Homemade Horse Treats

The footing has been so treacherous that it has been too dangerous to ride. Tonka is barefoot, and his feet slip on ice like unwaxed cross country skis. The snow is wet, it balls up in his hooves, and so at times it’s like he’s walking on rockers. But that doesn’t mean that training him has come to a halt. We’re working on all sorts of fun and useful behaviors, like “come” and “stand” and “head down” and “let’s go” (which means walk next to my shoulder, off-lead.) I reward him with carrots, but once in awhile I like to give him a high value treat. Tonka certainly likes commercial horse cookies, but they’re expensive, and I’m not thrilled with their long list of ingredients. I decided to make my own. I developed a recipe to meet my criteria of simple, healthy ingredients, a large batch with shelf-life, and very tasty.

I warn you that these smell so good when baking that your family will be disappointed that they are for the horses!

Healthy Horse Treats
(recipe © Terry Golson at CooperativeHorse.com)

2 carrots
2 apples
1 tablespoon canola oil
2/3 cup molasses
2 cups rolled oats
3 cups whole wheat flour
2 tablespoons dried peppermint

1. Preheat the oven to 350º F. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper or nonstick liners.
2. Shred the carrots and apples. Please use flavorful apples, like Macouns or Macintoshes. Do not use drab delicious.

grated fruit


3. Put the shredded apples and carrots into a bowl, preferably of a stand mixer. (You could do this by hand, but the mixer will create a better texture and is easier. Most handheld mixers aren’t powerful enough for this dough.) Add the remaining ingredients. Cooking tip: measure the oil in the measuring cup and swirl around before pouring out. Next, measure the molasses in the same cup. The molasses will then slip right out into the mixing bowl.
4. Using the paddle attachment, beat the mixture until all is shiny.



5. Scoop out small balls, they’ll be uniform if you use a scoop (you can make them half the size shown here by using a melon baller.)



6. Bake for 1 hour, or until dry all the way through. If the tops turn dark brown before the centers are done, cover lightly with a sheet of tinfoil. Cool on a wire rack. If the cookies are baked until soft like regular people-cookies, the horses will love them, but they will only stay fresh for 3 days. Baking so that they are dry through their cores give them a longer shelf life.

makes 2 1/4 pounds

After fussing with this recipe, I took the treats to the barn to see what the horses thought.

Mica, Dune and Cisco loved them, but they’ll eat anything.

horse nose


Tango, though, is a fussy thoroughbred. He spit out the first one offered. But then he thought about it and decided that he really, really liked them.



Tonka said that the cookies were a nice change from carrots. Here he is coming when called.



I’ll be writing more about training with treats in future posts. But for now, it’s important to say that I never give food “just because.” Horses are large and potentially dangerous animals. They can get pushy. A swing of a frustrated head, a shove, a bite, can do much damage. With this in mind, I only hand over a treat in response to a desired behavior. Also, how a horse takes a treat is as important as what he does to get it. A horse is capable of taking a treat with the gentlest of lips. Because of my parameters and attention to my horse’s body language, Tonka remains polite and calm, even during training and eating.



The goats also like treats. You might be surprised to hear that they are fussier than Tango! Pip turns his nose up in disdain at wilted parsley, and Caper has refused animal crackers (that his brother would have gorged on if I’d let him.) The ultimate test of this recipe was whether or not both of the goats liked them.

Like my horse, the goats are asked to behave before being fed. Sometimes I have them stand on their stumps, sometimes they are asked to back up. When I came into the barn with these new cookies, they could smell them. Their little tails wagged. They enthusiastically backed up, and then they smacked, crunched and swallowed. Success!

goats eating treats

How Cold In The Coop?

After a brief January thaw we are in the midst of another arctic chill. That’s the nature of January thaws, they get you thinking that spring is around the corner, and then crush your hopes.

Yesterday morning I woke up to this.



A reading like that causes some people to panic about how cold their hens are. Don’t. My two barns aren’t insulated. They have great ventilation, which means they are not closed up tight – the Little Barn has a hole in the roof called a cupola, and the Big Barn has large screened vents at the eaves. There’s no source of heat except for the barely-warm base for the waterers, and the animals themselves. And yet, this was the temperature inside of the barn at 7 am after a very cold night.

coop temperature


Toasty. If you’re a worrier, you might get peace of mind by bringing a thermometer inside of the coop.

The chickens don’t need a thermometer, and they’re not discouraged after the January thaw, either. As far as they’re concerned we’re heading into springtime. Even the molting laggards have grown in their plumage for the new year. Do you remember how Ruby looked in December? That’s a late molt! But despite being half-naked in early winter, the cold didn’t bother her.

