Thursday, 19 November 2009

Herd Dynamics

In the winter months, we run our horses and ponies in the stubble fields surrounding the house.

There are many advantages to this arrangement: using the stubble fields (where there is plenty of rough grazing) rests our grass fields - good for the pasture and minimises parasite problems.

As the stubble fields are nice and close to the stables, it's also easy to get youngsters in for some handling, or geriatrics in for a few hours' respite from the rain which has been pelting down recently. This is especially valuable during these short hours of daylight.

We've been getting the foals in regularly for some handling - as they didn't get much over the summer while I was away. This helps to prepare them for weaning, which we'll do around Christmas, and also is preparing them for (shhhh!) being microchipped next week, as the law now requires.

We haven't as yet started supplementary feeding (bar a little bite of hay if something's in) as they absolutely haven't needed it: one or two mares are actually waddling! Tsk. Seriously, it's our only opportunity to get some weight off the Highlands before they face the spring grass again. The mild weather however, means that the grass in the stubbles is still actually growing - as I type this, the thermometer outside is registering 12 degrees (grass starts to grow at 6). I wonder if we'll end up like New Zealand, with year-round grass growth?

Another advantage - or perhaps not- of having them all near the house is that I can watch them from my office window. (I'm supposed to be writing, but hey...)

It is fascinating to watch closely the herd dynamics - who pals up with whom as a grazing buddy, who prefers to graze on their own on the fringe of the group. The foals and yearlings are getting bolder and more cheeky towards the older horses, until they overstep the boundaries and are sent scuttling by an exasperated adult.

It is a very settled herd, where each individual seems to know their place. I never witness kicking or biting (bar the foals, in play). The most aggression is the odd bit of face-pulling.

I know how lucky we are to be able to keep our animals in a semi-natural way, with plenty of space for all. I recently refused to sell a 2 yo to a buyer who wanted to keep him in a yard with no winter turnout at all. I know many horses are kept like that from necessity, but it's far from ideal, especially for a growing, boisterous youngster - probably for any horse, come to that.

We have bought in thoroughbreds out of training in the past who didn't know how to graze having been kept in stables all their life: they would just mooch around by the gate, not eating (food only comes in a bucket or haynet obviously) staring wistfully at their box door. It wasn't long before they got the hang of it and started to get cheeky about being caught though!


  1. My "Herd", (5) not as big as yours. They enjoy all year round turn out. I do understand exactly what you are saying. I watch,as the weaned foals take their place in the group.

    The senior mare takes care of them!

  2. Our 'herd' of 5 too enjoy 24/7 outside fun and games and are also a peaceful happy herd to be in their own company. The most fun excitement we get is our two boysterous geldings playing togehetr to which the mares just look at and sigh. I can hear them saying 'oh those boys just won't grow up will they! tsk" lol. Enjoy your herd and hope the rain doesn't wash the fields away.

    Sometimes in Spring or Autumn they all get a bit of 'wind' under their feet and all 5 run about enjoying their freedom and the herd dynamics. Love watching this sort of stuff, really get to know which horse has which 'horsenality' ;-)

  3. Luckily we're ok as regards the rain - we have sandy, well-draining ground mostly - but several new lochs have appeared in the local area as the River Isla has burst out in several places.
    Hope you're ok Cheyenne - your area seems to be getting hit hard?