Barn, Stall, and Fence Maintenance
Take a closer look at your barn and property and ensure it's safe for horses and handlers.
The care and keeping of your barn is important for the health and well-being of your horses and the humans that work with them. Barns are tough areas to keep in good order. They are moist environments that typically contain a good deal of dust. The combination makes for a tough cleaning job! Developing a regular cleaning schedule will help the dirt and disorder from getting out of control.
A couple of times per year, it is worthwhile to take a critical look at your facilities and equipment for safety issues that might be present. Especially when considering safety issues in your barn, a vet bill will most always exceed the investment in making aspects of your barn safer! Human safety is also a real concern. According to the National Safety Council, 30% of all farm injuries happen in buildings.
You know horses have a knack for getting themselves hurt. Many horses spend a good deal of time in their stalls, so that is an excellent place to begin your safety review.
Check the stall for any protrusions on which horses might catch themselves. Remove nails or hammer them in flat. Remove any wood pieces sticking out and sand the area to ensure the occupant won't get splinters or scrapes.
Take time to make sure all screws on stall doors are tight and the doors slide smoothly. Latches should be in good working order. A little oil can work wonders. Many manufacturers are constructing their stall doors using strong, metal mesh.
"They are great for ventilation and very sturdy," shares Pat Comerford, MS, extension horse specialist for Pennsylvania State University.
Proper ventilation can make a big difference in the health of your horses. A recent study at Penn State showed horses had greater exposure to dust and allergens in a stall versus an arena. Most horses spend more time in the stall than in an arena, so the sum of constant exposure in the stall is greater than the short-term exposure from kicked-up dust in the arena.
If you have solid doors on your stalls, it might be worthwhile to replace the stall doors with metal mesh ones or doors made with other materials that provide ventilation. It is also important to consider ventilation needs as the seasons change. In the warm months make sure the barn's end doors are open for cross ventilation. Open windows and any other ventilation louvers to maximize airflow.
Look at the feed and water equipment in the stall. Comerford has heard horror stories about horses kicking and getting limbs caught in the bars of metal hay racks.
"Hay mangers with wire bars can be a real hazard," says Comerford. "I have heard of so many horses who have had problems."
She recommends constructing a wooden manger in a corner or, even better, using poly feeders that are durable and easier to clean with no sharp edges.
Bar partitions on stalls can also pose a hazard. "In the newer versions of stalls, the bars are spaced closer together and are more durable," says Comerford.
The older stalls had bars spaced farther apart and were often not as durable. Horses were known to kick and get caught in those. She has also heard stories about horses getting caught in prefab "stall kits," so be careful when making a purchase--examine spaces between partitions to ensure a horse can't get a foot stuck.
Stalls should be outfitted with at least one tie ring, a removable feed tub, and two water buckets. Placing these buckets on the aisle wall can make filling them easier. Buckets can sport sharp edges. Manufacturers are now making buckets with minimal protruding parts and with polycoated edges. If your buckets are looking tired, a fresh set might be a good investment. If you don't want to purchase new, at least consider taping over any sharp edges on your existing buckets. It is so easy for a horse to injure an eye on protrusions. The same would apply to any hooks or ties in the stall. Covering up sharp edges is an inexpensive way to prevent steep vet bills.
Take this opportunity to thoroughly scrub out the grain and water buckets, as well as any feeders in the stalls. If yours is like most barns, grain residue has built up on the bottom of your buckets and feeders and could become a health hazard for your horses. Strip the stalls completely, making sure to remove any bedding in the corners. You want to get out any moist or moldy materials and eliminate any comfy hiding spot for rodents. Clean out any cobwebs that might have been constructed. There are good spray disinfectants available on the market for the stall walls. Any windows should be cleaned.
In summary, after your renovation you should have a clean, dry, well-ventilated, and well-lighted space for your horse.
