This winter on our farm in Northern BC, we are experiencing hay-feeding season (and the costs and labour associated with it) as something much more than a necessary means to an end (ie keeping everyone alive through the cold months). Every bale we feed, we now see as an investment – into the animals, to be sure, but more importantly through the animals: an investment into the soil we all depend on, into the ecosystem we are a part of, and into the dreams we have for a resilient, bountiful future despite climate change and rapidly increasing uncertainty. And the beautiful bonus: it takes less work and worry than before.
I’ll explain our simple system, and our reasoning behind it, and why we’re so nerdy-excited, but this is less of a “how to” than a “what’s possible” kind of an article – because when you’re working with natural forces, everything is a factor: in this case climate, weather, geography, land available, type of land, type and number of animals, availability of machinery and other resources, time, money, and so on. What we’ve developed is what works for us (at this time) given all those factors, and what works for you will likely look quite a bit different.
Shifting the Thinking
Nature is not linear, and she never misses a chance to multipurpose. Nothing, absolutely nothing, goes to waste in a healthy ecosystem. As modern humans, we are slowly regaining our ability to design systems that mimic successful ones found in nature, but we have a long way to go to harmonize our behaviours with the rest of the world around us.
Horsekeeping can often end up being a net-negative on the the ecosystem the horses are kept in. Horses graze grass right down to the ground, and their hooves causing long lasting compaction and damage to the soil. Most folks shrug and say, “they’re just really hard on pasture.” Many equine stewards attempt to mitigate this damage by rotating the pasture and keeping horses right off it during wet weather. This may save your fields, but is it all you can do?
Recently both Jini (down south) and my mom and I (up north) have been digging deep into regenerative agriculture, a movement within which there are many innovative tools and practices to not just mitigate damage or make a system sustainable (like organic or no-till agriculture), but to actually build and enhance the ability of the soil to heal, grow, and function as the dynamic unseen universe that it truly is. Practices that build topsoil can also sequester carbon, and regenerative agriculture is one of the fastest ways we can actually capture and sequester carbon out of our atmosphere and back into the ground.
The goal is to see land not as a static substrate to extract resources from, but as an active, dynamic ecosystem – and to encourage it and support it to flourish. This cannot be done with plants alone – animals are key drivers in an ecosystem and it is both the stress they apply by consuming vegetation and the nutrients they leave behind in their manure that are so vital for these systems to work.
Most regenerative research and practices are geared toward the economics of ranching and farming. They hone in on profitability, and usually control the grazing of animals – sometimes quite obsessively – to maximize their benefit on the land, and therefore their feed quantities, and therefore their bottom line. It can be as colonial and dominating as any other form of farming – just with better results. As horse people striving for balance and connection, we might have another goal in mind: how can our horsekeeping evolve so that the horses are not just a strain on the ecosystem, but a net positive, a keystone species, a driver of growth and flourishing systems? Can our horses, our loves and joys, be building topsoil, sequestering carbon, and generating their own food just by living their horse lives? Can these beings, who have given us so much personally, also have a physically grounded, real-life beneficial effect on the world in which we all live?
How to Build Topsoil Through the Winter Months
All systems take time, observation, and experimentation to build. Pasture management can feel dry, or overwhelming, or just confusing. Here at our farm, we’re only just beginning to understand how we can effect this kind of change. And by keeping that goal in mind – that the horses be drivers of a healthy ecosystem – we can start to make some shifts and consider the results.
It’s January… it’s winter. No grass is growing, the land feels very sleepy under its snowy mantle and frozen surface. Last year, we discovered, totally by accident, a way to nourish our soil during these hay-feeding months. Our hay guy would bring us one round 800lb bale at a time, cut the strings, and roll it down a hill so that our horses and cows could all access their feed without being driven off a feeder. At first, we were uncomfortable with all the waste we were seeing. They were pooping in the hay, stomping on it, telling us it was time for a new bale before it was all gone! We didn’t have a better option, so we carried on, fussing about the waste and counting the pennies lost.
