Understanding how your horse and horse farm can impact nearby water sources is important. When it rains the water will either soak through the soil into the groundwater or travel until it reaches a body of surface water.
Either way as the water travels it can pick up pollutants and become contaminated, then, when it reaches the pond, stream or river nearby, it adds those pollutants. This can cause health and environmental issues.
Here are ten fairly easy tips to help you do your part in reducing the risk of pollutants from your farm reaching the water.
1. Maintain as much vegetated area as possible between the general site of your horse operation and any permanent water body.
Vegetation can absorb pollutants, slow down the volume (power) of the run-off and the possibility of mud. Select native plants, grasses and trees to increase the viability of your plants and eliminate invasive species.
2. Locate heavily used areas on high grounds that will be less impacted by runoff.
Heavy use areas like paddocks are prone to compaction and erosion issues. Locating them away from roof run-off reduces the chance of the water picking up the soil and filling the creek beds with sediment.3. Strategically position drinking troughs to serve multiple fields.
Areas around troughs usually get torn up due to horses congregating, stomping, and splashing. This results in mud, loss of vegetation and compaction issues. Having one trough serve two fields rather than having two separate troughs reduces the size of the impacted area.
4. Separate pastures with gated-fences or electric tape fencing to control animal movement and grazing.
The best way to decrease erosion is through a healthy stand of vegetation. Grass needs time to rest and regrow so creating a rotational grazing system gives you different areas to move your horses, resting one while grazing another.
5. Install diversions or downspout extensions to direct runoff around areas that might have manure and mud.
Gutters and downspouts help control where roof run-off goes and keep it from running through areas with manure or loose soil. If you direct the water onto areas with heavy vegetation or into swales it will lower the amount of pathogens, nutrients and sediment that reaches the water ways.
6. Locate manure storing or composting site at least 100 feet from a stream or well.
100 feet is an adequate distance to allow the pollutants in the run-off to get absorbed into the soil before reaching the water source. Obviously your manure pile shouldn’t be on higher ground than the water source either to ensure a slower rate of water flow and higher absorption .
7. Recycle roof run off to reduce water flow volume.
Sending your roof run-off into a downspout that ends in a cistern or rain barrel keeps the water flow from traveling over the ground and picking up pollutants. A 1,000 square roof can generate 625 gallons of water with just a 1 ” rainfall so you can imagine the volume of that water hitting the ground. Recycling your water can also reduce your electric bill and provide a water source for areas on your farm such as plants, the dusty ring and even for your animals if you use a charcoal filter.
Building a cover for your compost or manure pile is the best way to reduce the risk of pollutants from the pile reaching the water. If the rain doesn’t hit the pile full of manure t won’t pick up the pollutants. Simple as that. If you cannot afford to build a permanent structure, a less expensive but very effective way is to just throw a tarp over your pile. This can reduce pollutants in the run-off by 90%.
9. Planet a vegetative strip along banks of the water source to filter run-off.
Vegetative buffers (riparian areas) act as filters for the water just before the run-off reaches it. Vegetative strips can filter pathogens and sediment. You need to make sure horses are kept way from the vegetative buffer strip so they don’t eat it down, create mud and it stays healthy.
10. Fence horses out of stream or create one area for them to drink.
No one wants their horses to drink water with manure in it. Allowing horses free range of your stream increases the area of impact and results in a higher rate of erosion and degradation. Fencing your horses out of the water and providing an alternate water source (maybe a trough filled from your cistern?) is the best way to protect the water. If you must use the water source to water your horses, fencing off all but one area for access will keep most of the stream bank healthy and reduce pollution.
Creating a safe water source for your well, your horses and the wildlife on your farm doesn’t require extensive equipment or much of a change. Most of the things you can do provide benefits that far out way the costs. Try and remember that everything is connected, what impacts one area of your farm can have a ripple affect and before you know it your pond is full of algae, the stream bed is full of sediment and your well is full of bacteria. On the other hand, the improvements and best management practices you choose to implement can have a positive affect on horse health, wildlife diversity and your pocket book!
Thanks for reading! Until we meet again.
Let’s save the planet one horse at a time……