One of the biggest logistical things I’ve noticed on DIY livery yard’s in the winter is the fact that everyone’s morning routine varies according to what time they start work. Which means that it can be quite stressful for horses waiting for breakfast or turnout.
Many yards I’ve observed have a rule that the first person on the yard feeds the entire yard. Which reduces the stress in horses when their neighbour is being fed and they aren’t. However, in order for this system to work several things need to be taken into account.
Firstly, feeding breakfasts needs to be done as quickly as possible. After all, the first person on the yard doesn’t want to spend fifteen minutes trying to feed the hungry horses, because they’ve got to go to work too. So every livery owner needs to prepare their feeds the night before and leave them dampened or soaked ready to be fed straightaway.
Secondly, feeds need to be stored so that they’re readily available for the half asleep early risers, clearly labelled, yet not left on the yard for cheeky ponies to help themselves when their small owner’s backs are turned, or left to encourage vermin.
Thirdly, everyone needs to know what time breakfast is. After all, there’s nothing worse than turning up for a quick pre-work ride only to find your horse has only just had breakfast. One way to reduce this risk is to give your horse a smaller ration in the morning, and their main hard feed in the evening if you usually ride in the mornings. And vice versa if you ride in the evening so you don’t have to wait as long in the cold and dark while they cool down and eat their tea.
Some yards leave feed buckets outside stables, covered with plastic covers. Which has the risk of attracting vermin, and being eaten by horses not tied up securely. Plus on windy days the covers blow across the yard. Other yards leave feeds in boxes outside stables, which can be time consuming opening any locks and lids.
I’ve spent a long time pondering the most effective way of implementing a “first one feeds” system and recently came across the best solution yet.
On the yard is a metal dustbin with a securely fastened lid, which is vermin and naughty pony proof. If the yard is bigger, then there is one bin per row of stables. Each horse is given a breakfast bucket, which is of a generous size to accommodate the larger feeds of the thoroughbreds, has two handles, and most importantly they are stackable. The yard provides these buckets so they can ensure that they are the correct dimensions. Each horse’s name is written on in very big, thick, black letters so the buckets can be easily identified in the half lit, early hours.
When livery owners make up feeds they fully prepare breakfast (damp or soak the feed) and put them into the bins, one on top of the other. Then when the first person arrives on the yard they go to the bin and take out the stack of buckets and then walk along the row feeding each horse. A super speedy way of satisfying hungry horses early in the morning without waking the neighbours, or on a Saturday morning when recovering from a heavy Friday night.
The only way that this system could be improved, in my opinion, is by the buckets being stacked in order; so you give the top bucket to the first horse, second to the next, and so on. However, with everyone coming at different times during the day, there would be a lot of lifting buckets in and out of the bin, and there being a high risk of a mistake being made when restacking, you’d need to check the names on the buckets as well, just in case.
What other systems do DIY yards employ to make feeding breakfasts a painless task? I’d be interested to know of a better system than this.