Come spring, that hillside was thick with green grass, while the rest of the pasture suffered in the wake of a year-round stage-4 drought. I wrote about this in more detail at the end of last summer, when we had really seen the benefits of that hay “treatment” over the winter. The difference was stark, but by then I had stumbled across something called “bale grazing”, a Regenerative Agriculture method that prizes the hay waste and poo left behind as a no-extra-labour way to build organic matter on top of depleted soil – and reduce the cost of feeding hay (in terms of running machinery), as well as the hay required the next season (given that your grass grows better the rest of the year). Here’s the list of benefits I discovered just in our own pasture:
1. Mulch. Mulch is a wonderful retainer of moisture. The wasted hay stalks had covered the damaged soil and kept it from drying out early on.
2. Seed. Hay is full of grass seed. All the uneaten seeds had fallen through the stalks and planted themselves in the moist environment.
3. Fertilizer. Horses and cows poo where they eat! So by unwittingly concentrating their eating area to this hillside, we had also concentrated their manure distribution. We get a hard freeze in the winter for at least a week at a time, which I understand kills the worm load in the manure – we can leave it in the field and not compost it first.
4. Organic material. While grazing removes organic material, hay waste (and poo) actually add it. This area will continue to break down and regenerate as the dead grass returns to the earth.
This hill had been mulched, seeded and fertilized without us lifting a finger.
Scaling Up the System
Last year was – unbeknownst to us – a pilot project in bale grazing. This year, with more cows in our herd and the arrival of Montaro, Juno and Jax, we need a new bale every two days, which is more often than we want to ask our hay man to deliver to us. Having seen the light of how we can leverage our winter feeding bills into increased summer pasture, we also want to “apply” our newfound “fertilizer” to other parts of our depleted fields. We still have no tractor, so we can’t use one to feed every day. Here’s how we’re scaling up our experiment this year:
Calculating Hay Requirements
We calculate that, with 8 small cows and 8 horses, we will need to feed one bale every two days. This is based on an average intake of 25lbs per animal, which is more like 30lbs per horse and 20lbs per cow (all based on a percentage of their weight). From there we can fairly accurately calculate how many bales we’ll need, based on the number of months we expect to feed hay. This is a little harrowing, because we don’t want to order too much and lose money, but we REALLY don’t want to order too little and run out. But once I could see that yes, for the most part we go through 400lbs or half a round bale every day, I could be fairly confident that my total bale numbers were correct. For 7 months of hay, we need about 105 bales.
Setting Up Stations
We order several weeks’ worth of hay bales at a time, and our hay guy sets them out in our field at a “station”. They go out in a long line, and he pays attention to the direction they were rolled up into bales, positioning them so that, when the strings are cut, the bales will roll in the direction I’ve specified (ideally, downhill!). One bale is rolled out, and the rest are thoroughly tarped and weighted down.
Over the course of the 7+ months we need hay, we will create about 7 or 8 “stations”. I keep track of where we’ve already fed, to make sure we can get as many areas as possible treated this winter.
Every two days, I bully either my mom, my husband, or a hapless guest into “rolling one out” with me. We peel back the tarps, roll the hay bale free of the row, cut the strings and remove them, and then slowly roll the whole thing out across the pasture. This allows the whole area in front of the hay station to be “grazed” – leaving behind a thick mat of trampled hay waste, seed, and life-giving poo. Even by hand, this process takes 10 – 30 minutes, and feeds 16-20 animals (the goats come out to graze too) for about 48 hours.
The system is far from perfect! I’ll be the first to admit it. The bales are friggin heavy, and sometimes they freeze to the ground. Much huffing and puffing ensues. They are not completely even, and neither is the lumpy pasture, so they never roll straight and my dreams of uniform rows of hay-waste-and-poo application have gone out the window.
Sometimes the bales come with a “rind” – what we call the thick frozen matting of rotted hay and dirt where the bales have sat on the ground, either in the field or in the farmer’s storage barns. Or, the bales are wound really tight and just don’t want to unroll as we push them. This means we have to kind of work them as we go, pulling off chunks until the rest gives way.