Hay and Grain Storage
Faculty members at the University of New Hampshire Thompson School of Applied Science offer some great advice about hay and grain storage in their Barn Safety article available online. (Visit www.thompsonschool.unh.edu and search "barn safety" in the upper right-hand corner.) Ideally, you should store hay and grain in a room with a door that remains closed except during feeding time. Hay is readily flammable, so this type of setup can minimize fire risk. Storing hay in a separate building would be ideal. Wet hay can produce heat and spontaneously combust. Keep grain in a feed bin or a metal garbage can so that it will not be affected by moisture or attract rodents. Store hay on a pallet for the same reason.
Lighting and Electric
Ensure your lights are properly covered. A shattered light bulb is a threat to horse safety and a serious fire hazard. It's also very important to check the barn's electrical wiring. Many barns have exposed wiring, which is another serious fire hazard.
"Enclose your wiring in conduit to keep rodents out and horses from chewing on them," recommends Comerford.
Box fans, while popular, can also be fire hazards. They are not built to withstand the exposure to moisture, dust, and dirt in barns. Make sure fans you use are professional-grade and designed to withstand the barn's environment.
From a ventilation standpoint, it might be worthwhile to examine overhead fans (in barns with high ceilings), as they can push air down in columns and provide more thorough ventilation of the stall. Keep the fan blades clean.
The main aisleway of the barn should be free of obstructions and swept regularly. Check that cross-ties are secure with functioning breakaway latches and that washing areas are draining properly.
Stall cards for each horse should list the name, what the horse looks like, allergies, bad habits, special needs, how much feed he gets, and emergency contact information. Update and reprint these cards if they are faded or hard to read.
Check to see that you have an ABC fire extinguisher at each exit and halfway down the aisle if you have a large barn, or at least every 75 feet. Check the gauges to ensure the extinguishers are filled and ready to work in an emergency; if not, take them to your local fire department to be charged. Fire officials can also teach you to read the gauges. It is also worth posting no smoking signs.
Store medications in a closed (preferably locked) box out of the reach of children. Check all medications to make sure they are not out of date. Restock as needed, especially any items for emergencies. You should have first-aid kits for humans and horses readily available. Post the number for your veterinarian and other emergency numbers near the box for easy reference.
The tack room is another place that warrants a periodic cleaning. Make sure hooks and hanging equipment are secure. It is important to keep tack in good working order, so inspect each piece for wear and mend, if needed. Again, the barn presents a moist environment, so keep all equipment off the floor. This can be a good time to wash saddle pads.
Comerford recommends looking into the new fencing materials available today. Many of the new fencing materials are much safer than traditional fencing, require less maintenance, and are extremely durable. She says polycoated wire has proven to be very cost-effective and safe for the horses in her area. You can string as many lines as you need for your circumstances, and it does not pose the same risks to horses as traditional wire (which is more difficult to see and more likely to tighten around a horse's leg if he gets caught).
Polymer four-board fencing is also popular due to the durability and lower regular maintenance costs: no painting or creosote coating is required. Adding such fencing can mean investment now for much greater savings later. This is a good time to walk or drive all of your fencelines for any areas in need of repair.
Another consideration Rutgers Cooperative Extension and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommend is evaluating the plants surrounding the barn. Make sure plants growing around the farm are not poisonous. You can check with your extension specialist or veterinarian about which plants in your area are a risk to your horses.
Clean up debris from storms, that which is left by people, or that which is blown in by the wind. Trash is not only unsightly, it can attract rodents.
Take time to give your facility a thorough once (or twice) over to ensure the health and safety of your animals and the humans who work with them. Investments in safety can seem tough with the tight economy, but small investments can lead to far greater savings later on. The cost of a fire or veterinary bills due to preventable injuries or bad feed can cost you thousands of dollars. Strive for a healthy and safe environment so you and your horses can enjoy your time together.
About the Author
Liza Holland is a freelance writer and voice talent based in Lexington, Ky.