Farm Equipment: Nice or Necessary?

You have horses, a place for them to live, a place to store your tack, and even a place to ride. Now you need to outfit this operation to keep it running smoothly, and to enjoy your horses rather than simply caring for them. The proper equipment will help you manage your barn efficiently and safely, but there is a big difference when it comes to equipment you need versus equipment that's just nice to have.

Which equipment falls into which category depends on the type of farm you will be running. Without riding arenas, for instance, a mechanized drag becomes unimportant. Location also plays a role, as a four-horse family barn in Georgia might be able to get away with just a wheelbarrow and someone to haul off the manure pile. But the same farm in Minnesota will probably do better with a tractor for snow removal as well as hauling and spreading manure.

Individual preferences also account for variety. Other factors include staffing, storage space, barn function, and, of course, available funds. Even with diverse options, any barn will need certain functions performed, including mucking stalls, hauling, grounds maintenance, barn cleaning and maintenance, and feeding. The right equipment can make these chores much easier.

Mucking Equipment

Your initial outlay in equipment costs will probably be linked to a constant of equine management--manure removal. For actual stall cleaning, you need some type of pitchfork and elbow grease. Manure and soiled bedding can be forked into a large muck bucket and dumped into a manure spreader. Alternately, you can place the refuse directly in a wheelbarrow. It will then be dumped into a manure pile, which will in turn be hauled away.

A pitchfork and a wheelbarrow will suffice for many barns. "The two pieces of equipment that I use the most are a wheelbarrow and a manure fork. I am partial to the plastic manure forks," says Jim Dinger, an associate professor of animal science at the University of Connecticut who teaches farm management classes. Plastic pitchforks keep things moving more swiftly than the old-school metal pitchforks, which tend to allow manure as well as shavings to slip through the widely spaced tines. However, the old ones work better for straw bedding.

As for wheelbarrows or manure carts, the lighter the better, because they get very heavy to push when loaded with muck and damp shavings. There are also special carts made to wheel muck buckets around easily.

Quality counts, even with these basic purchases. "Spend a little extra money to buy a good-quality manure cart and fork or you'll end up having to replace them before long," say Debbie and Ben Jeffery, who own Saga Farm Arabians in Tularosa, N.M. "Some good ones even have a warranty. Quality will last and last and last. We clean up after, on the average, 16 horses a day. So good-quality manure carts and forks are worth the few extra bucks."

Hauling/Grounds Maintenance

If you have many stalls to clean every day, you will probably want some mechanical help once you have removed manure and soiled bedding from stalls. Many people use tractors for jobs like this. Small farms might not need this sort of heavy machinery, but on a larger farm, it can be key.

The Jefferys use their small tractor all the time. "Our most essential piece of equipment would be our 18-horse garden tractor," says Debbie Jeffery. With it we use a small dump trailer to clean stalls and pens. We haul off the manure to be spread on the fields, and haul sawdust into the stalls. It's small enough to back the dump trailer right into a four-foot stall gate for dumping the shavings, but powerful enough for a disc and a drag with spikes that we use to disc the manure into the fields. We also disc or drag our arenas with it. We've used it to plow and plant small pastures. We use it for feeding, for moving trail class equipment, fencing, fence posts, and moving sprinklers from one pasture to another. And so much more. It's easy to use and takes up very little space, but tough enough for everything we need it for."

By hooking different implements to the tractor, you can use it for manure removal and spreading, distributing shavings, and snow removal. You can use a power takeoff driven spreader to spread manure and fertilize the fields. Tractors also help with pasture maintenance by harrowing (dragging the pasture to break up manure piles and dead grass). Mowing, another tractor job, is very important to keep pastures thriving. With your tractor and skill, you can do jobs like fencing (only a tractor job if you have miles to maintain), as well as landscaping chores like grading and clearing.

Tractors can also be used for maintaining arenas, whether they have sand or synthetic footing. With a tractor, you can use conveniences like a four-in-one tool, which can be used as a chisel plow, a leveler, a scraper box, and a pulverizer.

"It makes quick work of the footing in the arenas, no matter the footing. I work all three rings every morning, which makes the clients very happy," says Bruce Thompson, who manages Green Pastures Farm, a 50-horse boarding facility in Brentwood, Tenn.

Although they are tremendous assistants, tractors can be expensive, both in initial outlay and maintenance costs. Do you really need one? If you have a small (under five-acre) farm, you could probably use a larger riding mower or utility vehicle for some chores. Kim Michelson, president of Brookwood Equestrian Center in Lakewood, Wash., uses a utility vehicle instead.