My first attempt, made before the freeze, used electric net fencing to protect the tarped bales from the monsters – I mean cows and horses. But then I had to contend with moving the electric every time I fed a bale, and everything being frozen into the ground (I had to bring out jugs of hot water to melt the ground enough to move the posts), and finally the grounding rod not having enough moisture to conduct electricity! Once the cows knew it wasn’t going to shock them, they set about scratching on all the posts until they broke, climbing over and under the fences, and encouraging the horses to follow suit.
By the time I got the second delivery, we had no way of driving electric fenceposts into the ground, which was frozen solid with only a little snow – nothing to hold the posts upright. Besides, I couldn’t ensure that my second grounding rod would be any better than the first, so what was the point? We double tarped the bales and hoped for the best – which didn’t happen, of course. They found weak points in the wrap and made new holes of their own, feasting out of rips in the tarp and generally messing with the system!
There is no real fix for the physical exertion part – except I could conceivably drive a 4×4 truck or car in and push the hay bale with the bumper! Maybe one day I’ll need to – but with two people we can pretty much manage, even when the bales are stubborn. With any larger or heavier bales we’d be in trouble, though. In that case, even a little tractor (if you had one) could do the trick, since it wouldn’t have to actually lift the bales once they were in place.
I still haven’t had a brainwave on how to deal with the electric fence situation. If the right area allowed it, I could use my lightweight arena panels, I suppose. But I don’t have enough to go right around, and so I’d need the bales to be against the fence – which can’t always be the case, depending on where I place the hay station. The horses and cows get bored of the rolled-out hay on the second day and start eating the forbidden bales mostly for novelty – they like a challenge, they like helping themselves, and they like the tactile game of pulling hay through hard-to-reach places.
So instead, I’m using a distraction tactic. When Jini sent up the three geldings, she also sent us a round-bale sized hay net. I push out an extra bale, take off the strings and net it – voila: a ready-made hay toy, something to chew on during the in-between day when the hay isn’t fresh but isn’t all gone, and to direct their monkey energy onto something other than our vulnerable hay tarps!
It ain’t perfect, but it’s working. I look out at the mess of frozen poo and wasted hay getting trampled into a thick mat on top of the snow, and I feel decidedly smug, predicting that I’m going to see something other than hawkweed and buttercups here next year. We had a desperately wet fall, and the moisture held in the ground will further accelerate the grass growth when the soil warms up. But that will also set us up for the next time we do experience drought, because the organic matter the horses and cows have applied for us – and the resulting network of grass roots that will grow – will retain more moisture and protect our soil from drying out and killing off the forage.
Our next task before the thaw will be to hand-sow a seed mix that brings in more varieties of legumes and grasses than the usual hay-seed – which will benefit both the animals in more varied nutrition, and the ecosystem diversity. Then, when the grass is growing, we will split the field into two and rotate the herds quickly enough that the grass doesn’t get grazed down below about 6 inches. More on that when we’ve actually done it!
Back to the here and now – this experiment itself is fun, and it also solves a very real and basic problem for us: how to feed this many animals without a tractor. But the real satisfaction is in taking a big step into regenerative practices, and having a vision for how our actions, now that they’re getting more conscious, will affect our farm into the future. I used to feed from a place of scarcity – how much is this costing, how much are you wasting, how fat are you getting, please just be more reasonable – and now I feel like we’re feeding more from abundance, because we can see it all fitting together into a more bountiful possibility. Only time will show us if it “works” but I’ve got a good feeling about this one.
A barefoot hoof trimmer, a singer/songwriter, an amateur farmer – these are some of the hats Kesia Nagata wears when she’s not full to bursting with wondrous equine co-creation.
40 thoughts on “How We Feed in Winter to Build Soil & Grow More Grass”
Thank you Keshia!
This is so helpful and a wonderful shift in thinking. I also feed straight on the ground and have witnessed regeneration where hay has seeded the ground. However we have recently moved and things are much, much harder at our new place.
I need to apply this to our situation – which is very different to yours with lots of very wet clay soil and big square bales which are not possible to roll out. Again like you no tractor.
Interested to read comments of others using this method.
