Dry lot layout and maintenance

Aubrey Jaqueth, Ph.D., and Krishona Martinson, Ph.D. University of Minnesota
Farm Forum

Dry lots are an essential part of a rotational grazing system. They are a centralized area for providing shelter, hay, feed and water with access to adjacent pastures. Dry lots are also used to house horses when pastures need to be rested or during the winter when pasture is no longer growing. They can also be used for horses with metabolic syndrome that cannot safely graze pasture due to the potentially high nonstructural carbohydrate content of grasses.

A few guidelines for dry lot layout include:

• Plan ahead for how you want to use your dry lot. If you want to rotationally graze, ensure that all pastures are adjacent to the dry lot and can be accessed through gates and /or laneways.

• Install systems for managing precipitation such as gutters, swales and rain barrels. Managing water flow will help you manage mud.

• Install high-traffic pads to help promote drainage in areas prone to mud accumulation. Typical areas for mud accumulation are at gates, along laneways, and around shelters, feeders and drinking water sources.

• Plan for at least 400 square feet per average sized, 1,100-pound horse. This does not include space required for shelters, feeders, or water sources.

• Ensure that horses can easily move within the dry lot and have access to shelters, feeders and water sources. If horses do not get along, or if horses are larger than average, more space may be required.

• When possible, use rounded corners to help avoid areas horses can become trapped.

• Shelters should be three-sided, placed to block winds, and allow for all horses to have access in poor weather conditions. Recommendations for size vary, but a general guideline is 72 to 144 square feet per averaged sized horse, assuming all horses in the herd get along. If horses do not get along or are larger in size, more space may be required.

• Make sure your dry lot is not too big so that you can easily maintain a weed-free and safe space for your horses. A correctly sized dry lot should not become weedy.

Permanent, sturdy fencing should always be used to enclose a dry lot. Fencing options include 3 or 4 board wood fence, no-climb wire mesh fencing, corral panels, permanent electric fencing, or a combination of these fence types. Fencing should be easy to see and constantly electrified if electric fencing is used. Gates should be located in corners and large enough to allow access by large farm equipment; ideally, at least one gate would be 16 feet wide. Consider including a 4-foot gate for easy access to the dry lot for people or a single horse. If possible, ensure gates swing towards fencing (e.g. hinges are located in corners) to help eliminate spaces where horse can become trapped.

Manure should be removed regularly, ideally daily. Remember to follow local and state laws on proper manure handling and storage. Control weeds through regular mowing, clipping or herbicide applications and dragging may be necessary to maintain a level surface.