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Land Preservation with the Track System

Green grass is here, but how do we keep our horses from overgrazing every blade in the first month and turning our property into a dirt lot?  There is hope!  A few years ago I read an article about a Texas A & M military reenactment group who were using a track system at their five acre base to keep their horses fit for their weekend duties.

Forward to a couple years ago when we moved to our new property.  It was a blank slate with no fencing or any horse amenities.  We requested an evaluation from Colorado State University Extension Agent Jennifer Cook, who is a grasses and grazing specialist, to come over to look at the natural state of our property and to advise us on how to best steward and preserve our land while the horses also enjoyed the property.  One of her suggestions was a track system.

There are certainly exceptions, but in general, the arid Colorado climate flora cannot sustain continuous grazing.  So how do we keep the horses happy, healthy and living the way they were designed to live which is walking and grazing throughout the day? The track system!  The principle behind the track system is to sacrifice smaller areas in order to save larger areas while keeping the horses moving and grazing.

The track system can work on most any size of property.  In our case, we designated one pen with the water and shelter that the horses have access to all day, and we shut them in there at night for our own peace of mind and so we are more likely to hear them if anything is amiss.  The back gate from the pen opens to the track, which is a 12’ wide thoroughfare that makes a circle perimeter around about 6 acres.  We also created two other wide areas along the track for feeding hay.  The recommended track width is 6’ to 12’ wide.  The narrower width will keep them moving more, but wider will provide more escape routes from dominant horses.  We have three horses on our track and the 12’ width seems to give horses that know each other plenty of room to negotiate.

In the morning, we put hay out in the two larger areas and open the gate to the track.  The horses spend their day walking the track to the hay and coming back to the water.  This time of year there is a little grass that comes up on the track, but the track and the pen are essentially sacrifice areas where the traffic is too heavy to grow much vegetation.

The area in the middle of the track we have divided into three pastures that we use to rotate the horses through for an hour or two each day.  That time decreases or may even cease if the grass heights get too low, but they still have the track to keep them walking and busy.

Ideally, we would have slow feed hay nets around larger hay bales in the feeding areas, but that does not work where we are with the elk and deer.

We have noticed an increased level in the fitness of the horses and are amazed at how they walk the track most of the day, sometimes “doing the loop” at a gallop just for fun.  It is a great way to keep your horses fit if you don’t get to ride as much as you would like.  You will find they move a lot more then they do in an open pasture.

 

Materials are flexible.  We have seen more permanent tracks or just electric fencing.  We chose cord electric fencing and T-Posts with caps over the majority of the track to try it out.  We picked cord over tape because it does not catch the wind and snow like the tape.  Starting with the “temporary” fencing gives you the flexibility to change the width and maybe the route.

Pasture Paradise by Jaime Jackson

Benefits of a track system:

  • Sacrifice small areas to save large areas for grazing
  • Ease of grazing management
  • More stimulating environment for horses
  • Prevents boredom and vices
  • Preserves the beauty of your property
  • Keeps horses moving all day
  • Mirrors the natural environment by horses walking, eating smaller amounts at a time
  • Keeps horses fit

The track system can work in all different climates and for different purposes.  If the majority of your land is used for arenas or barns, the track system can be a great way to use those smaller spaces and corridors for exercise and turnouts.  We have utilized our track system for over two years now and it has been revolutionary for our horse keeping and land management.

Heather McWilliams © 2018

For more information:  http://www.all-natural-horse-care.com/paddock-paradise.html

Paddock Paradise – A Guide to Natural Horse Boarding by Jaime Jackson

Pen sacrifice area with water and shelter

Track area made from cord electric fencing, note green grass on either side.

Fencing, Pasture & Hay Storage – Horsekeeping Mountain Style! #1

If you keep your own horses at home in our mountain area, you know that we don’t fit into the average book on “horsekeeping on small acreages”.  Of course even from property to property the technicalities can vary greatly because of geography, covenants, flora and fauna.  This is the first installment in a series of what to consider while you enjoy having your horses at home.

Fencing and Pasture

Fencing is a very broad topic and varies from neighborhood to neighborhood with what the covenants dictate, what the ground will allow and of course what you can afford.  Whatever you do, consider the wildlife that we enjoy and share the mountains with along with your horses.  The Division of Wildlife has a “must read”, excellent brochure on many types of fencing and specifications that work for wildlife and livestock – go to www.wildlife.state.co.us and find “Fencing with Wildlife in Mind”.   In general, elk and deer need to be able to safely jump the fences and calves and fawns need to be able to safely crawl under.

With our arid climate and in order to protect your land from erosion and being picked down to dirt fairly quickly, it is always important to have a sacrifice area, lot or runs to keep your horses off of a larger turn-out area for periods of time.  Maybe you only have enough for a small lot, but if you have an area that is larger, it is worth some cross fencing to allow a little grass to grow for your horse to enjoy and feel like a horse.  The fencing on your lot or runs should be made of very safe, secure and sturdy materials since the horses will be in there for longer periods of time and will likely be using it for itching, leaning, and reaching.  Other things to consider are the level and space between the fence to prevent a leg, head or other body part from being stuck or rubbing their mane out.  The Colorado State Extension Service at www.ext.colostate.edu has great resources for managing local small acreages and they would welcome your call or email.

For fencing materials, there are many options that can be aesthetically pleasing and fairly inexpensive to obtain.  Look for local resources that are readily available to save money on the freight and materials.  Beetle kill wood is one example of this in Colorado, whereas in Texas it may be pipe and cable.   One application is “Zig Zag” or “Worm” Fencing that uses long straight trees, is attractive, requires no post holes, is relatively easy to install and if you or someone you know is mitigating Lodgepole Pine off of their property, it can be quite inexpensive or even free.

For the majority of the properties up here, there is just not any way to get around feeding horses some amount of hay year round.  Our grass just does not get enough moisture to recover that quickly.  There are a few properties that can and the rest of us suffer from pasture envy.  The stocking rates are around one 1,000 pound horse per 30 acres of dry pasture, but a water source can improve that number.   Using rotational grazing by cross fencing sections or cells of your pasture will increase the grass production and pasture health, but not your stocking rates.  The principle used on this land is called “take half, leave half”- Your horses eat down half of the forage and then you remove them from that portion for about 30 days to let it recover.   Many people in our area limit the pasture turn-out time of their horses to a number of hours that works for them, their land and grasses.  One disadvantage of this is that the horses may only eat one type, their favorite type of grass during that period, making the recovery for that grass difficult.  It is important to mention that when your pasture or lot has trees in it, it critical for the horses safety to trim any dead branches off from ground level to a couple feet above their eye level to keep them from poking eyes, legs and other body parts.

Hay Storage

Hay Storage and fencing can be related if you don’t have a place in your barn or a hay barn to keep it from other hungry hooved animals.  If elk and deer get into your hay, it is not only costly to you, it is not good for them.   Refer again to the above DOW brochure on “Fencing with Wildlife in Mind” for great hay storage solutions.  Some options include fencing in a storage area that must be 7-8 feet high to keep elk and deer from jumping in.  Panels, similar to large wooden pallets, are also functional and can be moved around to different locations.  While in use, the slats on the panels should be vertical to prevent them from being climbed and also secured together to create a complete barrier.   Of course, hay should be kept securely tarped (remember the wind!) and off of the ground.

Copyright 2013 Heather McWilliams, MtnHomes4Horses.com.