Ps I’m sorry I spelt your name wrong Kesia, just noticed after sending.
Yeah so challenging to move somewhere with harder-to-work-with conditions. I suppose you could still flake off the big bales and throw them around – bit more work but you do have more control that way on where the hay waste ends up. Again, the physical labour doesn’t end up being as much as traditional feeding systems 2+ times per day with clean up!
Very cool that you’ve seen this working at your previous place. Keep us posted what you figure out for the wet clay soil!
And haha, no worries about the name, I knew you meant me!
Wondering if this method works in a purely horse herd? Does the cow poop help the growth where the horse stuff is acidic at first year? How’d your summer go last season and did you do this again in Jan 2021?
Hey Jake, any poo will do as far as I know 🙂 cow poo has some advantages, but so does horse poo. One of which is that they often harbour seeds in their poo and that can contribute to reseeding.
What we are finding over all is that it’s a slow process. Counterintuitively, we don’t have enough animals on our pasture to build up much organic matter very quickly. Last summer, we still ran out of grass. But this spring, the patches we fed on last-last winter (2019/2020, when I wrote the post) are showing lush new grass and dandelions where there was hawkweed (indicating richer soil, and also dandelion’s taproot makes way for more plant species). We have made some changes, namely that we don’t spread bales out anymore, or try to limit the animals. This past winter we simply had them dropped in the field once a month. This makes for less labour and more waste – somewhat expensive, but there’s always a compromise. We are also leaving a denser mat of bay and poo behind, which will slow down growth this summer but probably show more dramatic results the following year.
Hope that helps!
Thanks for responding, I too am seeing some slower response from the fields, but my inadvertent experiment (like yours) has generated some hay-grass that the horses are now eating and not to the ground. The roll-out was something I never tried because my horses are picky and wont eat spread hay after a few hours. Leaving the bail (wrap on or in a large wooden/pallet feeder) seems to make it focused and easy to plan out, while slowing the horses’ ability to waste it. I agree its slow going (and my farms looks like trash from Google Earth) but I like the trend and the fact that I am NOT spraying or limiting our old horses’ exercise and quality of life. (we average >20yo)
Haha I hear you, my fields look like trash too. We have to work with what we’ve got, but I simply cannot see anything wrong with adding organic material and waiting. I love that you’re seeing some new grass species coming up.m. I’m hoping to get the herd right off our main field this year, when we get some more fences built. I’m sure it can heal a lot faster given a break from being stomped and devoured. My neighbours have the same challenges and I’ve seen them till, spray and fertilize – except for a flush of grass at first they seem to be right back to struggling again. And yes, it’s so wonderful to be able to continue to offer the animals space and freedom when winter feeding can be so restrictive. Would love to hear what else you notice over time. I’ve seen more mushrooms, which love the poo-hay combo, and promote different kinds of break down as well as more complex species organization/communication. It’s all slow, but also exciting.
Thank you for sharing this wonderful information
I live in the wine country south east of France so completely different however your posr has given me lots to experiment and think about
wishing everyone an interesting and heartfelt 2020
Is it quite dry there? I spent a few days in the Camargue, and passed through the general region from Catalonia to Marseilles.
If so, I think you have some room to experiment with this kind of thing – it’s hardest to do in persistently wet climates.
Let us know if you have any questions or want to bounce some ideas back and forth!
Thanks for the 2020 wishes, and the same to you Monica 🙂
Wonderful article…what a great suggestion for the dilemma of regenerating horse pastures!
Any suggestions on holistic rat control? Been dealing with the problem and cayenne pepper under the hood of my car seems to be working.
Hey Suzy! I don’t actually have any experience with rats (thanks goodness) but I do remember a conversation about mice on the Facebook page…I’ll see if I can find it…
Thank you so much. This is very helpful. I have a large field that the horses graze in during summer and fall and I need to maintain it better but didn’t know how. Now I have some ideas to work with.
Very cool Jocelyn, let us know what you discover with your land! It’s all about ideas…and experiments… and sharing!
