a pool.

Image found at http://www.mosbybuildingarts.com

Hopefully all of this will work! At the end of the day, I’m hoping for a nice, dry barn & stable yard, and I’ve learned that it’s easier to invest the time and money at the beginning of a project rather than after you’ve discovered that what you have isn’t working. How do you keep your barn & paddocks dry?

Building my Perfect Barn – Part 4: Bedding and Stall Cleaning

I’ve worked in a lot of barns; mine and those of others, big barns and small barns and in-between barns. I’ve mucked out using sawdust, shavings, a combination of both, pellets, shredded newspaper (not kidding), straw and peat moss. While they all have their pros and cons, my top pick has become wood shavings. It offers all of the cleanliness (read: prettiness and good smelling-ness) factor of sawdust, but is less dusty and more readily available. It isn’t quite so easy as sawdust or peatmoss to work with, but can still generally be cleaned out fairly economically, and does create a nice soft cushion between horse and floor, assuming you use enough of it.

Image found at http://www.championshavings.com

I like to bed deeply. I mean, really deeply. Like 12 inches of bedding between the horse and the floor. I know a lot of people will tell me that I’m wasting bedding, but I really don’t see it that way. Besides the initial bedding in of 6 to 8 bales (or wheel barrow loads) to fill up the stall, you’re still only replacing daily what you take out, no matter how much bedding you started with. So maybe it takes a little longer to muck out than if you only used a sprinkling of bedding, but with a plan to have maximum of four horses in my barn, it’s a price I’m more than willing to pay for a sparkling clean barn and nice comfy horses.

Because I have an old horse with old legs, I also plan to bank my bedding up the stall walls quite a bit. This does three things: it keeps out any drafts that might come in around the horses’ legs, it makes it harder for them to get cast (this is very important because I won’t be home all day to keep an eye on them), and it’s great for horses with sore hocks (for example, Sunny, who tends to like to back-pile bedding at the back of her stall and then stand on it to alleviate some of the stress from her joints. Maybe it’s only Sunny who does this, but that’s okay – this barn is for her, after all)!

Image found at smarthorsekeeping.blogspot.ca

I’m still researching the best ways to dispose of manure. I like the idea of having a cement “floor” for the manure to be dumped on, and down over the side of a little hill if possible. Aesthetics are very important to me, so I’d love to plant a little bit of a thicket between the barn and manure pile, and around the edges so it’s not so obvious that it’s… well… a big pile of poop. Who knows, maybe after all is said and done, we can even recoup some of our money?

Image found at http://www.equestrianprofessional.com

Building my Perfect Barn, Part 3: Feeding, Haying & Watering Systems

As the owner of a hard-keeper (and feed tub pooper-in-er), you can rest assured that what I will not be using for feed tubs are those corner feeders that either screw into or clip onto the wall; main reason being that I like to be able to scrub out feed tubs every day, and the more steadfastly they are attached to the wall, the more difficult this is to do. Also, I firmly believe horses should eat head-down, a much more natural feeding position than chest level. A nice, sturdy rubber feed tub (you know, the old fashioned kind) is hard to beat. They’re tough, you can give them a good scrubbing every day, and if a horse steps on it, it will collapse under him, making it much safer than a plastic type.

Image found at http://www.bigdweb.com

In keeping with my theory that ground-level feeding is more natural for horses than chest-level, I also plan to go sans-haynet and feed all hay from the ground. Well, sort of. Because I believe that horses should graze all day, but because I won’t be home to hand out several feedings of hay in the winter days (only to watch it blow around the paddocks), and because I don’t like to see horses stand ’round gorging themselves with their heads stuck in a round bale all day, I have two words to describe my perfect prospective haying system: Slow Feeders.

Schneiders Slow Feeder Saver; image found at blog.sstack.com

With slow feeders, I can ensure that my horses have enough hay to last them the day while keeping them from hoovering up way more hay than they really need. A slow feeder will also solve one of the biggest issues I have with round bales in paddocks, which is the sheer wastage of hay. I don’t know about you, but whenever my horses have been fed using round bales, they ate about a third of them, laid down on another third, and pooped on the final third. That’s a little too much hay ending up in the manure pile for my liking.

