Paddock Planning

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I recently read a really excellent blog post over at Building & Managing the Small Horse Farm (an excellent blog, if you haven’t checked it out yet!) about designing a layout for the small farm. My first train of thought is that I’m glad I’m not the only person who uses Google Maps for basically anything when it comes to layout out and designing my farm; my second thought was that using space effectively can make a huge difference in the functionality and usability of rural space.

Planning my own paddocks has been an interesting exercise from the beginning, and the whole process is still in relative stages of infancy. There are a few layout and structural considerations that I’ve had to keep in mind the whole time, the first of which being that there isn’t a great deal of cleared land to turn horses out on. Most of our 49 acres is deciduous Carolinian-type forest, which, while incredibly beautiful and ideal for riding on the trails, isn’t necessarily the best place for turnout; with limited to no grazing options, a greater risk of injury than a cleared paddock area, it would be a challenge to put horses in the forest full time.

One of the other challenges I’m facing in paddock planning is that one of the turnout areas that already exists backs on to another farmer’s property, who currently uses a portion of it to graze his cattle on. The current owner of our farm has an excellent relationship with this farmer and has allowed the cattle to graze there for years — I’m totally okay with this, but with there being no boundary fence between the two properties, it could be a little bit of a hassle to keep my horses on my own land.

In reality, there isn’t a whole lot of turnout space or rich pasture. Its a challenge of maximizing space available and using it effectively, and managing the land that’s already there to the best of my ability. It also means repairing fence lines where they exist, and adopting a multi-use philosophy for some turnout spaces when necessary. This also means (to the great relief of my family) that I won’t be able to do the inevitable hoarding of ponies 😉

To give you an idea, here’s an overhead survey view of the property (there are two 1-acre lots severed off of it, one of which has sold):

Satellite survey view of the whole ~50 acres, outlined in bright green.
Satellite survey view of the whole ~50 acres, outlined in bright green.

And, here’s a zoomed-in view of the main part of the property, with current fence boundaries noted in bright blue:

overhead-current

So knowing this, here’s a rough idea of the plans I’m putting into motion, in priority sequence:

  1. Fix up the current fencing and gates, and close off the old sand ring.
    I’d like to see how deep the sand is under the overgrowth — will probably let the horses graze on this for a bit and start churning it up, then possibly re-turn it into a real sand ring next spring/summer. It can also work wonderfully as a sacrifice paddock for when the hill needs to be rested, dragged, or seeded/fertilized. Many of the gates on the property are old and need some repairs — shouldn’t take too much work, though!
  2. Build a new paddock that goes north of the old sand ring and finishes at the driveway across from the barn.
    Its likely the grazing here won’t be great, as most of it is under cedar trees. But for in the winter when I don’t want to turn horses out in three feet of snow, having close access to the barn is going to be a real lifesaver. I’m going to set this up so it can also be divided with temporary lines of fencing, if necessary.
  3. Fence off an area to the east of the barn to use as a turn out area or small riding ring.
    Eventually I’d like to convert the eastern half of the barn into a small indoor riding space, but having a paddock here will also work. This is a great spot for cold winter days, individual/quarantine turnout for new horses, or temporary turnout while stalls are being cleaned. Next spring, put a base appropriate for riding and turnout down.
  4. (If budget allows) Purchase a 40′ round pen and for both turnout and riding, and place either near the paddocks or close to the barn.
    I do a lot of round pen work, and they’re a versatile structure. Preferably, I’d like to buy a proper panel round pen for the sake of mobility.
  5. Divide the hill paddock in half East-West in order to provide a bit of rotational grazing.
    Self explanatory, I think!
  6. Fence off the property boundary if we can come to an agreement with the neighbouring farmer.
    This would allow me a bit more grazing room, in addition to maximizing the cleared space I have available.
  7. Build a wooded paddock north of the barn in the cedar area, which is fairly flat and sheltered.
    Ideal for winter turnout in a dry lot-type scenario, so long as the trees aren’t too low-branched. Could also cut down quite a few of these cedars and use as fence posts!

Here’s an updated overhead view, with red noting new fences/structures:

overhead-plans

There’s a lot to do. We’ve purchased a huge amount of t-posts, fencing, and fixings to get things set up — but we still have to get the wooden posts ready, everything laid out, and put together! Its a massive task and I’ve given myself two weeks to get the most important things (fixing the old sand ring and putting together the winter and ridding paddocks) finished up, and I’ve got a few friends on board to help me out. My goal is to bring the horses home mid-November, which may be overly ambitious, but what’s life without a challenge?

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