Eliminating Ammonia

The products available to control ammonia buildup in barns boast a variety of forms and ingredients

In an ideal world, our horses are kept in well-built, well-ventilated stalls that are cleaned as often as five-star hotel bathrooms. In reality, barns can be old, imperfect, or left dirty longer than we would like. As a result, organic products such as ammonia, which can negatively impact horses' respiratory health, accumulate. Here are some philosophies behind common products targeting that noxious smell.

Liquids: Odor-No-More, ECO-Stall, & Bye-Bye Odor

These products can be used for spot treatment or for area misting, and all come ready to use or in concentrate form. Odor-No-More utilizes proprietary micronutrients to eliminate bacteria breeding grounds on all surfaces, including tack, buckets, soils, and mats, without staining or causing color change. According to the manufacturer, this product does not use any fragrances or masking agents, leaves no scent or harmful residuals, and is safe for consumption and direct application to animals.

"ECO-Stall provides a nutrient source that rapidly increases natural bacterial populations, which quickly convert horse waste (e.g., ammonia in urine) into harmless carbon dioxide, water, and inert ingredients," says Gary Marcella, marketing coordinator at Waterbury Companies Inc. "The best part about this product is it does not introduce new bacteria into the environment; it utilizes the existing bacteria already present in the horse urine to complete the process."

According to Larry Garner of Spalding Labs, Bye-Bye Odor contains enzyme-producing microbe colonies that change ammonia into nitrogen dioxide, a harmless, odorless nitrate, and water vapor. ¬ Bye-Bye Odor can be sprayed under stall mats before replacing the mats immediately.

So why pursue a liquid form? "It allows for a much more even distribution and will require much less product use," explains Marcella. "The foaming action is an indicator of which area has been treated, and the liquid application of the product eliminates the possibility of adding any extra dust to the horse's area that could cause respiratory issues."

Garner points out that liquids are not removed with the bedding and can be sprayed in places where solids are more difficult to apply, such as under mats and on walls where horses' urine can soak in over time. He says sprays also are less bulky to store and transport.

Solids: Stall Powder, Odor-No-More, Sweet PDZ, & Healthy Horse Stall Freshener

All solid products arrive ready to use, and they work on contact and on airborne odors, note manufacturers. Sweet PDZ, Kaeco's Stall Powder, and Odor-No-More all claim their products are bedding extenders because they keep stalls drier and better-smelling, thereby simplfying stall cleaning and reducing required frequency.

Stall Powder and Odor-No-More break down to biodegradable, bio-friendly products. Sweet PDZ and Healthy Horse Stall Freshener are zeolite products, which do not break down and can regenerate when exposed to sunlight. In practice, the zeolite products get mixed in and cleaned out with the bedding.

Stall powder deodorizes ammonia and hydrogen sulfate. "Kaeco's Stall Powder contains a blend of absorbents, odor neutralizers, natural surfactants, ammonia, and hydrogen sulfide gas reducers," says Dean Kratochvil, owner of Kaeco Group Inc. "It helps to break down, not mask, the ammonia molecules. They prevent the nitrogen in animal waste from 'cleaving' or releasing as ammonia."

"Odor-No-More does not use zeolites or any other types of clays commonly found in cat litter. The product eliminates all volatile organic compounds, not just ammonia," says Joe Provenzano, president of Odor-No-More. "To use, a handful or two (ounces) of Odor-No-More should be applied directly to the urine spots. Instead of removal, the used product is to be left in the stall and will work over and over until eventual degradation into natural components. All of the liquid is absorbed instantly, and odors are eliminated in minutes."

Zeolites are hydrated aluminosilicate minerals with a microporous structure--similar to a honeycomb--of volcanic origin. Rick Casaday, of Midwest Zeolite Inc., (Healthy Horse Stall Freshener) refers to zeolites as "molecular sieves" that "lock and hold many positive ions, absorb a multitude of environmental contaminants, and also serve as a catalyst for various processes."

According to the manufacturer, Sweet PDZ works by way of a mineral function called adsorption, where the ammonia gas sticks to the surface of the Sweet PDZ granules. The gas hydrolyzes (turns to liquid/ammonium) immediately and "a calcium, potassium, or sodium cation from the zeolite granule is exchanged and the ammonium becomes part of the Sweet PDZ granule," explains Casaday.

The Sweet PDZ granules dry out (desorb) the transformed ammonium as nitrogen. He notes that the product is offered in powder for better coverage and in a more expensive granular form for less dust and better flow.

According to Tom Menner, president of PDZ Company LLC, the product's effect is instantaneous and ongoing. With disposal, the transformed ammonia/ammonium releases as nitrogen and becomes a beneficial component of compost and an organic soil enhancer. Since the term zeolite is widely used and misused, Sweet PDZ has changed its labeling to clinoptilolite, a subspecies of zeolite that is 85% pure. There also is a synthetic form of zeolite but it is cost-prohibitive for stall use.

Healthy Horse, another zeolite product, absorbs 65% by weight, does not break down, and is not dusty.

So why then would you choose a solid over a liquid form? Simply put, it's drier. "A dry product alleviates the concerns of excess wetness in an enclosure," says Provenzano. Menner also believes a solid provides better spot treatment to the source of the ammonia.

Other: Testing, E.D.R.O., & Stall Safe

You might think the human nose is a surefire way to test for ammonia. However, says Kratochvil, "A clean-smelling stall can still be harmful if you are utilizing a masking agent and not breaking down the ammonia gases."

Menner recommends stripping the stall and getting the ammonia detection device (i.e., your nose) down near the floor or mat to be sure an unsuspected ammonia problem has not been covered up by the scent of pine shavings. For more scientific results, Spalding Labs sells ammonia litmus test paper, which can be hung around the stall using paper clips and string.

Farm owners can take a totally different approach by using E.D.R.O., a feed-through product. According to Thompson, the product "enhances the natural microbial population of the intestinal tract," which means the animal discharges less ammonia into the environment. The company also produces Odor-Bloc Equine Stall Odor Eliminator, which can be sprinkled over the bedding.

The Final Test

You might enjoy the "horsey" smell of your barn and think it is ammonia-free. Yes, we all like the smell of horse and hay and leather. But perhaps there is a trace of ammonia in that smell that you won't notice until it's gone. Regardless of the product you choose, "Once you remove the smell of ammonia, you won't tolerate it anymore," Garner says.

About the Author

Katherine Walcott

Katherine Walcott is a freelance writer living in the countryside near Birmingham, Al. She writes for anyone she can talk into paying her and rides whatever disciplines she can talk her horses into doing.

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