Home Sweet Barn

Change has been constant in the equine industry during the past couple of decades, ranging from sophisticated health care and treatment to improved living quarters for horses in our care, custody, and control.

When the horse was the prime source of power in agriculture, barns were basic and straightforward; often copies of what immigrants used in their home countries. Box stalls were unheard of in farming communities as they took up too much space needed by other farm animals.

The draft horses that pulled the plows in the spring and the grain reapers in the fall spent their time in tie stalls when in the barn. In some cases, the flooring was comprised of oak planks; in other instances, it consisted of packed earth. There were doors and windows for ventilation, but that was the extent of efforts to circulate air.

Hay was fed in wooden mangers to which the horses were tied, and grain was ladled into boxes at the ends of the mangers. Often, there were partitions between the horses as a safety measure. These were known as "single" stalls. Sometimes, two horses would be side-by-side without a partition. These were "double" stalls.

The above approach maximized space and allowed the horses to be in close contact with others of their kind, something that their gregarious nature required.

Most farms featured spacious pastures for both horses and cattle. During the off-seasons, horses generally were turned out. They were stabled during the busier times to provide them with extra energy via hay and grain and for easy accessibility for what was often a dawn to dusk workday.

A New Era

That era of the horse ended and with it the rather casual approach to equine housing. As the horse was rediscovered for recreation, care and quarters received an upgrade. Today, it is possible to purchase a kit from a manufacturer for a horse barn that features the latest in box stalls, ventilation, electric lighting, a constant water supply, and a floor surface that is easy on the animals' feet and legs. And it all can be done with a touch on the computer keyboard. One of the major changes in barn construction involves the availability of plans and materials via the Internet.

While many barns continue to be constructed of wood, there also are metal buildings of varying shapes, styles, and sizes.

One company, Yankee Barn Home, advertises that it "will ship a beautiful, sturdy pre-cut timber frame barn kit right to your property. You or your carpenter can assemble it with step-by-step instructions. You'll have an old New England style barn and loft, beautiful inside and out..."

The Maine Barn Company advertises that it brings traditional New England style and architectural heritage to post-and- beam barn designs by "our experienced timber frame craftsmen." The company says that each year the country loses more and more antiquated timber frame barns and the significant history they contain. The company says that its timber frame structures are the essence of traditional timber framing, utilizing oak-pegged mortise and tendon joinery. No metal spines or brackets are used. The weight of the structure is concentrated on the frame, and this translates into the interior being largely open and unobstructed.

Companies touting wooden barns argue that they remain cooler in summer and warmer in winter. They also say that these structures are sturdier than metal, are quieter during storms, are safer, there is less chance of injury if a horse kicks a wall, and the walls are less apt to be damaged.

This is not to say that there is no room for metal buildings in the equine world. A great many barns and arenas today are constructed of metal. There is room for great versatility when metal is used. As one company advertises, "Our only limitation is your imagination."

Metal building providers stand ready to help potential owners design their buildings. Once the design is completed, the building is pre-engineered and metal is cut and shipped ready for construction.

Still other companies offer blueprints and plans for many kinds of barns. And, if you have a concern about finding workmen to construct it, no problem. "Fill in some simple information about your project at ServiceMagic.com, and you'll be matched with top-rated professionals in your area who can help you build your dream."

Also available is software that aids in designing buildings. The software helps to create detailed dimensioned construction drawings, 3-D building views, and an accurate materials list.

Concerned about financing? "Finance your new barn, or any home improvement, with an inexpensive, low interest rate home equity loan. Fill in some easy information and let these lenders compete for your business today..."

How about accessories? "Find the perfect cupola, ventilators, weather vane, or lightning rods for your new barn at Country Rooftops..."

Size Matters

Once a decision has been made on the materials and the general design, it is time to consider one of the most important aspects of barn construction--the size. There have been many innovations in recent years, but before deciding on what is best in a given situation, horse owners should give consideration to individual needs.

For example, an extension bulletin from Penn State University points out that the horse's size and the amount of time it spends in the stall can be used to determine stall size. In other words, larger horses require more square footage than ponies. A 12-foot by 12-foot stall is recommended for a 1,000-pound horse. Generally speaking, it is recommended that the length of stall walls be 1½ times the horse's length. If a horse spends a great deal of time in the stall, bigger is better.

An eight-foot high partition is standard. The Penn State researchers say partition heights must be at least 7½ feet to prevent horses from getting their legs over the wall. Most horses can kick as high as seven feet.

