Horse Keeping - Mud Management 102: Paddock Footing

Horse Keeping - Mud Management 102: Paddock Footing


Mud = yuck! At this time of the year mud becomes a common occurrence in many horse paddocks until summer when things dry out. If mud is an issue on your horse property you may be under the impression that it is an unavoidable part of having horses. But it doesn’t have to be! There are simple changes you can make to reduce or even eliminate mud on your property.

Before footing addition
In a previous post, Mud Management 101, I talked about gutters and downspouts as your first line of attack in reducing mud – keeping clean rainwater clean and not allowing it to mix with manure and dirt in the confinement areas. The next step for getting a handle on mud issues is to use some sort of footing in paddocks and other high traffic areas such as watering points and gates. The purpose for the footing is to build up the area to keep horses up out of dirt and allow rainwater to drain through. Less mud equals less chance of nutrients and sediments running off and polluting surface waters, too. Footings, such as hogfuel (chipped or shredded wood products), gravel (crushed rock) or coarse sand can go a long way in reducing mud. Gravel and coarse washed sand are probably the most useful and most available.
Gravel (crushed rock, no larger than ¾”—anything larger will be uncomfortable for horses to stand on) is a good footing to consider. It won’t break down like wood products do so you don’t have to replace in yearly, plus it drains well. You can get it with the fines (often called the “minus”) which will help it bind together and lock in place. Coarse washed sand also works well. It drains better and is less dusty than finer varieties. Be careful to avoid feeding horses on any type of sand as ingesting sand or dirt particles with hay can result in sand colic, a serious digestive disorder.
Use at least three inches of footing but more is better when it comes to footing. If you already have a lot of mud you may want to either remove some of the existing mud or plan to put footing in at least a 1:1 ratio (for example, if you have about six inches of mud each year you’ll need at least six inches of footing.)

After gravel footing
If your soil is especially mucky or clay-like, you may want to consider first laying down some type of geotextile filter fabric and then placing the footing on top. Geotextile fabric, purchased through garden supply and hardware stores, helps keep the soil layer from working its way up into the footing. More on geotextiles in a future blog – stay tuned!
At our ranch the past couple of weeks we’ve been working on bringing in footing for several paddocks. We would have preferred 3/8 to 5/8” crushed rock but in our new location the smallest crushed rock size available seems to be ¾”.  We put this in our paddocks at about three inches deep. In our large, group paddock we only put it around the gate, feeders and stock watering tank, the high traffic areas. The biggest downside I see to this slightly larger size is it doesn’t fit through the tines of a manure fork, therefore we may end up pitching some our expensive gravel into the compost every time we clean.
At least paddocks will be easier to clean and the horses will be out of the mud. One more step at Sweet Pepper Ranch towards being eco-friendly (less muddy runoff!), chore efficiency and improved horse health.

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