5 things I’ve learned owning a small farm

Johnny and I have been living on our small farm for nearly a year now, and it’s been a learning experience for both of us. Poor old Johnny is a thoroughly urban guy; he grew up living in a city, and I know he fantasizes about living in a cool downtown apartment with zero animals. While I grew up in a rural area, caring for my horses at home, there’s quite a difference between being a kid with farm chores and an adult with real responsibilities! Here are five things I’ve learned so far on this small-farm adventure:

  1. Yard/pasture maintenance is unending.
    I’d sort of learned this living on a quarter acre in a subdivision, but living on several acres only exacerbates the problem. The yard needs to be mowed. The pastures need to be dragged. The weeds springing up in the gravel by the barn need to be sprayed (or burned, at this point). The trees need to be pruned. Where did those dandelions come from?
  2. The barn is never as clean as you’d like it to be.
    My inner Pony Clubber cringes every time I see wisps of wind-blown hay in the corners of the barn or manure clinging stubbornly to the concrete. The reality is that I only have so many hours in the day, and some of them have to be spent driving, working, and sleeping. I usually choose to spend my free time riding, which means that sometimes my barn looks grubby.
  3. A good weather app is your new best friend.
    What direction is the wind going to be coming out of tonight? Better shut the appropriate barn door, or those saddle pads drying on the wash rack will get blown away. Are tornadoes in the forecast? Time to lock the horses in their stalls so they don’t get struck by flying debris. Is it going to be super cold? Turn off the water so the pipes don’t burst (again). It’s a little easier now that it’s just hot 100% of the time, but I still check my weather app every day, just in case I need to prepare for a freak storm or 60 mile-an-hour wind gusts.
  4. There’s no shortage of ‘projects’.
    New fencing for the sacrifice paddock. Doing…anything with the barn porch. Building jumps. Replacing the sink in the barn bathroom. Adding gravel screenings to level out the stall floors. These are all on my “to do” list, which gets longer every day. Sometimes, I get overwhelmed by all the things I need to do, but most of the time it’s exciting to think about making improvements (and it feels gratifying when things are checked off the list)!
  5. Good neighbors are invaluable.
    One of the reasons such a small property works for Johnny and me is my neighbor. We live next door to the boarding barn where Moe and Gina have lived for the last few years. I have access to the barn’s arenas, which is a huge plus- I didn’t have to build my own, which would have been expensive and taken up valuable space. But more importantly, my neighbor and I help each other out. She’s willing to feed for me when I’m out of town or hold the horses for the farrier. She lets me know if they’re acting strangely, or if there’s a problem with my fence or barn. I’ll feed her horses and boarders when she’s on vacation or needs to be somewhere early in the morning. We encourage one another in our riding goals and hack together often. It’s such a good feeling to know I have a friend I can count on right next door!

Barn cats

Over the winter, I noticed there were certain areas of my barn that attracted mice. I’d see their gross little droppings on the shelves in the feed room or find evidence of their handiwork in the tack room.  Johnny and I set out some electric mouse traps (which are awesome), but the mice seemed to ignore the bait in them in favor of attempting to gnaw through feed bags.

I decided that a couple of barn cats might be a good solution. I have three cats already; they’re in and out of the house at their leisure, but only Uncle Jimmy ventures out to the barn much. I’ve had cats that lived exclusively in the barn before, and they’ve always been an effective method of keeping pests away.

Kittens are fascinated by boots and shoes.

A couple of weeks ago, the man my neighbor and I buy hay from called to ask if we’d like to buy the last of the 2016 hay in his barn. We headed over to pick some up and discovered that he had 13 (!) kittens available in addition to the hay. Two days later, my neighbor and I headed back to get a couple of kittens apiece.

Five of the kittens were too young to take- they barely had their eyes open- but eight of them were somewhere between six and eight weeks old. The hay seller had cornered them in an empty horse stall between the wall and a couple of hay bales. There were two gray kittens, one black kitten, two pale creamy orange tabbies, and three bright orange tabbies. My neighbor and I are total suckers animal lovers and found it impossible to choose which four we wanted to take.

They’re so cute when they’re killing each other!

