If you’ve been in Central Florida for more than a minute, it’s probably obvious to you that we have water. We have a lot of it (sometimes more than we want!). It comes up from the ground at nearby springs and rivers. It falls from the sky (like, all the time). It collects in pastures. It hangs constantly in the air and ruins perfectly good hair days. Seems like we’ve got plenty of the stuff, right? So why worry about it? Well, it can disappear pretty fast in a dry season, especially with thirsty, thirsty livestock around. But for us horse country Floridians, a bigger issue than keeping the water we’ve got is keeping the water we’ve got clean. Water runoff from farms can easily contaminate ground water and natural water sources like springs, rivers, and ponds. This installment of Green Horsekeeping will address both water conservation and runoff management so that we can keep ourselves and our animals happy, healthy, and hydrated.
Use automatic watering
Seriously! It’s economical, and results in less work for you. Automatic watering systems limit the use of water and prevent water wastage, resulting ultimately in more water to go around and more money in your pocket. Most automatic watering systems keep water cool in summer and above freezing in the winter (and it does freeze in the winter, even here in the Sunshine State). We love our horses, but what warm-blooded Floridian wants to stand out in a paddock on a cold winter morning breaking ice? No thanks. They also ensure a constant supply of fresh water, so no more having to constantly dump out and refill huge troughs when they get icky in the summer. Some models are even customizable and come with all kinds of cool gadgets.Such gadgets include monitors that display how much water is used over a certain amount of time, allowing you to be better informed about the health of your animals.
If you do choose to use an automatic watering system, be aware that there are a few drawbacks. Automatic waterers must be cleaned often, and cleaning them is a little more labor-intensive than rinsing out a bucket or trough. When the waterers are first installed, horses (especially high-strung ones!) can be a little skittish about drinking from noisier models. Unless you purchase a model that monitors how much your horses are drinking, you’ll need to be extra-vigilant for signs of dehydration in your horses because you won’t be able to visually gauge how the water level in the system changes.
Something native Floridians notice about people new to the area is their wonder and awe at the daily rain shower that occurs in the summer, usually around 3 PM. It’s pretty much our state’s version of Old Faithful (not as showy, but whatever). Rain is perhaps our biggest “crop,” and one of the most unfortunately wasted. It’s also totally free! So why not put all this free water to good use? The cheapest and easiest route is to just set up a barrel or collection tank at your drainage spouts (we’ll get to the importance of drainage spouts in a minute). You can use the collected water for cleaning or watering plants. Bam. Instant free water. If you want to get serious and self-sufficient though, you’ll need to buy a special tank or drainage pipe that filters the water for other uses like watering gardens and paddocks, and even watering livestock. You could even have a nice store of water set by for yourself in the event of a natural disaster or emergency. Above-ground options are generally cheaper, but underground tanks keep the water cooler (preventing the formation of bacteria) and out of the way of farm equipment and roving animals. This option requires more initial investments of time and money, but your wallet will thank you the next time your water bill comes in.
Install gutters and drain spouts on all buildings
This simple and cheap method diverts rainwater from high-traffic areas. It reduces the amount of sediment, manure, and other runoff that usually finds its way into nearby surface water. Runoff can alter the chemical makeup of nearby water sources and even the nutrient content of the soil it flows over, so it’s important to make sure you’ve got your runoff situation under control.
Cover and/or control manure collection areas
A single horse can produce around 50 pounds of manure a day. That’s something like nine tons annually. The contents of manure can be used to benefit the soil, but Florida land is usually too wet and saturated for manure to be used safely, and that much buildup can be harmful to both the land and surrounding water. Be sure your manure collection area is covered or contained to reduce runoff. Keep your collection area at least 300 feet away from any surface water, ponds, or ditches. If you are not using a receptacle, choose the flattest part of your land possible to dump manure–observe how rain falls on your land and avoid flood areas. To completely avoid nutrient leeching, dump manure on an impermeable surface such as concrete, pavement, or pressed lime rock. If possible, utilize a manure collection service. Many will make the manure they collect available to farmers for fertilizer. Manure spreading isn’t ideal on many properties, but is a possibility if spread over enough land that is far from bodies of water and sinkholes.
Fence horses out of surface water
I know we just talked about the benefits of free water, but not all free water is created equal. Allowing your horses access to ponds and streams is convenient in the short term, but ultimately pretty terrible for the water itself. Over time, the horses trample the shore of the pond or stream, stirring up all kinds of icky stuff. It rains. Runoff from the paddock and the trampled shore runs down into the pond or stream, altering its chemical makeup and allowing bacteria and algae to flourish. Bringing the water to the horses (see the section on automatic watering above) is a much more ecological and healthy solution.
Wash horses with care
Even horses need baths some time, and while they don’t know the difference between an economy bottle of dollar store shampoo and the eco-friendly variety, the soil and the ground water does. If you’ve got the budget, consider stocking up on shampoos that are made with organic ingredients and/or do not contain sulfates. Fragrance-free is also preferable. These products ensure that the soil and water on your property are not contaminated with excess chemicals. You can even make your own shampoos with animal-friendly essential oils (make sure the oils do not contain adulterants). Be sure to always consult your veterinarian before you put anything new on or in your horse’s body.
Look out for Part 2: Waste Management.