I’m thinking of the horse power you have; why dream of an unecofriendly tractor? Some type of moveable hook that you put into the bale and are able to take out and reinsert as the bale unwinds, a simple harness for the horse, teaching to roll it across the field………. I wonder if one of the horses would step up to the task if you asked????? Hey, Juno, you wonderful muscle horse…..any interest in helping out here?
omg this is a fantastic idea Claudia! A hay hook would work wonderfully and has a handle where you could tie the pull line. Jax, Montaro or Juno are all strong enough to do this! Jax is the smartest/quickest one, so I usually teach him things first and then the others pick it up in a snap. I heard someone else used an inner tube as the harness that goes over the head and around the neck/chest. Then a couple long lines attached to the hay hook (or two hooks) ought to do it 🙂 Just need a quick-release knot on the hooks in case they spook in the beginning. Over to you Kesia!
Great idea! With the right set up and a good batch of bales (that unravel as they roll, unlike this frozen batch!) it could work – Louka the Giant Dog popped an inner tube used for river floats so if I can find it, we are part way there. Now to convince someone to help 🤔 I just can’t see Montaro letting everyone eat while he does all the work…!
Good point! Although it could be like that day I got on Zorra’s back and then EVERYONE wanted to be ridden because it became a prestige thing – ya never know!
Great reading, a few years back we had 8 extra horses come to stay in a relatively small
paddock we used bale buddies to feed the hay, did have concerns volume of horse
ratio to grass, but they all did great, interesting although we poo picked and put around
the edge of field, that field has had the most prolific grass especially where the bale
Watching a farming programme recently this farm in the south UK was show, thought
you might like to see how they went about ‘rewilding’. I know not the same as Canada
in depth of winter but sure you will enjoy x go to 15min video, short one is repeated.
Love this and makes me see how easy we have it here! With just 4 horses…. No tractor either. We use slow feeders nets, but I do put down loose hay in the colder weather, and I also see it as a mulch and a positive. In fact, I started creating a little grass area outside the paddock, dumping extra hay while raking extra bits, and it of course grew already… I can’t wait to see what it will look like in the spring. It’s a tiny area, but if I take one horse out, he can spend an hour on it, munching grass, which does not grow in their paddock. And if I water it I can probably bring a horse out every day for an hr 🙂
We also have tarps because we don’t have a hay shelter yet (happening this year!) and it’s just not the best for us because it’s so windy here in the spring/summer. Tarps are such a pain in the wind! You have your work cut out though with the cold/frozen/stuck bales!
But it’s learning from the process and figuring out what works in a particular situation. One question I have is when do you feel it’s time to move the horses out so they don’t trample the tiny seedings growing? I guess you’ll figure that out too?
When we moved here, I spent time talking to various people who have lived here (I was listening carefully, I knew I would learn something!) and one guy told me his dad had 25 acres and some cows (I forget how many, maybe 8-10) and he had the 25 acres divided in 3 parcels, and would move the cows around. When this guy inherited the land from his dad, he took off all the fences, and let the cows in one large pasture… I don’t know why 🙂 He admitted that within a season or two, the cows had turned the whole thing to dirt…. Agghh!
Of course you have so much land there, that over time you can create more fields. And once you figure out how it works, it’ll go so much faster!
I would love a small tractor. But a friend bought one, and it’s so loud and smelly! It totally killed the experience for me. I am eyeing those electric ones, but they are not cheap.
Thanks for posting, I am looking forward to seeing the progression!
Every situation is so different…I’d like to figure out what some good core principles and practices are that could apply no matter what… maybe we will all figure that out slowly with our different experiments.
I love that you’re making a grazing area! Great use of wasted hay and the space you do have.
On the tractor front, we haven’t suffered much without one. Yes, we have needed tractor work done (mostly for fencing and such) but so rarely that it feels more worth it to pay someone to use theirs rather than buy and maintain one for ourselves. And besides, we ideally want to lessen our dependence on fossil fuels, not increase it!
I’ve been resistant to rotation and I am kind of imagine why that guy thought, to hell with it, without knowing why his dad did it. I don’t like chopping up the land too much and limiting their space – but finally willing to try!