Dec Ruby molting


This is what she looks like today. She’s in fine form and ready to lay.



In fact, Amber, the Best Buff Orpington Ever, (due to the fact that she has never once gone broody and she lays eggs as consistently as a hybrid) has already been using the nesting box.

Nesting Box


Meanwhile, there’s been an upswing in egg production in the Little Barn, too. Twiggy, a White Leghorn, upheld her breed’s reputation for laying, and has laid eggs even on the coldest days. She’s created five to six eggs a week since she started last summer. Nancy Drew has contributed two to three eggs a week. The Americaunas stopped as daylight waned, but just this week Owly resumed laying her beautiful dusky blue egg. Beatrix is thinking about it. But Veronica? No sign at all of laying. However, she never stops chatting, and it turns out that she is a very good school visit hen.



The hens are sailing through these frigid temperatures and remain true to their optimistic natures. I’m going to follow their lead and ignore the thermometer. Spring really is around the corner. Now, if only I could convince Scooter.


The Goats Wait

The other day the weather warmed, the snow melted, and one could see the ground. The Goat Maid thought that it would be a good day for the goats to have an outing. They agreed. The goat boys made a beeline to the rose bushes, which they helpfully cleaned of wilted leaves.


The Goat Maid left them to their task to do some chores of her own inside of the barn.

It is not okay for the Goat Maid to leave her goats.

Pip and Caper waited…



…and waited for the Goat Maid to return.



Which she did, of course. She was quite flattered that they love her more than roses.

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A Kind Eye

The last thing that I was looking for when I went shopping for a horse was a flashy paint. In fact, my preference would have been for a solid brown or a bay with black points. Understated and classic. I certainly didn’t go out looking for a horse that inspired Oh! He is so beautiful! bursts of admiration. However, that is what I got. Even standing in mud, Tonka looks good.

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What I did go looking for, my #1 criterion, was what horsemen call a kind eye. (Although, of course, horses have two eyes, it is always referred to in the singular.) Tonka has one.



Like people, horses are born with their own unique personalities. Some are introverts and some are extroverts. Some horses are competitive and have the look of eagles. Some are worriers, and some are endless, mischievous troublemakers. Some have gentle souls and thoughtful minds, and those are the horses with kind eyes.

You can’t train a horse to have a kind eye, but you can crush it. There are obvious ways to do that, such as physical abuse. There are other ways to do it as well, that are more subtle but far more prevalent.

Just like the well-behaved child in school is often ignored, so too, a good horse is often casually handled. Only when he acts up (perhaps a spook on the lead-line) is he paid attention to, and then it is with a yank on the rope. The horse with the kind eye who is ignored might learn to misbehave for attention. Or, more likely, he will simply go dull. That kind eye will turn listless.

Horses respond to pressure, both physically by touch and also when others enter into their personal space. They are exquisitely tuned to body language. They are herd animals that can read the emotional life of another horse 20 feet away by the flick of an ear. They are animals that form lifelong friendships. They also hold grudges. Horses believe that everything has cause and effect. So to keep that kind eye intact, it is not enough to simply dote on your horse. it’s not the love you feel, or the treats you give, but how you treat him. Every action (or inaction) matters.So, to nurture Tonka’s kind eye, I have to comport myself in a way that relates to him (even across a field, my movement affects his) and I also have to behave consistently and with purpose.

People like to spoil their horses, and it is easy to do. Horses have big appetites and they relish treats. You might say that you want to give your horse a carrot just because you love him, but the horse doesn’t see it that way. In his mind, there must be a reason why you have handed over that bit of food. If he nuzzles you and gets a carrot, the next time he sees you he’ll try another nuzzle. That doesn’t work? He’ll shove. I don’t want a pushy, needy horse, but that doesn’t mean that I never give Tonka carrots. Instead, they are offered only after I ask him to do something and he does it. I might ask for a “touch” or a “head down” or a “walk next to me.” I ask, he responds. I pay attention to him as much as he does to me. He knows the reward is coming because of a clear sound marker (I use a clicker). He knows what to expect, and he knows that what he does matters to me. Horses crave this sort of interaction. Tonka enjoys these short work and treat training sessions. He even adds his own twists to it to see if I really am paying attention. We’ve been doing off-lead work. during which I ask him to walk next to me, his head pointing straight ahead, parallel to my shoulder. Lately, while I walk, he’s been all contained, exuberant energy. He trots. He gets a few steps ahead and looks back. No click. He slows, he backs up, he jigs next to my shoulder. He’s asking a question, “what gets the reward, just being next to you, or do I have to walk, too?” I tell him, through body language, and then a click, that as long as he stays at my shoulder, that he can use whatever gait he wants. I might regret this later, but it sure is cute. Tonka’s kind eye glimmers with intelligence and trust.



