Monthly Archive:: September 2015

Managing Obesity on Horse Farms

Charlottesville Horse Farms for SaleWhen we think of horse farms in central Virginia, it’s probably easy to imagine an endless green sprawl with rolling hills, clear blue skies, and horses galloping unrestrained against the rugged landscape. We’re probably less likely to think of horses sitting around in stalls with nothing to do. But horse farmers know the reality; horses, like people are susceptible to obesity given certain conditions. Certain breeds of livestock are considered “easy keepers,” because in conditions that cause most of the herd to lose weight, they are adept at maintaining or even gaining weight. So most of the time it’s better and more desirable than a “hard keeper.” Ponies, as well as most mules and donkeys fit this description, as do many of the smaller, more durable species of horse like the Mustang and the Arabian. Easy keepers are desirable because it’s easy to keep them well-fed, but maintaining nutritional and dietary needs can be difficult.

Reasons for obesity

The forage that we cultivate on our modern-day pastures is much higher in caloric content than what horses were raised on, from an evolutionary perspective. Imagine; the formative horses and their ancestors were raised on forage that was much less nourishing, both nutritionally and calorically. Not only that but the terrain was very sparsely vegetated. The result was a lean, resourceful animal who had to walk several miles just to find sufficient sustenance. Skip ahead to modern times, and we are by and large providing these animals with high-quality forages that are easily accessible, removing their incentive to walk around for miles. All grazing activity is kept within the confines of pasture fencing. So we have food that is nutritionally more nourishing than what horses are used to, combined with a decrease in energy expenditures. It’s the same for humans, especially over the last hundred or so years: we’ve seen the effect of increasingly sedentary lifestyles combined with widespread availability of food. Additionally, there have been advances in agricultural technology over the last century that have seen the phasing out of livestock bred for crop cultivation. The tractor has replaced the workhorse, and most horses now are kept for recreational purposes. This is especially the case on central Virginia horse farms; horses are used for leisure and recreation–activities like foxhunting or exploring trails on horseback.

What happens when horses become obese

It can be difficult to say when a horse is just a bit plump and when it’s actually obese. Not everyone has a livestock scale (although you can pick one up for well under a thousand bucks). Sometimes it’s hard to get a handle on whether or not your four-legged friend may simply be suffering from “big-bonedness.” And of course some body fat is needed. But when your horse actually does reach that point, it should be a cause for concern.

Excess fat detracts from a horse’s ability to exercise. It requires more energy to even move, and so they do it less. More seriously, excess layers of fat can insulate the body. During the summer, this could lead to heat stress because the fat detracts from a horse’s ability to dissipate heat. These extra fat layers can also result in the formation of lipomas, benign tumors that tend to grow in a horse’s abdominal cavity. Lipomas often form on the mesentery, a thin strand of suspended tissue that encloses the intestine. As the tumor develops, it starts to hang from the mesentery, forming what’s called a pedicle. This can prevent ingested material from passing while cutting off blood supply. Obese horses are also more prone to developing laminitis, a hoofed animal disease that can lead to inflammation, hoof sinking, foot tenderness, and inability to walk. This is most likely a result of irregular glucose metabolism.

Treating obesity

Not everyone has access to a livestock scale, but there are otherways to keep track of horse obesity. Weight tapes are pretty good at approximating the body weight of your horse. They’re also useful for tracking weight gains or losses over time. The Henneke horse body condition scoring system was created to develop a standardized scale with which to assess a horse’s body conditions. It assesses weight accumulation across six areas on a horse’s body: neck, withers, behind the shoulder, over the ribs, topline, and tailhead. It gives each of the areas a rating from 1-9: one is extremely emaciated and 9 is obese. Ideal scores are 4-6: you can’t necessarily see the rib but you should always feel it.

