The Grass is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank

Those of us who remember newspaper columnist and author Erma Bombeck, easily recall the truth in the title of one of her most successful humor books –“The Grass is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank”.  Bombeck’s humor related directly to the migration of city dwellers into suburbia and the challenges they faced.

Recently I have seen horse owners who are buying and building their own properties dealing with issues that probably never come up on large horse farms. For example, when you design your entire horse farm around the limited area where you have been told the county planning department requires you to put the leech field for the septic system – what do you do when the inspector sent out to oversee the installation relocates the septic system just where you planned to have a sacrifice field?

This just happened to one of the horse owners I have been helping. Would it be alright to locate a pasture on the leech field area- let alone most heavily used area?  While I have grazed horses on leech fields before – this question prompted me to call an expert and ask.

Rex Franklyn, owner of FUDDCO in California, has more than 30 years experience in waste water management of all kinds from septic systems in Alaska to metropolitan waste water treatment plants. He has the highest certification possible in the wastewater field.  Full disclosure – he is also my brother and we refer to him as “the most certified man in America”.

Rex started by explaining there are a lot of variables. It is never Ok to allow animals on a mound system (something used in areas where the soil will not “perc” or allow the wastewater to filter through the soil and grass) but if you have trenches ( a leech field) there is the possibility of using it on a limited basis. It depends on the depth of cover (how deeply the filter pipes are buried) and the soil type.

“They probably do not require much cover there (minimal freezing) but if you have a foot and the soil is good it should be ok.” Rex said about my Maryland small horse farm owners.

“Loam soil would be ok, clay or till would be risky,” he explained.  “The loam would spring back when not in use, but till would pack down. So the looser the soil the better.”

We were able to check the soil type using the NRCS web soil survey ( covered in a previous blog  and found at  and determined the soil  was a loam. The owners were able to redesign the fields,  so that although they could not use the area directly over the leech field for a sacrifice area they could use it as one of the fields available for grazing and moving horses through their rotational system.

Sad to say lack of communication between government departments is not unusual. This kind of  challenge could be avoided if there was better interdepartmental communication. The staff often forget that while they deal with these things everyday most home builders only go through the process once and they don’t truly understand it.  One of the things everyone will encounter when building a farm – no matter how well you plan there will always be changes and things you would have done differently.

Get as much help as you can but at some point you just have to go with the flow…

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Shelly Ingram

I am a third generation horsewoman; My father operated a 50 horse boarding and training facility in northern California, where he specialized in re-training spoiled horses. I was his demonstration rider and general assistant in all aspects of running the ranch. I went on to work for several major show and race horse trainers, eventually opening my own barn where I focused on Junior and Amateur riders. I have trained numerous champion horses and riders on all levels and in variety of disciplines. I have also worked as a journalist and have more than a decade of experience in land use planning.

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