His fancy black and white coat is a bonus. I confess that I do like having such a handsome horse! But in the end, it’s the relationship that matters.

Chicken Coop Bedding

The floor of your chicken coop might be dirt, wood or concrete. On top of that goes bedding.To pick out the right bedding you have to understand what it does, so first I’ll explain its purpose, and then list some of the options.

Birds don’t pee – everything comes out in one plop, and that pile is more than 75% liquid. As the manure breaks down it gives off caustic and smelly ammonia fumes, and water evaporating from the manure makes the air damp. Healthy poo is an almost solid pile that is streaked with white. But once a day, a hen leaves a runny brown mess which is expelled from her cecal pouch. This is perfectly normal, although rather nasty. It’s not something easily cleaned off of a bare floor. Chickens produce manure all day and all night long. In fact, they poop so much while sleeping that there will be piles of it under the roosts in the morning. A hen is not like a rabbit, which is a tidy animal that likes to have its bathroom area in one place away from her den. Chickens poop everywhere, and they cannot be trained to do otherwise. Each hen will defecate about four ounces a day.  So, if you’re going to have chickens, you need to plan for how to keep the coop clean and how to handle that manure. The first step in manure management is to have bedding inside of the coop.

I want a coop that I can walk into without saying ewww! The right bedding on the coop’s floor will function to dry up the manure, and keep it as whole as possible, until you, the “farmer” skips it out (use a fine tine pitchfork) into a muck tub and remove it to the compost pile.

The right bedding can also keep the hens occupied. They need to scratch, and hard floors cannot satisfy this ingrained behavior. Bare earth doesn’t work either. It stays damp, and the hens will make big craters. Some people tout the use of a deep litter system for their coops, which certainly gives the chickens a thick layer of bedding  to scratch in. However, for many reasons, this is not a good choice for most backyard flocks. I write about that here.

Chicken Coop Bedding Options:

Pine Shavings: Wood shavings are excellent bedding; bags of pine shavings are widely available at feed stores and are not too expensive. Shavings are absorbent, and it’s easy to use a fine-tined pitchfork to sift through them and clean up manure. Some people have access to the leavings from a friend’s woodworking shop. It’s great to get free material, but make sure that there are no metal bits (chickens will down anything sparkly), that it’s not dusty, and that it’s sized so that the bedding is absorbent (big chunks of wood won’t do!)  Sawdust is not good bedding because your active chickens will kick up a fine dust and that will cause respiratory issues. Also, be aware that not all types of wood makes for good bedding. Cedar and oak can be caustic, and black walnut is very dangerous for some animals.


Pine shavings used as chicken coop bedding.


Hay and Straw: These two are not the same. Hay is made of green, tall, grass that has been dried and baled. The tough yellow stalks left over from harvesting grains like wheat makes up straw. Straw, like hay, is sold in large rectangular bales. Both have drawbacks as coop bedding. One serious issue is that chickens can get impacted crops from trying to eat them.  Also, both are poor absorbers of moisture and will mold rather than dry out. Additionally, is difficult to clean manure out of a coop layered with hay or straw without removing all of the bedding, too. Years ago, farmers had chaffing machines, which chopped hay and straw into small bits. Although not as absorbent as wood shavings, chaff is acceptable bedding. There is a new product for backyard flocks that combines chaff with a naturally absorbent mineral. It’s more expensive than pine shavings, but the chickens love scratching in it, and the coop stays very dry. I’ve written about it here.


Koop Clean used as chicken coop bedding. 

Other Plant-based Bedding: There are all sorts of things available on a regional basis – peanut hulls, pine needles, and dried leaves to name a few. Although they are not absorbent, if you have enough, and they are free, and if you remove and replace the bedding weekly, then they are possible options. You’ll know if they’re working okay if the air in your coop smells fresh and feels dry.

Sand: I do not like this option. Although it is easy to clean, sand holds moisture. I’ve heard from enough people who have had respiratory diseases and frostbite due to sand flooring to caution against its use. Also if your coop has a sand or dirt floor, rats and predators can easily burrow their way into your coop. I always like to see a solid floor in a coop. Personally, I prefer concrete, but wood floors are also a deterrent to vermin.

To tell if you’ve chosen the right bedding, and that you’re keeping it dry and refreshed, stand in the coop (or put your head in if you have a small henhouse.) Breathe the air. If you aren’t comfortable – if your eyes water, if you cough from dust, if it feels damp, then your hens aren’t comfortable either. If, though, it’s so nice in there that you want to pull up a stool and spend time with your chickens, then the bedding is just right.