While development seems to be a fact of life today and most of us can't do much to stop the encroachment of buildings and development, horse owners actually can do quite a bit to provide wildlife with suitable living conditions. Inviting many types of wildlife into our horse places actually has wonderful payoffs to horse and property owners, as well as for our neighbors and the environment.

Some payoffs include natural insect and rodent control, and low cost/low maintenance landscaping that can double as a dust barrier, wind break, shade, mud management, or a buffer between neighboring uses. Vegetation planted for wildlife also acts as a natural biofiltration system and helps preserve water quality and protect soil. Plus, wildlife is free! As horse and land owners, you and I know that there are few animals we can enjoy that are as low cost and low maintenance as wildlife.

Wildlife can be helpful for horses and humans.

Wildlife enhancement techniques can have big payoffs for horse owners. At Sweet Pepper Ranch, this barn owl box invites the rodent-controlling raptors to come work in our barns and fields.

At Sweet Pepper Ranch we recently installed an owl box to help with rodent control in our barn and fields--and because we enjoy seeing raptors around. Our county installed it as part of their non-toxic gopher control program, making it cost-effective for us. This past summer we also worked at planting native plants, creating brush and rock piles, and planting hedgerows.

While it's winter in most of North America and we can't plant now, it's a great time of year to dream and plan. So let's begin! Encourage wildlife by providing three things: cover, food, and water (Tip: you can also use these same principles to discourage unwanted wildlife by eliminating their habitat on your property.) Here are some examples of each:

1. Cover

  • Provide nest boxes specific for swallows, owls, kestrels, bats, butterflies, mason bees, etc. so that babies and eggs are protected from predators.
  • Provide brush piles, great for little birds such as chickadees, also frogs and other small wildlife.
  • Provide rock piles, home for snakes, lizards and other helpful bug and rodent catchers.
  • Leave snags and downed trees, which provide cover and/or food for birds such as woodpeckers, ravens, hawks, and eagles.
  • Plant hedgerows, which birds such as quail and small animals live in or use to get from place to place.
  • Provide nesting materials, such as little piles of horse hair, sticks, or hay left in strategic spots.

2. Food

  • Leave some grasses unmowed under trees, along edges of forest or in corners of the pasture so birds can hide and hunt; also seed eating birds such as finches and pine siskins will increase.
  • Plant crops you can share with wildlife such as berries, nuts, flowers, herb,s and fruits for birds, butterflies, and bees.
  • Go native-landscape with native plants which will provide the most reliable cover and food for wildlife in all seasons, especially important around streams, ponds and lakes.
  • Plant for each season with diversity.
  • Limit or eliminate chemical usage. Many grub eating species (such as robins) will stay away if you contaminate their soil with synthetic pesticides, herbicides, or fertilizers.
  • Consider keeping your cat indoors. Cats and dogs provide many useful functions for unwanted wildlife around barns and houses, but every bird and mouse they kill is one less for our native predators, and pets don't discriminate between good and bad wildlife.

3. Water

  • Birdbaths provide water at the right depth and are easily hosed out weekly to prevent algae and mosquitoes. Alternately, you can use shallow plant saucers placed on the ground. Keeping these unfrozen in the winter is important as well.
  • Water barrels--put your roof to work by placing barrels under your downspouts and sharing it with the birds. Pond plants or non-toxic mosquito dunks can be added for insect control. A small board or floating stick is good for smaller critters, such as beautiful dragonflies.
  • Ponds and fountains--the sound of running water is always a great attractant and soothing for humans too!

As horse owners and landowners, we share a special bond with all animals and nature; wildlife is an extension of our environment, our farms, and our animals. Plus, wildlife provides us with beauty and important moments of relaxation and enjoyment as well as education from observing and caring for them.

By providing a bit of habitat for wildlife, we as horse owners can become an asset to the environment, and in return, wildlife enhancement techniques will benefit us and our as horses.