Diet and exercise are the two ways to address obesity in any species. In order to address obesity, you must build your horse up to the point where it’s expending more energy than it’s taking in (through calories). This has to be done gradually though; the stress of a sudden surge of physical activity is no good. Say you tend to keep your horses in stalls. Simply letting a pampered horse out won’t really do too much; often, the horses will just stand around waiting to eat. Forced exercise may be necessary at first. Get them to walk around in twenty minute jaunts several times a day, or ten minute runs. Riding the horse is more effective. Consider loaning the horse to someone you know who will want to ride it around. Walking for a long while is considered more effective than galloping for a short while. It’s a steady process; consistency is key.

Next you must think about reducing the amount of grazing your horse does every day. Taper off access to pastures, definitely less than four hours a day. Despite this advice, it’s important to keep the horses eating consistently. Horses that are let out once or twice a day, eat more than horses that are grazing sparsely throughout the day. It’s important to keep the metabolism working. To reduce access to pasture, turn horses out into a drylots (no forage). If you don’t have one on the property, consider a muzzle that lets horses hydrate and consume salt without being able to eat grass. Don’t feed your horses as many high-calorie concentrates, especially if you have an easy keeper. It would also be wise to stick to grass forage and hay instead of legumes like alfalfa. This way, the horses are taking in less calories. Conserve the amount of hay your horses consume. 1.5% of the horse’s target weight is ideal…not 1.5% of its current weight. Try your best to distribute this intake evenly throughout the day instead of in concentrated bursts of eating.

Always consult with your veterinarian before making any abrupt changes to your horse’s diet and lifestyle.

Clearing Your Land

Virginia Farms for SaleChances are if you’re reading this, you are contemplating or have already purchased a beautiful piece of land or farm. A Virginia farm around Charlottesville and/or the Piedmont region is likely a resplendent piece of property, but it may require a little work before you can harness its full potential. Are you currently in possession of land that is, in its current state unsuitable for the construction of domiciles, rearing of livestock, cultivation of vineyards or any of the other various sundry things for which land in Virginia can be utilized? If you have found yourself deliberating the best way to clear your land, look no further than this guide! Here we give you a surface look at several different land clearing methods.

There exists among new landowners a tendency to want land cleared as quickly as possible, without considering all options. Most people do what is quickest and least-time consuming. The most conventional way in which land is usually cleared is to harvest the timber (by harvest, we mean either sell it or use it for their own projects later on), bring in a bulldozer or similar machine to remove the stumps, and then swiftly lay down the next layer (whether it be buildings, open pastures, riding arenas, or asphalt to construct a parking area). This method can be one of the most cost-effective ways to get rid of unwanted components on your land, and because it’s so common, it’s actually quite easy to find people to get this work done; there is certainly a ready market for it. However the bulldozer may cost more than expected, especially if you are unable to leverage the cost of the work against the expected value of the timber. Either way, you’ll end up with what is known as “waste-wood”; stumps and unmarketable pieces of wood. There are a couple of things you can do with the wood, and options vary based on financial and temporal constraints.

You can burn the wood. This is a fairly simple maneuver that gets rid of most of the waste-wood. You can either stack it up into piles and burn it, or dig a hole, burn the waste-wood and bury it. Neither method is extremely kind to the environment; burning that much waste-wood will undoubtedly release greenhouse gasses into the air. You’ll never get rid of all the excess wood with these methods, and you will likely have to check with your local fire department or the Virginia Department of Forestry before taking these measures. In the latter instance, all that charred waste-wood you buried could develop into sinkholes, which is definitely a less-than-desirable circumstance. You could also stack the wood into piles and leave it to eventually decompose. This is much easier and essentially free or very cheap (if using hired labor). The downsides are that the piles of rotting wood on your property would become kind of an eyesore and may develop weeds over time. It does have some benefits for the soil though and the wildlife love it.