"The most essential piece of equipment is our John Deere Gator," she says. "It is a real workhorse around here, and saves hundreds of man hours each year. We use ours to feed, clean stalls, and do general landscape work and cleaning."

Other vehicles can help around the farm as well. "A pickup truck is almost a necessity for a horse farm, unless you can hire someone to deliver hay, grain, and building supplies," says Dinger. Michelson adds that they rely on "a good, dependable, heavy-duty truck. It seems we always have something that must be hauled, and whether it is hay or horses, the loads are always heavy."

Barnkeeping Tools

Keeping the barn clean improves appearances and contributes to the health of the animals and people inside. Cleanliness keeps down vermin infestation as well as allergies. For basic housekeeping around the barn, you need a few tools.

A shovel helps clean up manure dropped in the aisle; a wide, flat scoop will help with wet shavings. Brooms are also key cleaning implements for sweeping cobwebs from corners and stall doors, as well as sweeping aisleways, offices, and tack rooms. For the aisleways, choose a big shop or push broom. (Alternate the push side on a shop broom so it wears evenly.) You can use a household broom for corners and cobwebs. If you have a gravel aisle, a rake helps neaten things. After removing manure or hoof pickings from the floor, you can rake a traditional herringbone pattern in the gravel. A magnetic stable wand or sweep is an added convenience and safety measure when cleaning up nails after the farrier comes, but a broom and a careful eye will also do the trick.

For heavier cleaning, some prefer leaf blowers. "They make quick work of the barn, parking lots, and driveways, and really help keep my indoor observation areas clean," says Thompson. "They are noisy and create some dust, but they really clean and you can cover so much more area with a blower than with a broom. I've also found that by blowing the barns at least twice a day, if not more, there tends to be less dust that builds up."

Feeding and Watering

Feed storage is crucial, as rats and mice like places with accessible grain. If your horses don't leave their feeding tubs and mangers clean, be sure you clean up after them with a damp cloth. Leftover grain can ferment and attract vermin.

Stabled horses are as happy to eat off of the ground as their pastured buddies, but using serving containers like buckets and hay racks can reduce the chance for sand colic and helps reduce waste. Feed tubs can be as simple as buckets suspended from sturdy metal snaps, and an inexpensive hay net can stand in for a sturdier hay rack. Hay racks and hay bags keep hay off the ground in a stall, and keep horses from scattering and stamping on their hay. Make sure racks, bags, and hay nets are high enough to keep feet from getting tangled, and low enough that horses don't get a face full of dust and debris every time they take a bite.

Other types of feed bins beyond the basic flat-back bucket add convenience and ease of feeding. "I like the combo swing-out feeders," says Thompson. "They are easy to use, you don't have to go into the stall, and they are easy to keep clean." Dinger prefers corner feeders, which screw neatly into the corner of a horse's stall without taking up much room. Corner feeders also make it extra difficult for a horse to spill his feed.

For barns with many horses to feed, a heavy-duty wheeled cart or wheelbarrow is helpful. It's easy to push along the aisleway of the barn and scoop out the right amount of feed to each horse as you go along. A cart can hold various feeds and supplements, so each horse gets the proper meal.

Watering can be done automatically or with hose-filled buckets. Automatic waterers built into stalls allow horses to drink their fill. With waterers, you don't have to worry about horses running out of water, as features such as adjustable floats or enclosed valves maintain constant water levels.

However, some prefer to keep watering simple with sturdy, flat-back buckets for stalled horses. "I would rather have buckets," says Thompson. "Automatic waterers are nice, but if you don't have a usage gauge on them, you can't be sure if your horses are drinking enough. Buckets are easy to keep clean and just a glance can tell you if they need to be cleaned, filled, or replaced."

Adds Dinger, "I don't like automatic waterers, because one forgets to check whether the water is clean, or if the system is still working." Using buckets or automatic waterers is a personal preference; with either one, water pipes need to be outside the stall or wherever horses can't get to them. Horses have been known to chew through pipes, causing quite a flood.

As you decide which equipment is necessary for your operation, and which would be nice to have, keep in mind the reason behind all your work--the horses. As Dinger says, "My favorite non-essential piece of barn equipment would be my saddle, because after I finish all the barn chores, there is hardly any time for riding!"

About the Author

Eliza R.L. McGraw

Eliza McGraw is the author of two books about horsemanship, and has contributed essays to several Eclipse Press books on Thoroughbred racing. She writes frequently for horse magazines, and her website is at Stay on top of the most recent Horse Health news with FREE weekly newsletters from Learn More