We will hold them back in our small field this spring, and do this bale grazing thing very heavily while we wait for the grass to grow. Then we will rotate them between two paddocks in the big field and give the small field a chance to grow. Hooves crossed it works out the way I imagine (does it ever, quite?)
And yes tarps are a pain in the butt but so versatile and cheap compared to shelters!
YES! You REALLY have to run your numbers before buying/leasing a tractor. I hire tractors all the time – every month for the manure bin and then seasonally for all kinds of things. It would be SO handy to have my own. BUT. Everytime I run the numbers on it, it’s WAY cheaper to hire out then to buy/lease my own.
Tractors are a pain in the BUTT! Very grateful I don’t actually *need* one!
I mean yes, very handy, but appear to require constant work, and are not cheap AT ALL.
I’ve thought about this a lot – along with my Paddock Paradise thoughts. And I think the solution is to have pastures that are BIG enough that they don’t look/feel ‘chopped up’. And the horses still have LOTS of room to thunder about and ‘travel’ within each field. So maybe in addition to being big enough, try to include varied terrain (hills, trees, corners?) in each one as well.
But then really you end up with what you have and have to work around it – some folks have a flat rectangle and some of us have variation, so in the end you just have to get creative with what you have! And really, we have to observe without our own projections getting in the way – how much space do they really need to enjoy themselves and move enough, if they’re constantly accessing healthy forage and moving to new paddocks regularly? Maybe it’s less than we “feel” or prefer visually. Then of course, lots of regenerative ranchers are working over large spaces of land, and their “paddocks” are bigger than most of our entire properties! And some even forego fences and just herd the cows into new areas, using water access and salt/mineral blocks to “anchor” them to a fenceless “paddock”.
Just gotta get imaginative and try stuff out!
This is awesome! Jini directed me to the book Dirt to soil …and I am thinking you might have read it too…as this is so much of what I am learning! I also spread hay over the horses night time main area…which is about roughly 2-3 acres! I started this for movement and to keep any one horse from hoarding all the hay! The waste does tend to make you see dollar bills on fire or vanishing into thin air…but now that I have read most the book I know I am helping replenish the land…so that really helps! In our area of California we don’t have the deep freeze affect though… so I continue to pick poo…which I realize takes a big piece of the puzzle away from the equation! Bullet came to me with a huge worm burden and I try to keep his exposure to manure to a minimum! Even with herbs nuts seeds and a lot of the herbal solutions & working to heal his gut…he will still test high for worms…& then I usually chemically worm him a couple times a year! So I use the manure from this area (I leave the other part of the 12 acres they access as is poo and all) to fertilize the garden area and grow the Whole Foods for the horses and the family! It worked great the first year then I blew it the second year thinking tilling would help and it destroyed the soil…I had started to build😩
Now after learning from the book …I know why …and all the things I did wrong!
I would love to find a farmer growing hay this way so I could purchase it for the horses for our main feed! Is your hay -round bales grown without pesticides and fertilizers? If not…do you feel this impacts the land you spread it on? Poison seems to be so prevalent all around us…I worship the idea of getting completely away from it and using Mother Nature’s own strategies to combat any and all problems we as human come up against! Because growing your own food can be very hard and frustrating when you see the pests consume or destroy all your hard work…So I do understand why it has become so widely used! But learning from the book I see there can almost always be a natural solution a ying to a yang to work with Mother Nature not against her! ✌🏼❤️🐴
Maybe you can get help with the worm and pesticides problem with EM Effective Microorganisms, just take a look: https://emrojapan.com/ and https://www.teraganix.com/ or maybe you get just some new ideas. I know – this seems to mean to spent even more money. But I use EM, and it is just fantastic. It improves the composting and splits up poisons to make them harmless. No exaggeration… You can see it as helping Mother Nature along with her tasks.
Yeah I’m reading Dirt to Soil and was happy to see bale grazing in there! Up until now I’ve been working off of facebook posts and articles I’ve seen on the internet. The whole climate thing still stretches my brain, trying to think how each climate would affect the efficacy of any technique – but I love hearing that it’s working for you in Cali! The poo thing – another factor I’m so happy not to have to do much about. But I suppose you could compost it and reapply if you thought your fields really needed it.