Of course, I’m lucky enough to have a very handy husband, and I’ve already got him thinking of ways to make these himself. I’m sure he’ll come up with something workable and durable that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg.

Image found at freedomhorseslive.webs.com

I’m so interested in the idea of slow feeders, I’m even looking into ways of using them, as unobtrusively as possible, indoors in the stalls (because, as we know, rather than run-ins, the horses’ stalls will do double duty as shelters from rain, sleet, heat and bugs while I’m at work, and I’d rather not have them strew hay all about the stalls if I can help it). If anyone has a non-haybag-type of slow feeder usable in stalls, I’d love to hear about it!

Image found at piasparade@blogspot.com

When it comes to watering, I’m a traditional kind of girl. I’ve just never liked automatic watering systems. I know, I know. They’re not the same old waterers that broke and flooded and froze in the winter and could never give you an accurate measurement of just how much your horse was drinking… but I still don’t like ’em. It’ll be good old fashioned water buckets for my barn, thank you very much. Two buckets per stall, and heated ones in the winter (after suffering through an 8 hour day in the corporate world, the last thing I want to have to deal with when I do finally get to my little barn haven is a frozen water bucket)!

As for watering during turnout, in the winter with the horses staying pretty close to their stalls in their cozy little winter paddocks, they can just drink from the heated buckets inside. I know keeping the buckets warm all day and night will cost me a little extra in electricity bills, but it’ll sure cut down on vet bills by preventing colic caused by horses not wanting to drink cold water. Also, with the electrical cord coming out from under the bucket through a small hole in the wall, and plugged into a very safe outlet like this, I will not be concerned about curious horses getting into trouble with the heated buckets.

Photo credit: Pam Levy
Photo credit: Pam Levy

As for watering in the outer paddocks during the warmer months, I don’t want the horses to have to come all the way back to their stalls to get a drink of water. Again, I’ll keep it traditional with the good-old-fashioned rubber tub. They’re lightweight, so they can be easily dumped for daily cleaning.

Image found at http://www.kitncaboodle.com.au

Don’t forget to come back for my next post, when I’ll be talking about bedding and stall care!

Building my Perfect Barn – Part 2: Stall Doors, Walls & Floors

As most of you know, I already board at what I consider to be a nearly perfect little barn. A lot of my wants for my own barn come directly from this one. I have some pretty strong opinions about the interior aspects of my future barn. Stall doors, walls & floors might seem a little bit boring when compared with, say, tack room design… but to me, they are the nuts & bolts of the perfect barn.

Let’s start with stall walls. Now, my sweet little mare, Sunny, doesn’t like other horses looking at her. When she senses their eyes on her, she responds by squealing and kicking her stall wall as hard as she can, often with both hind feet at once. It’s not pleasant, not for her, and not for stall walls. So a tall partition between stalls is extremely important in my barn. Leaving a gap of about two feet between the top of the partitions and the ceiling will allow for a free flow of air while protecting sensitive little mares from prying eyes.

When it comes to doors, I prefer sliding to doors that swing. This is mainly for space saving – I don’t like to block the aisle way with an open swinging door – but I also want the horses to be able to hang their heads out over their doors. For this reason, the doors at Sunny’s current barn are perfect, and I definitely plan on stealing the design!

IMG_0259I also like the front walls of the stalls at this barn. The horses can see everything that’s going on in the aisle way, but they can’t touch noses with the horse next to them (also a necessity for the squealing Miss Sunny). These stalls are very safe, very open, and nice and bright, all things that are extremely important to me.

As for floors… well, here’s where we get into a little bit of trouble. I used to think that rubber pavers are the be-all and end-all, but now that I board (and do weekend barn chores) in a barn with this type of flooring, I think I might have had a change of heart. It looks nice, and it feels nice, but boy, is it hard to sweep! Little bits of hay & dirt get caught in between the pavers, so you can sweep til the cows come home, but that floor is never going to look perfectly clean. I think instead I would prefer texturized rubber mats inlaid into a concrete floor. This offers the same comfort for the horses, but allows me to sweep the barn floor perfectly clean. Win/win!

Photo found at http://www.stableandarena.com

Don’t forget to come back for the next installment – hay, feed & watering systems!