The Best Dry Paddock Footing!
This has got to be my absolute favorite farm improvement we’ve done. It is amazing. We live in a low lying mud prone area that is a soupy mess all winter and spring. Solution: dry lot! Not just a vegetation free paddock, as horsemen often refer to as dry lots, but an actual DRY paddock with good well draining footing.
We did all the work ourselves, with a total cost of less than $800. It has held up very well over the 4 years since we installed it. Here’s how we did it:
We added dutch doors to the backs of the stalls where the paddock would be. Construction of the base and footing is easiest during dry weather when you can prep the base and get heavy equipment in there. We graded the area flat and smoth, removing the top layer of grass and dirt. We spread out geotextile fabric. There are two kinds available: one looks like a tarp, one looks like felt. Our local feed store carries rolls of the tarp type stuff and sells it by the foot, so that is what we used. It comes in 12′ wide rolls, so we had to make a few strips to cover the 30′ x 90′ area, making sure to overlap by a couple feet at each seam. It is recommeded that you stake the edges down to keep them from shifting when the dump truck and tractor drive over it. The stakes look like little tent stakes.
Then it was time for the footing to be delivered. Depending on your region, you may have different choices in gravel types. Here in Kentucky, we have tons of limestone. We selected the smallest pieces, which goes by several names around here: stonedust, screenings, fines, 3/8 minus, etc. In other parts of the country you might have small pea gravel or similar.
We had two triple axel dump truck loads delivered and spread it to a uniform thickness with a grader blade on our tractor. The footing should be 5-7″ deep. That’s it. We let the horses do the work of settling and compacting the footing, resulting in a nice solid base that is firm but has some give. The hooves don’t sink in the footing, but do leave shallow marks where they’ve walked.
I pick the paddock daily to remove any manure or hay. Any organic material left on the surface will eventually break down and turn into dirt, which will turn into mud. It generally takes only a couple minutes to pick up manure outside, much faster than cleaning stalls with bedding. My horses are good about using one corner of the paddock as their bathroom for the most part.
Over time the footing migrates away in hooves or attached to manure that is removed, so every couple years it is a good idea to get another load of footing delivered and fill in any low areas. It has been 4 years and we have just gotten a pickup truck load to fill in the bathroom corner a couple times, it hasn’t been necessary to get another big dump truck yet, though I think we may do so this summer.
The footing drains really well and stays really clean and dry. I pick the horses’ hooves and leave them in the paddock at night so their hooves and legs have some dry time. This has helped immensely in preventing thrush and pastern dermatitis (“scratches”). I don’t like locking horses in stalls overnight, as I want them to keep moving around as much as possible, so this provides the best of both worlds. Clean dry environment with happy healthy horses. I often put small mesh hay nets on opposite ends of the paddock to further maximize movement.
I also really like the paddock layout that we chose. The paddock has a dividing fenceline, making it into two sections. There are 3 stalls with dutch doors opening into the paddock, as well as a run in shed. Two stalls and the run in open into the larger side of the paddock, which is about 60′ x 30′. One stall opens into the smaller side, which is 30′ x 30′. There is a gate between the two sides, which I keep open most of the time and allow the horses to have access to the whole area. Obviously, this only works in a small herd that gets along well, as it would be possible for a horse to be cornered by a bully in one of the stalls and get hurt. Our two horses and donkey have a clearly defined hiearchy and no disputes, so they do just fine. Having the divider to make two paddocks is useful to be able to separate them if needed, or if I have a horse on stall rest transitioning to small paddock rest I can close them in the smaller side to keep them from running too much. Both sides have two gates opening to either the front pasture or the back pasture, which makes rotational grazing management easy. I have also recently added a small track paddock (aka Paradise Paddock) that is accessed from the back gates and will report back on that project at a later date…