A Little Bit Western


From the Horse’s Mouth

Jun 30, 2015

We have a few horses kicking around the ranch that are of various shapes, sizes, and ages. We use our horses daily in our ranch work, whether it’s for moving cattle, or sorting cow-calf pairs, or treating sick animals, so they certainly earn their keep. Horses, however, do not stop grazing. Ever. Their heads are always pointed down and their prehensile lips are busy nibbling away at precious grass at all times. This can be a bit of a predicament, as we like to keep the horses relatively close to our yard, for ease of catching and saddling them, yet they will quickly eat the grass in our nearby fields that we would rather reserve for our cattle. Especially in years, such as this one, where grass is slow to grow.

Another opposing predicament I find myself in at this time of year is keeping up with yard maintenance, namely mowing our grass. While we’re still hoping the grass in our pastures and hay fields will gain some much needed momentum, the grass in my yard seems to be growing at a rapid pace and that grass can sure get away on a girl.

On one hand, we’re challenged with mowing the grass in our yard. On the other hand, our horses need grass to graze close to the yard. I think you can see where I’m going with this… yes, this challenge becomes the quintessential opportunity. Pound in a few temporary rebar fence posts, string a flexible electric wire, set up a water trough, grab some willing (and hungry) horses and voila! You too can have your very own high-intensity, low-frequency rotational yard grazing system.

We’ve learned a thing or two about using equines as environmentally-friendly lawnmowers and we’ve tweaked the system as needed. Some parts of our yard are large and square lend themselves nicely to being converted to a temporary grazing paddock. Other parts of our yard require fencing angles that are so intricate and awkward that if a horse sneezes or a post gets knocked out, all you’re left with is a mess of tangled string. Also, not every critter is suited to this type of grazing system. When you add an unfamiliar horse to the mix, inevitably the newbie is kicked out of the club and winds up on the wrong side of the fence. Including mules in my grazing scheme is also a bit of a wild card. Dexter, our resident smarty-pants mule, can be a willing grazer, however he bores easily. As soon as I see him coolly looking over the fence towards greener pastures, it’s time to move him out of the grazing program before he disrupts things for everyone.

There are some notable benefits of our grazing program, including being able to saddle and unsaddle horses from the deck of our house, enabling us to be rather lazy at the end of a busy day. The kids thoroughly enjoy the situation and have fun with their daily chore of watering the horses, and monitoring their general whereabouts. The horses enjoy the extra attention that they wouldn’t otherwise get if they were in a large pasture.

The set-up is not perfect, but of course, nothing ever is. There are steaming piles of road apples that are left behind in sometimes inconvenient locations. There is the odd unscheduled tree-pruning that takes place which isn’t always ideal. There are hoof prints in my flower beds. The ongoing problem I battle with flies in the yard is only compounded by the ponies’ presence. But let’s face it, seeing a couple of mares relax beside a hastily parked children’s bike is rather entertaining.

The grass isn’t always greener on the other side of the fence, but for us and our horses at this time of the year, it’s about as green as it can get.

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