Grass Farmers: October
Equicentral System Design Solutions
The Equicentral System is Jane and Stuart Myers’ complete approach to property layout, and provides practical solutions for sustainable horse and land management on your property.
It is a system that works by utilising your horses’ natural cycles of grazing and loafing as an advantage, and is an opportunity to enhance the health and wellbeing of the horses themselves, and the land they live on, as well as the environment at large.
In previous articles, Jane and Stuart outlined the system, discussed the surfaced, central holding yard and the importance of rotational grazing.
This month, we move on with some examples for implementing an Equicentral System on different properties and landscapes.
Do you need land?
Most people aspire to having their horses on their own land and, if you are so fortunate, there is nothing stopping you from setting up an Equicentral System and reaping the benefits!
At the same time, there are many people around the world who, armed with the principles they learn from our books and attending one of our workshops, are also implementing the Equicentral System on rented land. There are now even agistment centres set up this way.
In this article, we give you some generic examples for implementing an Equicentral System layout to show you that it is achievable in a range of climates, landscapes and situations.
Small acreage properties
The Equicentral System is not only the ideal way to manage horses when there is only a small area of land available for grazing - it is the only way to ensure the horses have grazing available to them and, at the same time, land degradation is not created.
On small properties, the horses will not be able to graze as much as they would like, but at least the grazing they do have will be good quality grazing, instead of standing around on bare, dusty, muddy or weed-filled land.
In fact, you can set up an Equicentral System in a single paddock, and still make huge changes to your land and pasture health and quality by creating a fenced, surfaced yard by the gate and, preferably, adding a shade or shelter (see Images A & B on the next pages).
The facilities can even be made up with temporary and re-locatable materials. Yard fencing could be made with portable fence panels, the surface can be of rubber mats or mesh that can be lifted off, and the paddocks divided using a portable electric fence unit and tread-in posts or ‘pigtails’.
On large areas of land
The Equicentral System works well on large ‘mixed-use’ properties, for example a stud or large hobby farm.
Other animals, like cattle and sheep, also respond well to having a centralised area for resources (water, shelter, supplements, etc). On these properties, it’s possible to set up multiple central holding areas.
In the same way, a large horse stud that has various age groups of horses can also have multiple central points.
One of the best advantages of the Equicentral System is that it works well in any climate - whether it be temperate, tropical, dry or arctic. This is because you are providing a ‘home range’ for your horses and allowing them to decide (most of the time) when to graze, and when to find shade and shelter.
With an Equicentral System, you only need to micro-manage their moves when they are putting too much pressure on the land that will lead to less pasture in the future.
As an example, in Summer, when the insects are particularly problematic, the horses can take themselves to the shade to escape them and, when they need fibre, they can decide for themselves when to go out to graze or to stay in the shade and eat hay. It is generally recommended to have hay in the surfaced central holding yard.
When it is very cold and wet, the horses can decide to shelter mainly at night and graze mainly during the day.
While it is good to understand land class types and what sort of soil you have, initially it’s more important to understand that land and climates tend to range from too wet to too dry.
Either way, as long as you create an area that allows the horses to remove the grazing pressure vountarily - as well as involuntarily when you decide the land needs a hand - you will see a reduction in and, eventually, an elimination of dust and mud, and their associated problems.
If you have existing facilities
If your land already has facilities in place, the Equicentral System can usually be implemented without making major structural changes to your property.
- Hard standing that is already in place around any farm buildings or stables should be able to be utilised as a surfaced holding yard. If you already have a stable yard that has hard standing with the paddocks leading out from this area, then you already have a great set-up.
- In many cases, it is just a matter of leaving the gate to the paddock that is currently in use open, so the horses can get back to the yard, rather than fastening them on the other side of the gate.
- Old farm buildings can usually be used to great effect, as long as they are safe and have a high enough roof for horses. Often, such buildings already have hard standing in and around them.
- By sub-dividing the paddocks, implementing rotational grazing and always having the gateway open to the paddock they are currently using, the horses will bring themselves back to the yard and stand on the surfaced area, rather than stand in the gateway and create bare ground that turns to mud in the wet and dust in the dry.
- You can turn off the water in the paddocks (if it’s already there) and set up a single water trough on the hard-standing area.
- You may want to create extra shade and shelter for your horses, for example, by attaching ‘shade sails’ or extending the roof area with a newly built roof.
- If you have a block of stables, you could open or remove the front wall-panels of some or all the individual boxes to create a larger single shed. Keep in mind it will still be useful to have individual holding areas for feeding, veterinary and regular care, saddling up, and so on.
- Surplus stables and buildings could be used as hay storage.
With single horses in individual paddocks
While we will never advocate for keeping horses separate from each other, some owners will never keep horses in groups and, very occasionally, there are good reasons for separating horses.
Horses in private paddocks should have access to shade or a shelter, which should be positioned at the gateway - within a surfaced holding yard - and alongside the next private paddock, so two horses can still socialise (see image).
Socialising over fences is never a good idea, so in individual paddocks, the best way is to have a solid partition from their chest down and, preferably, leave the top part open, rather than caged.
This way, the two horses will still spend many hours hanging out in this area, rather than on the pasture.
When the weather is too wet or too dry, the horses can be temporarily prevented from going out of the yard to avoid damage that will lead to less grazing in the future.
If you can sub-divide any pasture that is available - without creating ridiculously small areas - and rotate them, you can give your land time to rest and recuperate. Any rest is better than none.
One of the key aspects of the Equicentral System is that it aims to minimise laneways. This is for many reasons:
- Laneways take up space that could otherwise be used as pasture for grazing.
- Laneways concentrate hoof activity to a narrow strip and, therefore, create land degradation problems, such as mud, dust, soil erosion and weeds.
- Laneways are difficult to harrow, mow, weed, etc.
- Laneways require more fencing and, sometimes, require surfacing, therefore, creating additional expense.
- Herd dynamics, and how well or badly horses get on can become a hazard in laneways unless they are very wide (minimum six metres).
Your aim should be to minimise, if not eliminate, the need for laneways. Here are some ways you can do this:
- Aim for paddocks that ‘fan-out’ from the surfaced holding yard.
- Use temporary laneways (using temporary fences), so they can be removed and become part of the paddock again when the laneway is not needed or for maintenance.
Starting from scratch
If you are in the fortunate position of being able to start a horse property from scratch, you have much planning to do!
Setting up from scratch should cost less than setting up conventional facilities. Money that would be spent on stables, individual shelters and watering points can, instead, be spent on a central, surfaced holding yard with shelters. And... Don’t forget a covered or semi-covered riding arena makes for a great central, surfaced holding yard!
Whether it is starting from scratch or adapting existing facilities, some people are daunted by the prospect and don’t know where to start.
One way is to source an aerial photograph or satellite image of your property, tracing the boundaries and features, such as valleys, slopes, trees, existing infrastructure, and so on.
Make many copies of your basic plan and try out lots of different designs. Seek all the advice available. You can also join the Equicentral Central Facebook group, and check out the invaluable and helpful advice we share. Go to: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1675132882738247/.
Next month, we will source for you some advice and experience from Equicentric grass farmers around the world when we ask for their top tips and examples of their property designs.