Horsekeeping/Farm Design in Florida

I’m still in the very early planning stages, but it looks like in the next year or two, my dream of moving south (currently in CT) and having my horses at home will be coming true. I have lots of experience in horsekeeping – I’ve been a barn manager for upper level boarding facilities as well as been an equine vet tech for many years as well. That being said, all of that experience has been in the northeast US.

So lets talk about keeping horses in Florida – we are mainly looking at the Ocala area – year round. I am open to buying a farmette already built, or building myself. Looking to keep 3-4 dressage horses, no boarders. So tell me your thoughts! What do you wish someone had told you before you took the plunge? :slight_smile:

Stay away from the sandy areas west of Ocala in Levy county, and to the south of Ocala. It’s hard to keep good pastures on sand. If you are building, do soil tests BEFORE you buy - there are “veins” of a grey clay called “gumbo clay” here that will result in more expensive construction. The best pastures are in the NW area of the county. Prices are CRAZY now waht with the WOrld Eq Center and HITS and everything else. You will be shocked at the cost of hay (I bought two string Orchard grass yesterday - $25 / bale) Shop around to get your arena built - there are big names and smaller companies, get references. Look out for the “toll roads” the state is looking to build to the west of town. We are fighting it but best to be aware (and realtors are not required to tell you because no route is set yet).

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Thank you for the info! I had heard about the hay prices, so I would love to maintain my pastures so I only have to feed minimal hay. My current dude does way better living out 24/7, so I might supplement with some alfalfa just for taste, but the goal is for the grass to be his main forage. Is that possible in FL year round? Up here the general rule of thumb is 3 acres for 1 horse, an extra acre for each additional horse to be able to keep your grass happy, but I know that number varies wildly based on the soil and the kind of grass that grows in the specific climate.

Also up here, buying wooded land and clearing it for horses is not a great plan, it takes years for the grass to mature and turning horses out on it before those roots are strong basically makes you start from scratch. Is that also true in Florida?

Thanks again! These are the things I think about when I am supposed to be focusing in work meetings. :laughing:

I own a 15 acre training farm south of Ocala – my trainer and his wife lease and operate it as a dressage training barn. We do get extreme weather in Central Florida — very hot and humid in the summer with almost daily torrential downpours, and the odd hurricane (last significant one was Irma in 2017). In terms of evaluating barns I would say the priority is airflow – its critical in the summer even if you have fans in all stalls. We have open aisles in all directions so we can catch any breeze and both the interior and exterior stall doors are an open “mesh” type design. We do have roll down doors at the end of all aisles and full sliding exterior stall doors so we can close the place up for the few times it gets really cold and also during bad storms. A sturdy concrete block barn is handy to have during hurricane scares. Think air conditioning for tack rooms and feed rooms due to the heat and humidity. A covered arena is a god send in terms of riding in the summer — both for shade and for cover from rain. Summer weather can be tough on the horses — particularly the first year if they aren’t used to it. But, like humans, they can acclimate. Don’t feed local coastal hay. As far as your question about clearing land — the property I bought had been used as a horse farm but still the amount of $$ that it took to clear some of the older trees, clean the property up, and get the pastures in shape again was a lot more than I had expected. Look for a property that has been cleared with pastures for livestock would be my advice. As others have said, farm property values in the Ocala area have been impacted by the opening of WEC. Good luck – Florida can be a great place for riding and horses. Just think of the summer as “our” winter … still easier than months of snow and ice in my opinion.

The short answer: No.

The long answer: With enough acreage, heroic grass management efforts, and planting of alternative forage sources for the winter, you probably could do it, but most people aren’t going to have the resources to do so. Pasture grasses in Florida mostly go dormant in the winter.

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My pea tiny farm produces enough grass so that fall and spring the horses graze 24/7 and only the oldie gets hay (his alfalfa as he’s not an easy keeper). In summer the horses stay in the barn in the worst of the heat so I feed them hay during those hours. In winter, they graze during most of daylight hours and I feed hay overnight.

I do plant winter grazing, annual rye grass. I do maintain my pastures but I wouldn’t call it a heroic effort. Mowing, lime, fertilizer, rotation and occasional irrigation. The winter grazing reduces weeds a good bit. I have approximately one acre (maybe a bit more) in grass turnout split into two paddocks and a third “dry lot” paddock that grows some grass in summer. Two horses. It sounds crazy, but it’s not an uncommon stocking rate in my area (Pensacola).