And that’s how I ended up with eight kittens living in my feed room. Most of them were quite shy at first, but several cans of soft kitten food later, they are almost all friendly, curious, and affectionate toward humans. They constantly play with each other and climb around all the obstacles in my feed room (like left over plumbing supplies and boxes of light bulbs). Currently, their names aren’t very imaginative: Big Creamy, Little Creamy, Big Gray, Little Gray, Blackie, Feral Orange One, Friendly Orange Tabby, and Orange Tabby With Socks.

Little Gray is my favorite.

I’m not sure how many I’ll end up with- my neighbor wants two, one of her students whose family is moving to their own farm wants two or three, and I’ll end up with the leftovers. Right now, though, I’m living my best life by embracing my inner crazy cat lady, haha!

Spring to-do list

The weather’s been so warm here in northeastern Oklahoma that spring feels as though it’s officially here! This is a pleasant change from years past, where the weather seems to go from freezing to blazing within the span of a couple of weeks. Lengthening days and warmer temps have me making a to-do list for both the horses and the farm!

  • Barn Projects
    • Finish the plumbing work: we repaired the leak that sprung back in December, but haven’t finished the rest of the job. We’re replacing the copper pipes with PEX and are considering replacing the barn’s 30-gallon hot water heater with a tankless one.
    • Revamp the bathroom: I’d like to replace the toilet in the barn with a high efficiency version, as well as replace the super ugly and warped sink and cabinets. I’d also like to get some shelves on the bathroom walls to hold things like towels, toilet paper, soap, and a human first aid kit.
    • Organize tack room: I need to mount shelves and bridle hooks, replace my free standing saddle racks with wall-mounted ones, and find a better place for my saddle pad rack.
    • Cleaning: I desperately need to buy a ladder so I can knock down cobwebs, replace lightbulbs, and remove random extension cords the previous owners left.
  • Horse Projects
    • Clip Moe: this is really on my “DO THIS TOMORROW” list, because poor Moe is going to sweat to death at a show this weekend if he doesn’t get some of his winter hair removed.
    • Breed Gina: I’d like to get this process underway a little earlier this year. Per my vet’s recommendation, we’ll do a uterine culture on Gina this month. We’ll have plenty of time to treat an infection before breeding, which will ideally happen next month.
Seedlings two weeks ago, about a week post-planting.
  • House Projects
    • Finish unpacking: this unpacking business is dumb and never-ending. I’ve got to make a real effort to get it finished, though, as Johnny’s parents want to come for a visit in May. And maybe if I keep unpacking boxes, I’ll find where the movers stashed my flasks.
    • Finish cleaning out old house & sell: all we really have left is the garage and the storage shed, so hopefully this can get wrapped up in a couple of weeks!
    • Build raised beds and transplant seedlings: I started seedlings indoors at the beginning of February, and those suckers are doing really well! We ought to be able to have them in the ground by late March or early April if this weather keeps up.
    • Prune the crepe myrtles: I’m maybe a little obsessive about my crepe myrtles. At the old house, a few years of careful pruning led to lovely thick branches and pretty mottled bark. The shrubs at the new house appear to have been victims of crepe murder at some point in their poor lives, so the reshaping process needs to begin ASAP!

How are y’all feeling? Has spring sprung in your neck of the woods? Are you feeling the itch to make to-do lists?

 

How’s that budget doing?

One of my goals for 2017 is to improve my finances. Part of my plan to do so entails tracking my equine related expenses by saving receipts and entering them into a budget spreadsheet. This is the first time I’ve done something like this; my typical method of tracking expenses was by writing them down in my planner as they occurred…and never thinking about them again.

I dutifully entered every equine related expenditure I made in January in my tracking sheet, and took a look at them yesterday.

Spending by category last month.

I’ve been classifying the expenses into broad categories (Competition, Tack/Apparel, Feed, Barn, Health), which are broken into subcategories (for example, “Feed” is broken into “Feed”, “Treats”, “Supplements” and “Hay”). I also have a section for notes on this spreadsheet where I can add details about what I purchased. As you can see, the bulk of my expenditures have been on feed, tack/apparel, and competition.

Feed is pretty self-explanatory, although this breakdown is somewhat misleading. I bought hay all at once back in October, so this chart doesn’t reflect the cost of feeding hay (since I didn’t buy it in January). However, the horses are eating the hay at the rate I estimated when I bought it, and my feed cost is right on target with the calculations I made before I took over caring for the horses. The cost of feeding is about $5 per horse per day.

