Consider Drainage when Selecting a Horse Barn Site

Want to see an example of less-than-stellar drainage? Check out your own horse barn.

One of the most important concerns for a building site is water drainage, which includes water flowing to the building site as well as water moving away from the barn.

"Many horse owners do not adequately select and prepare a barn building site to handle water runoff because of the added costs of site preparation," said Dave Freeman, PhD, PAS, Dipl. ACAN, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension equine specialist. "Unfortunately for horse owners and their animals, the barn will not be fully functional without preparing for excess drainage."

Costs of additional dirt for the building foundation and contractor costs for leveling and shaping the ground can be substantial. But improperly-selected sites promote poor drainage from stalls, water standing in and around the barn, and soil erosion around the barn.

Freeman explained that a properly selected location will have an overall slope of 2-6% (2-6 feet of fall per 100 feet). Additionally, the barn floor should be 8-12 inches above ground level.

Water runoff must be contained so it does not promote erosion or contaminate water sources. Proper manure storage and pasture vegetation also can help reduce contamination and erosion from water runoff.

Freeman said manure storage areas should be large enough to store manure until it can be properly removed when field and weather conditions, as well as local regulations, permit.

"Also, subsurface drainage around all foundations should be considered to prevent erosion caused by water runoff from the barn roof, wash racks and other water-use facilities," he said.

Over time, it is typical for erosion to drop the level of the floor in the barn and stalls. Unfortunately, there are not a lot of "quick fixes" when barn or stall floors are lower than the surrounding area.

"Hopefully, additional material such as clay soils can be brought in to help alleviate some of the problem," Freeman said. "If you're redoing stall floors, be sure to place porous materials such as gravel beneath the dirt flooring. The flooring should be graded with a small slope and be packable, hence the frequent use of a clay base for the stall."

Horse owners have a number of choices as to the flooring's top level, but shavings or some product that helps collect moisture so it does not percolate through the clay are common selections. These types of materials are usually available at a reasonable cost.

"In most cases, we're talking about four inches to six inches of porous material to be covered with similar levels of a 'packable base,'" Freeman explained. "Shavings or other materials would be placed on that base."

Horse owners also should not overlook the possible advantage of employing French drains around the barn.

"Basically, French drains are troughs of porous materials that allow moisture that percolates through soil an opportunity and direction to move," Freeman said. "Redirection can be an extremely useful land management tool when it comes to barn habitability, depending on the area around the structure."

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