Biosecurity for Horse Farms: Stall Disinfection and Other Management Techniques

Infectious diseases are a constant threat to the health and welfare of horses. Foals are especially at risk, and it is important to thoroughly clean and disinfect stalls where mares foal. Disinfectants such as phenolic compounds will kill rotavirus, a pathogen that causes infectious diarrhea in young foals, as well as salmonella, R. equi, and other equine pathogens.

To clean and disinfect stalls that have nonporous surfaces, take all buckets, feed tubs, and bedding out of the stall and remove as much organic matter as possible. This includes hay, straw, shavings, feed, manure, urine, etc.

Using a hose and garden nozzle sprayer, wash all stall surfaces using a detergent or a disinfectant that also has detergent capabilities. Before working with the disinfectant, however, put on protective clothing, rubber or nitrile gloves, and eye goggles. Follow label instructions and dilute the disinfectant into an applicator (e.g., garden nozzle sprayer). Spray the disinfectant on the walls (begin at the top) and floors and allow to dry. Do not rinse. Scrub all buckets, feed tubs, and other feeding equipment with a detergent. Spray on the diluted disinfectant, allow to soak for 10 minutes, and then completely rinse with potable (drinkable) water. For stubborn stains, keep the surface wet for 10-20 minutes, then scrub by hand. Rinse by starting at the top of the stall, then work from the edges of the stall toward the drain area or exit of stall.

After cleaning and rinsing all surfaces, remove as much excess water as possible, especially from floors, using a broom or rubber squeegee. Make sure to completely rinse the disinfectant off any item from which the horse will eat or drink. Dry these containers and return them to the disinfected stall.

Multiple farm-management techniques may significantly influence reducing disease outbreak risks. Not all are as labor intensive as completely disinfecting stalls and aisleways. These techniques include:

  • Group horses of similar uses. Don't comingle show horses, yearlings, broodmares, riding horses, etc.
  • Plan a traffic pattern to take farriers, veterinarians, and other personnel to barns and pastures with at-risk horses (e.g., pregnant mares or mares and foals) first, and work toward horses that have multiple exposures to pathogens (show and trail riding horses).
  • Isolate any new horses to the farm for a minimum of 14 days and ideally 21 days. This allows owners or managers to monitor horses for infectious diseases and to complete any necessary vaccinations and deworming.
  • Isolate horses returning from a hospital stay for similar periods of time. The stress of transportation and medical procedures can lower horses' immunity, and they might come in contact with other equine patients, some of which may be shedding pathogens.
  • If observers perceive a horse as sick (coughing, runny nose/eyes, diarrhea, fever, etc.), they should immediately isolate the animal and ask everyone working with the animal to wear protective clothing. Only reuse such items as disposable gloves, booties and coveralls with that particular horse. Be sure to provide alternative gloves (nitrile or vinyl) for employees who are allergic to latex.
  • Muck out sick horses' stalls last, and separately if possible, using pitchforks, shovels, and other properly disinfected tools. Alternatively, use separate tools for healthy horses' stalls and a different set for sick animals' stalls.
  • Don't spread manure and bedding from stalls housing sick animals, including those experiencing foal loss, in fields. Compost this material away from all animals or dispose of it in a manner approved by local ordinances.
  • Provide running water, liquid hand soap (pump-style container), and disposable paper towels for hand washing in every barn. All employees should wash their hands prior to leaving at the end of their shift. In the midst of a disease problem, they should thoroughly wash their hands after working with sick animals, whether or not they were wearing disposable gloves. During a disease outbreak or when running water is not available, provide waterless hand foams or gels (at least 62% ethyl alcohol) to use after handling horses. Remind employees these products are flammable.
  • Rodent control is paramount year-round. One barn mouse can ingest Salmonella and be a better multiplication factory than any petri dish. Mouse droppings contain enormous amounts of bacteria that can effectively seed the horse's environment and feed supply with infectious bacteria. Insect, bird, and bat control are also important. Remove standing water, bird nests, and other habitats. Hire professionals for removal of bat roosts and also for difficult rodent or wildlife control.
  • Routinely clean and disinfect stalls, water buckets, grooming tools, pitchforks, and other items, and increase the disinfection frequency during a disease outbreak.
  • Most importantly, communicate and educate employees and enforce biosecurity procedures on the farm.

Roberta M. Dwyer, DVM, MS, DACVPM, a professor in the Department of Veterinary Science at the University of Kentucky, provided this information.

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