IME a lot will be determined by the soil on the property. Too sandy and it won’t hold water or nutrition and your grass will be poor. Too much clay and the ground will hold water too much and the horses will tear it up too easily resulting in not enough grass. Stocking rates will play into that too. The less ideal your ground is the more acreage you’ll need to grow the same tonnage of grass.

New pastures planted on freshly cleared land will do best if given a whole year to grow without horses. I don’t know first hand how much better that is as everyone I know that’s done that has started grazing after the first mowing. :woman_shrugging:t2:

Barns need to be as open air as possible. Lots of fans too.

YMMV

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I’m confused. Most of your post sounds like you’re disagreeing with my statement that you can’t maintain horses on pasture alone all year long, but here in your first paragraph, you agreed with me, saying that you supplement pasture with hay in winter and summer. :woman_shrugging:

My horses also lived out 24/7 and grazed 24/7, but during the winter pasture had to be supplemented by hay and that’s what the OP asked about.

My farm was in NE Ocala area, and it was very sandy, and TBH I friggen loved it. I had no mud, sand drains extremely well. Yeah, the grass sucked. Air ferns could keep weight with about three acres per horse, anyone else I also had free-choice hay available (either alfalfa or Tifton depending on the horse). But, with free-choice Alfalfa, I still often spent the same or less money in total food than I did in Ohio, because most that used to need a ton of grain were able to be switched to just a bit of ration balancer.

The western side of the area is better grass, but of course with that you have better soil and therefore mud, so pick your poison ;-). I knew people on that side of town that didn’t need to supplement hay even when the grass went dormant in the winter - they planted winter rye every year and/or had about fives acres per horse of pasture to use.

So this is sort of what I am wrestling with when deciding what I want – pick your poison is absolutely correct! lol For me, when I said minimal hay, I didn’t mean I don’t want to feed any hay at all. My horse is currently on a dry lot 24/7, so is maintained only on hay (apart from the 30 min or so of hand grazing I do pretty much daily) and even if the grass is not very nutritious, I also do feed a balancer and other vitamin supplements plus extra protein because he does work pretty hard as well as is suspected PSSM2.

He does do much better is warm weather than the cold (we are the same in that, hence the hopeful move south!) but I also worry about him not understanding the need to get out of the heat, so I expect I’ll need to lock him in an area with a fan/mister and hay at least for the first couple of summers.

That being said, where do you all get your out-of-area hay? I prefer not feeding straight alfalfa (he gets really spicy on a lot of alfalfa, he gets one feeding of cubes now and that is pretty much his max) so I’d be looking for a timothy/alfalfa mix or something similar. I’ve heard of some southerners using peanut grass?

Thank you all for your input! Keep it coming! :slight_smile:

Stall fans are a must. I wouldn’t bother with misters — its so humid that putting more moisture in the air doesn’t help. :wink:

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My post was directed at the OP not as a reply to you in particular. The OP asked about forage production, I relayed my experience.

I think this is a case of confusion from the software platform since my post was directly after yours.

My view shows my post in reply to OP

Perennial peanut hay.
It feeds like straight alfalfa. It’s good if you need a sub for alfalfa.
Not the peanut hay made from the leftover vines after they harvest commercial peanuts. That’s pretty much trash hay.

Perennial peanut - I was always told it was a good option too, but I never did find it for any less than Orchard, Alfalfa, and Timothy in my five years with the farm. There’s local feed stores that sell hay that is brought in from all over the country. Newport, Larsen, OBS, Seminole, Hay Movers, you can easily Google them to get a list. Or you can hop on Facebook and find a supplier that will ship to you, but you’ll typically have to be able to put up a full semi-load for that option. I fed Tifton hay a lot, a local grass hay.

Misters can tend to cause skin issues with them being wet too often. I’m sure he’ll have no problem knowing when he is too hot and wants to go under a fan.

I am in south Ocala. Last winter i did nto lose my pastures at all. Yes they turned brown but we barely had a hard freeze. I did overseed with rye.But yes, I did feed O/A to supplement the pastures so they were not damaged. I have two acres of pasture and 2 1/2 horses (LOL)

Regarding sourcing hay, there are a number of hay dealers in town. I use Larsens, and ocassionally get a bale from Seminole.

and a note about fans - be sure you get a fans with sealed motors. Lots of folks use box fans here, but they are SO dangerous! The sealed motors are much more expensive but are designed for dusty places.

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Agree!! And mount them up high in the corner of the stalls so that horses can’t get at them — at our barn the horses stand right under the fans on summer afternoons. They make a big difference.

Here is a video from a veterinarian on barn design. One of the things I remember is: have a 14’ aisle so they can drive a vehicle in and open the doors. And lots of outlets so you don’t have to run extension cords.

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