By Michelle K. Binder-Zolezzi, Relational Riding Academy
Seems very early to think about winter when it is just August at the time of this writing. Still the Boy Scout motto “Be prepared” is applicable to a variety of situations. Winter will come, and with it, snow, rain and cold. This is the time to think about what your livestock will need and how you can best care for them and your property. Many of us remember the winter of 2009 when at least 11 equestrian facilities collapsed and numerous others were damaged by the above average snow loads experienced that winter. Every type of indoor arena I know of, whether it was a Cover-All fabric and steel structure, an all steel construction, or a pole building, experienced structural failures all over Spokane. Now is the time to inspect your buildings and repair any damage from any cause, before our temperatures plummet and the snow starts flying and piling!
Step one: Inspect your buildings, better yet, have them inspected by a professional. Pay particular attention to four areas: roof, trusses, posts, drainage.
If you stand in the building and can see patches of blue sky, yes, you have a leak! Get up there and patch it before it rains. There are many ways to patch: from paint on sealants, to replacing sheeting or roofing panels, to replacing worn fasteners and rubber washers. Obvious leaks are not the only ways that moisture can come inside. Cracks, wicking and poor installation of roofing materials can all contribute. A roofing professional can help you decide what is the best fix for the situation. While you are standing there gazing upward to see if you see daylight, move directly under each of your trusses and check out what they look like.
Now, LOOK AGAIN! You need to notice more than that they are there. Are the press plates securely fastened to the lumber at every joint or do they appear to be popped out or unattached? If these press plates are failing, do you see cracks or breaks in the lumber? Are the purlins securely attached and straight or are there gaps at important attachment sites? Are the truss uprights straight or have they warped due to being overloaded over time? Are the tops of the trusses still perfectly lined up with the chords at the bottom, is there deviation in one direction or more, or are the trusses twisted? These symptoms may be indicators of a phenomenon known as “lateral torsional buckling”, telltale signs of building stress and potential loss of strength. If you see issues, get your building checked out by a qualified professional.
Check out the posts that hold up those trusses. Are the trusses securely attached or has drying and twisting caused the posts, trusses and wall supports to come away from each other at any point? Look down, better yet, dig down a little and check the condition of the posts at ground level. If the posts are noticeably rotted, it may indicate that dry rot may have damaged the building at ground level or drainage issues are present that need to be addressed. Outside, does the ground slope adequately away from the building so water does not pool around those posts causing problems? Proper grading of the ground around a building or the installation of curtain or French drains can control drainage and reduce water damage over time. Again, if you notice these issues, consult a qualified professional who can help determine the structural soundness of the building and ways in which repairs may be made to extend the life of the structure.
Now let’s go outside and talk about mud management. Mud management strategies vary and information is available through the WSU Extension Service regarding the importance of protecting our ground water supply as well as the overall health of the watershed in your area. Besides water, two main things contribute to the creation of mud… traffic and organic material like manure. If you have livestock, you have manure and sometimes, rotten feedstuffs that have been trampled into the dirt. Organic matter combined with disruption from animal hooves turns wet ground into mud. Your number one defense against mud is to clean areas adequately year round and drain high traffic areas like feeder areas and paddocks with ditches and drainage material. Standard fixes include dumping boatloads of gravel or hog fuel into problem areas, only to have “erosive evacuation” (cleaning) remove your expensive fills so you must replace them year after year.
There are more and more new products on the market designed to stabilize your soil and prevent mud from developing. Two such products are “Eco-grid” (www.terrafirmenterprises.com) available under several trade names, and a product called “Lightfoot Paddock Base Panels” (www.lightfootequinesurfaces.com). Both work on the principle of a “cellular confinement system” that holds the paddock footing in place while allowing drainage and eliminating the plunger effect of the horses hooves which causes deep mud to form. Both claim to be easy to install and cost efficient over time. They can be used in large or small areas like gate openings, paddocks, round pens and even outdoor arenas. These systems are worth looking into especially if your problem areas are relatively small in size.
Feed and water are crucial to livestock survival. Clean feed in the winter can be assured by utilizing covered slow feeders and interior spaces that are clean and dry. Once horses trample hay into the mud, they will not eat it, nor should they. If you have muddy outdoor areas where you feed on the ground, the 2-3 flakes of hay you throw quickly become only one edible flake and the rest bedding. It is easy to see how horses lose weight in the winter and why the hay bill goes up! If you rely on big bales put out, the risk of the horses having nothing but wet, spoiled, muddy hay to eat is too great for many horse owners. Try box feeders or covered big bale feeders designed for horses. It will save you time, effort, energy and money in the long run.
Finally, make sure your stock has access to clean, drinkable water. A full water trough with an inch of ice on top does not count as an available water source. There are many different types of tank heaters on the market, some that work better than others. There are small ones and large ones, some that float and some that vibrate. Floating tank heaters have caused problems when used in plastic tanks as there is no cage to keep the heating element away from the edge of the tank. Ours melted a ring all the way around the tank and the top was cut off at the water level! The biggest problem with all of them is that they require electricity. I do not know why there are no solar powered stock tank heaters readily and economically available. Take great care using extension cords and to make sure that electrical outlets are kept clean and dry, and that the power requirements of the unit are compatible with the power supply and breaker system. In any case, if no power source is near the water source, please do your best to break ice as often as is possible. Winter temperatures can dehydrate an animal as quickly as summer heat and when dry feedstuffs are fed in cold conditions with inadequate hydration, the danger of impaction colic in horses is great.
Winter is on the way. Start thinking about what needs to be done to prepare for it, take the actions necessary and rest easier knowing you are ready for whatever Mother Nature sends.