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Using Drylots to Conserve Pastures and Reduce Pollution Potential – The Horse


Individuals skeptical of the benefits of having horses on gravel instead of mud can opt to create an area that is only partially graveled. Construction can begin once the drylot has been justified, located, and sized. You’ll need to excavate the topsoil to construct the heavy-use traffic pad. Remove the topsoil down to a soil horizon with a higher clay content and more stable surface. Producers have used track and skidsteer loaders to excavate the soil down to a clay layer. Some producers have used plows to till the soil and make it easier for skidsteer loaders to remove it. Producers installing these areas should strongly consider where to place the spoils. They might even consider selling the topsoil removed from these areas.

After excavation, lay geotextile fabric down over the exposed soil to prevent rock from sinking into the ground and soil from moving up through the matrix. The National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) recommends placing a nonwoven, nonheat-bonded, and needle-punched geotextile fabric under all treatment areas unless the foundation is rock or the surface treatment is concrete. The fabric should have the minimum material requirements as specified in Table 1.

A weight for the geotextile fabric is usually not specified, because the specific material features differ from one manufacturer to another. The fabric should be at least a 6 ounces/square yard weight fabric to meet the requirements listed above. Your local agriculture and natural resources extension agent, NRCS district conservationist, agricultural supply store, concrete supply store, etc., might be able to advise you on where to buy geotextile fabric.

Lay a base layer of large rock (i.e., #2 or #4) on top of the fabric, to a depth of at least 6 inches. Take caution when spreading the base layer so as not to disturb the geotextile fabric. After the base layer, spread a top layer of at least 3 inches of dense grade aggregate (DGA) over the area. This will provide a solid, stable surface for feeding in the winter. You might also want to extend the geotextile fabric and rock out past the gates into the pasture, as these areas will see heavy traffic, especially if only one entrance to the pad exists.

Fences and Gates

A wide range of fencing options exists, depending on your desires and needs. However, drylots are permanent structures and should not be constructed using temporary or electric tape materials. In a situation where the animals are crowded, it is very important to think of horse and handler safety. Avoid corners and metal T-posts. Ideally, the drylot will have a gated access from a farm road or farmstead. Gates and fences should be designed to accommodate truck and tractor access to facilitate feeding and cleaning. There should also be at least one gated access from the drylot to the remaining pasture.


The cost of installing a high-traffic area pad for a drylot will be approximately $0.80/square foot; a concrete pad would cost about $4.00/square foot.

You can reduce project costs by excavating the site yourself and possibly selling the topsoil. You can justify the costs of the project because you’re saving the money you’d typically spend renovating lost pasture and replacing lost forage. You can reduce forage losses by 25 to 50% when feeding on a drylot surface or from hay feeders placed on a drylot surface rather than from muddy surfaces. Horses placed on drylots might also lose fewer shoes in the mud, which is another savings.

Table 2. High traffic area pad costs.

Item Cost/sq. ft
Geotextile Filter Fabric $0.06
Rock Base (No. 4 Crushed Limestone) $0.25
Densely Graded Aggregate $0.14
Total Materials $0.45
Labor/Grading Work $0.35
Total Cost $0.80

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