If you somehow want to harness the waste-wood, you have a couple of options. The idea of waste-wood utilization maximizes the economic gains you derive from your property. You can use the wood for a variety of things including firewood, hobby wood, custom sawing, and others. If you are in a hurry to develop your land, this may not be the most time-effective method; you’d also need access to a variety of other resources (such as a sawmill) or professionals who can use such things expertly. It may not be cheap to pay them, but the idea is to derive your return from the wood. Similarly, you could use a tub grinder and turn the waste-wood into mulch for personal use or resale. There are machines fitted with mulching implements as this practice has becomes increasingly common. With this method, you can preserve soil integrity* (read below) and get stumps and other debris up quickly. Some of the machines even chip stumps and other debris and feed it back into the soil, increasing organic matter and reducing erosion. This is good if you plan on using the land for pastures, as it maintains soil health. It’s not very cost-effective, although it depends on the soil. The process can range from $200 to $1200 an hour. But certain materials like pine are easier to process than others. The smaller the surface area to be mulched, the easier and more affordable it becomes. It’s not really a viable option for rocky sites.

Bulldozing can sometimes be the quickest, most efficient way to clear your land. But if time and cost-efficacy aren’t your only considerations, you may think about other options. *Many of the farms in rural Virginia only have a few good inches of topsoil, and nearly all of that is in jeopardy when running a bulldozer over the land and razing the ground. Decomposing leaves and branches contribute to the layers of topsoil, and ripping the roots of a tree out of the ground depreciates the topsoil, which has specific nutrients and organic matter that contribute to the growth and cultivation of healthy grass, lawn and pasture area. If you are planning on clearing the land for uses like this, you may want to think about alternative methods, because you will be faced with increased costs and will have to spend time undoing some of the damage to the soil.

Waiting to Remove Stumps

This is an avenue that does not receive as much consideration. Oftentimes, people are in a hurry to develop on the land and fail to consider this viable option. However, simply waiting for the stumps to decompose does less damage to your land and your wallet.

If you’re dealing with pine, letting the stumps decompose after a timber harvest is a pretty good option. The stumps will decompose fully between three and five years, unless of course you’re dealing with shortleaf pine, which will sprout up anew on dead stumps and is quite vigorous.

Deciduous trees are different beasts entirely, because—like shortleaf pine—the trees sprout tenaciously on the stump unless the actual root system itself is destroyed. Generally speaking, herbicides are the cheapest, most effective way to kill roots. Simply fell a tree and, 15 minutes after (if you’re using a water-based solution) or one hour (if you’re using an oil-based solution), apply the herbicide to the stump. The stump should absorb the herbicide and distribute the solution to the root system, effectively killing the tree. One of the problems associated with herbicides is that they have to be applied so soon after cutting down the tree. To address this, people leave the stump a little higher than they normally would; they can then do a follow-up cut when it’s more convenient, right when they have the herbicide on hand. “Herbicides” sound pretty harmful and toxic (due in no small part to the name), but the marginal amount of soil toxicity is actually far less harmful than uprooting the stump, which leads to erosion and the aforementioned degradation of topsoil.


Goats are actually very effective as biological clearing agents. You can buy goats to harvest and clear underbrush, smaller trees and bushes and then sell them once you’ve cleared your land to the extent you desire. Many people see goats as “the future” of land clearing, due to a confluence of factors including environmental concerns and rising costs intimated by bulldozing and use of herbicides. In drier weather or colder, wintry seasons, goats can be conditioned to eat a variety of plants: dead leaves, pine needles and brush. They snack on brush with more aplomb than sheep, and you can always sell them later. You can set up plots with three-to-five goats/acre (or more if you want the land cleared faster). You’ll need to eat the costs associated with constructing an electric fence, using a herding dog and treating the goats’ medical health, welfare, and water needs. Sometimes you may need to supplement the goats’ diet with other forage, or sometimes this will discourage the goats from eating what you want them to clear. They are also effective on steep, rocky cliffs and embankments. Poison oak doesn’t affect them; in fact they enjoy it. Vegetation often grows back in the same spot once weeded, but goats will spot check the same areas with consistency. They also naturally gravitate towards ladder fuels. Ladder fuels are little paths of grass or vegetation that are very conducive to forest fires.