Tack and apparel spending was high this month; I splurged on a couple of Ogilvy baby pads and a new cover for my half pad. (The cover I bought with it originally is white, which looks completely disgusting after a few months of use.) I also bought myself a pair of Romfh breeches at work, but that’s it! I’m also happy to report I received my clean-out bag from Used Horse Stuff, so I hope I’ll be able to get some cash for things I no longer need.

Definitely not this white any more.

If you’re wondering how 23.5% of my spending was on competitions when I haven’t been to a competition, don’t worry, I haven’t lost my mind. This spending was on annual memberships and registrations (USEA, OCTA, etc.) as well as a donation I made on a benefit trail ride.

 

My spreadsheet isn’t totally comprehensive; for example, I don’t have the money spent on material spent the repair the burst pipe in the barn on here, or the gas I used to haul to various locations. That spending is captured in the household budget. However, tracking my horse expenses has definitely made me more mindful of how and where I spend money!

Do you have a budget? How do you track your expenses?

Arctic blast

It was a cold weekend here in Oklahoma! Friday was a balmy 55 degrees, but temperatures were predicted to drop quickly on Saturday, and the oncoming cold front was bringing high winds, freezing rain, and snow with it.

I spent Saturday morning preparing the barn for the winter weather. I cleaned stalls, added fresh bedding, scrubbed out buckets, brought extra hay inside, and disconnected hoses. Moe got a snuggly stable blanket tucked under his turnout sheet; he seemed very confused about why this addition to his wardrobe was necessary.

Saggy, shaggy winter Moe!

By mid-afternoon, the sleet had started. I brought the ponies in around 4 PM- they seemed grateful to be out of the chilly north wind! I retreated to my house for the next couple of hours and ventured back to the barn around 7 PM to feed the horses dinner.  Snow had been blown into the barn aisle under the north doors, and it was considerably colder than it had been earlier. (The windchill temperatures for the evening were predicted to be between -10 and 0 degrees!) The horses’ water buckets were already beginning to freeze, so I added extra water to their dinners and topped off the buckets with hot water to encourage them to drink. I tossed them some extra hay, shut both sets of barn doors, and headed back inside.

I spent Saturday night making a batch of DIY Horse Ownership’s homemade horse treats; baking is the perfect activity for cold winter nights! I followed her recipe as exactly as I could; I didn’t have sweet feed (and didn’t want to buy a bag of it), so I left it out. My mini muffin tin is in a box somewhere, so I baked my treats in silicone muffin cups. I filled them with about 1.5 tablespoons of treat mixture and baked them according to Olivia’s instructions. Since I only have a dozen muffin cups, it took a while to bake four dozen treats, but it was totally worth the effort. They were really easy to make and looked beautiful! Two dozen are headed to my equestrian blogger secret Santa, a dozen are going to a local friend, and my horses are enjoying the last dozen!

Yesterday morning dawned very cold and sunny. It was 8 degrees when I headed out to feed! EIGHT! The average high in December in Tulsa is nearly 50 degrees, so you can imagine that eight degrees was a very rude way to start the day. Fortunately, there wasn’t much snow or ice accumulation, and the horses didn’t freeze to death during the night. Their water buckets didn’t fare as well- every one had a thick layer of ice on the top. My hot water spigot was stuck, so ponies ate dry feed and got kicked out to the pasture with a heated water tank. I put the buckets on the barn porch in hopes they’d thaw a little in the sun.

I recruited Johnny to assess the spigot last night; he grabbed my hair dryer and heated it enough to get it moving again. Unfortunately, no water was moving. We poked and prodded the pipes and the hot water heater in the tack room, and discovered the pipe carrying hot water from the tank to the spigot had burst in the cold. Fortunately, it’s not a big length of pipe, and we ought to be able to replace it ourselves without a lot of trouble. Unfortunately, the floor of my tack room is something akin to an ice rink at the moment.

The cold weather is leaving as quickly as it arrived- tomorrow’s high is 50! I’ll be glad to get back to normal temperatures (and Moe will be glad to lose the blankets)!