We don’t have any regenerative hay growers but we do get it without any spray. Fertilizer is harder to avoid, and like you I understand why people think it makes sense… Now I’ve also learned about preservatives, so have to ask a lot of questions when buying hay. We really have to be clear about the herbicides, because it doesn’t break down in the manure and will hurt plants grown in it even years after composting. It’s nuts – so many gardeners and community gardens around here have gotten rotted manure for their beds and had their plants bolt and die because the farmer might have fed sprayed hay years before, and even if they swear truthfully they haven’t sprayed in years, the manure pile has retained traces. They just don’t know how persistent it is and why would they want to admit that!
I think it’s just so cool that we’re all thinking about these things. I didn’t have any clue about any of it until I started thinking about my own land – suddenly it gets a whole lot more motivating, hey?
Excellent observations and superb for sharing! Another simple / cheap input ypu can add over the hay / poo line after they have moved on to the next line is either the wood ash feom your fireplace or better biochar (easiest way to make is pour water over a good camp fire / fire place the water acts to eliminate oxygen and you are lwft with the black chard wood / bio char as opposed to grey ash from a fire left to burn out slowly) as it sequesters mass amounts of carbon back into the soil especially being inoculated with the poo and urine.
Just took a stroll through your site Maria and your place is AMAZING! If I ever get to Costa Rica I’ll definitely pop by for a visit 🙂 Your property sounds like horse paradise.
Yes, we also try and leave the hay and poo on the land as much as possible. Also no tractor, 9 horses and a 30 hectare (70 acre) piece of wildness in Portugal where the horses are an integral part of our regeneration plan. Our hay season starts in summer so then we tend to move the location around based on which location could use help, delivering with jeep and trailer. Once it gets wet we try not to drive off road at all. So we feed in one area and pick up the poo and waste hay and wheelbarrow it to bare slopes that need mulch and food. Yes it’s work, but sooo worth it. This is our 3rd year doing this and we really see the difference it makes. Talk about nerd, I have so many photos of patches of dirt haha.
Nayana, I love this and want to hear more!! Nerd freely here – how did you decide/realize horses could help you regenerate? Do you have some before and after for us fellow horse-dirt nerds?
Really interesting. Trying to use horses and goats to restore 14 acres here in SW Colorado. We are also in stage 4 drought but ours is very different. Without water stuff doesn’t decay. Love the large bale idea but one of my horses is a hoover and will literally eat herself to death. The goats are total pigs. May have to do a more controlled version. Before I moved here there weren’t horses on the land for probably ten years. Dried horse poop in the fields. 6″ of rain last year. Sigh.
Have you ever had your horse on free choice? Every hoover I have known has eventually regulated when given the (scary) chance to… Also, you could use nets if you don’t already – doesn’t really do the whole spreading of hay thing but could maybe help in the interim?
Tell me about pig-goats, our 4 are practically obese. Like, armpit flab chubby.
6 inches! So tough. We here are coastal-interior and so stage 4 was a total WHAAATT IS HAPPENING kind of a situation. But it’s all changing pretty fast – they predict we will have more total precipitation, but in flash flood events, and higher temps over all in this region.
Speaking of composting… did you know you can now compost dead horses ABOVE GROUND?
So interesting. In healthy soil, a body disappears pretty darn fast… I’ve seen it with chickens but this is a whole other level! What a wacky business….
Luckily I don’t have to worry about disposal here… but when they go, maybe it would be nice to make amazing soil out of their bodies instead of just leaving them in the wayback.
I think it’s a great idea 🙂
Great article! Thanks for sharing!
I live in south central Alaska, so a cold climate like you, and thought the cold killed worm eggs, too. Boy was I ticked when I found out heat is what does the job.
Hello to you in Alaska!
This isn’t terribly scientific, but I’ve heard so many conflicting things about worms and never actually had a worm problem, so I just carry on… I do think a healthy gut biome and a healthy ecosystem help massively, whether there are worms present or not (and there are always worms present!). What do you do or not do about worms in your region?