Purchasing land in Virginia can mean a lot of different things. There is no right way to clear your land, especially in the Piedmont region, with its varied landscape and topography. If you’ve purchased real estate near Charlottesville, chances are you want to develop something on the sprawling acreage, whether it be pastures for horses or cows, farm buildings, or a guest cottage. With any luck, this guide will point you in the right direction and will help you figure out the most viable option for your land. Good luck!

Foxhunting around Charlottesville

Foxhunting in Charlottesville, VirginiaThe tradition of foxhunting has been around in this country since the middle of the 17th century, with such distinguished practitioners as Thomas Jefferson and George Washington keeping packs of foxhounds before and after the Revolutionary War. The tradition has continued down through the years here in Central Virginia, led by a number of very active area hunt clubs.

Located in Albemarle County, a mere six miles outside of the city of Charlottesville, Keswick has a great foxhunting infrastructure and a lot of room to hunt on horseback. The Keswick Hunt Club is close to nearby Albemarle County horse farms Belcourt and Bridlespur and across the street from Keswick Hall. The Keswick Hunt Club works to promote and encourage foxhunting in the community by leading organized hunts from November through March, and it has been since it was founded, back in 1889. The Club, like most, breeds and raises its own pack of foxhounds, which can be seen going on regular walks with the Hunt Master (more so as hunting season approaches). It also engages with the community through charitable actions.

The Farmington Hunt Club is close to Free Union in the northwestern part of Albemarle County. The club and its kennels have been around since 1929; before this, they were the Albemarle Hunt Club. The Albemarle Hunt Club disbanded during the First World War, but area interest in fox hunting continued and members old and new started up FHC. The location, with its picturesque Blue Ridge backdrop and rolling, varied terrain is a very ideal setting. Imagine galloping through the fields flanked by a pack of hounds, breathing in crisp mountain air. The Club used to gather for private events at the Farmington Country Club (they built a show ring there in the 30s), and after moving through a few locations on Garth Road, they settled on their current location. Like most other hunt clubs, many of their events are private, but they do have a fall horse show on October 24 of this year, at Barracks. Their Field Hunter Championships are the week of October 5th.

Out between the cities of Charlottesville and Lynchburg, in Nelson County is the Oak Ridge Hunt Club, whose existence dates back to 1887 (in Lynchburg). It’s been back up and running since 1993, although many informal hunts and gatherings had occurred in between periods of perceived inactivity. The club’s current membership is around 75, half of whom are regular hunters. The expansive territory spans Nelson and Buckingham Counties and is very diverse, with everything from rolling fields to deep ravines to river branches and little feeder creeks, a result of the James River which runs through the middle of the landscape. The Oak Ridge Estate is a sprawling 5000 acres, which is optimal for more than just foxhunting; steeplechases, harness racing and some big game hunting are all well-suited to this land. Hunt events are also held at Cherry Hill Farm.

Further north of Charlottesville is the Bull Run Hunt Club, located across the counties of Culpeper, Madison, Orange, and Spotsylvania. This club also offers truly varied terrain, with both rolling countryside and mountain routes. It was established in 1911 and formally recognized by the Masters of Fox Hunting Association in 1954. The Theodora A. Randolph Field Hunter Championship is held at the Glenwood Park Race Course in Middleburg, VA. Judges design a hunter course for the finalists that tests a horse’s disposition and hunting instincts.

As you can see, central Virginia’s expansive, pastoral landscape makes it a great place for the distinguished hobby of foxhunting. The Blue Ridge, with its rolling hills and idyllic mountainous vistas is a great setting for this sport, and there are various pockets of foxhunters with which to engage in the area. However, many of these clubs restrict events to members or guests of members. But if you’re new to the area and looking for a good club to join, check out some of the links above and get in contact!