The amount of time spent in the stall also can help determine what the floor surface should be. The horse that spends many hours in a stall each day needs a surface that is yielding to help prevent leg fatigue and to facilitate lying down and getting up. In other words, a concrete surface would be totally inappropriate in such a situation.

Doorways to Haven

Among the new products on the market today are a variety of stall doors that are aesthetically pleasing and safe for the horse. The Penn State bulletin suggests that stall doorways be eight feet high and four feet wide, but adds that few manufacturers offer doorways of that dimension. Most doorways are seven feet tall and 42-45 inches (3½-3¾ feet) wide.

Doors today come in a wide variety of materials and configurations. Some doors cover the entire opening, and others are divided into two panels--Dutch doors. The Penn State bulletin recommends that swinging doors open into the aisle as a safety measure and that sliding doors need a stop to prevent the door from opening too far and falling off the overhead track.

The ceiling height in stalls, according to the Penn State bulletin, most commonly ranges from 10 to 12 feet, with eight feet being the minimum. A low ceiling inhibits air circulation and, if low enough, can pose the danger of a horse striking its head against the ceiling.

Floor Surfaces

Now that we have set parameters for stall size and design, it is time to take a look at some of the surfaces that have been around for a long time and others that are relatively new on the market. Our Penn State sources tell us that, "The fitness of a horse's legs and feet can be greatly affected by the type of stall flooring chosen."

There are two major categories for stall surfaces--porous surfaces or surfaces impervious to wetness. Porous floors will have an underlying foundation of sand and/or gravel to aid water movement down into the ground below the stable. An example of impervious flooring would be concrete or concrete that was covered with a solid, heavy rubber mat.

Here are Penn State's suggestions concerning characteristics of the ideal floor, ranked in order of importance:

  • Easy on legs; has some "give" to decrease tendon and feet strain
  • Dry
  • Non-odor retentive
  • Provides traction; non-slippery to en courage the horse to lie down
  • Durable; stays level, resists damage from horse pawing, and has long life
  • Low maintenance
  • Easy to clean
  • Affordable

The Penn State authors say consideration should be given to manure and urine management when selecting stall flooring material. They point out that a 1,000-pound horse normally produces about 31 pounds of feces and 2.4 gallons of urine each day. Floors that allow urine to be absorbed and travel down through the flooring material can retain odors.

For years, the most popular floor surface has been clay or a combination of clay and stone dust over a sub-layer of gravel. This surface is easy on a horse's legs and is absorbent, but has some disadvantages.

It can be difficult to keep clean, needs to be leveled and repacked at least on an annual basis, needs to be replaced every few years due to holes and pockets that result from pawing, remains damp longer than desirable, and it can retain odors.

The solution for many horse owners has been a rubber mat placed over a variety of surfaces.

Mats should not be placed over a soft sand surface as they are apt to move or bunch up.

After the subsurface has been prepared, it is time to consider the different products available. Making use of a solid rubber surface assures that the urine will be removed with the bedding.

Donna Wilkinson, vice president of Humane MFG LLC, manufacturer of rubber mats, addresses the issue in general. The use of re-vulcanized rubber mats will aid in the removal of any urine odor, she tells us. Re-vulcanized mats, manufactured from off-road diesel equipment and tractor-trailer tires, are totally nonporous, and have a natural antifungal and antibacterial agent. Some of the mats are not re-vulcanized, but are manufactured by using ground rubber material bound with polymers under low heat and pressure.

One of the newer innovations in rubber mats is the interlocking system. This type is more expensive than straight-edged mats, but once these mats are locked into place, they do not move. This means mats placed over concrete or asphalt stalls will remain firmly in place, and bedding and manure will not be lodged under them.

Getting rid of the manure taken from stalls each day has also changed considerably. In draft horse days, a team might be hitched to a manure spreader that functioned with heavy rear wheels that were connected via linkage "chains" to a set of gears that operated the apron that moved the manure to the beater in the rear that cast the manure into the air and onto the ground over a broad surface. Then came tractors with power takeoffs and manure spreaders of all sizes.

Change and innovation for something as complex as a new stable or something as relatively simple as a manure spreader are the order of the day in the equine business. With the Internet serving as an information source, these products are only key strokes away. The important thing for potential buyers or builders is to study each individual situation and find the products or approach that is most suitable.

About the Author

Les Sellnow

Les Sellnow is a free-lance writer based near Riverton, Wyo. He specializes in articles on equine research, and operates a ranch where he raises horses and livestock. He has authored several fiction and non-fiction books, including Understanding Equine Lameness and Understanding The Young Horse, published by Eclipse Press and available at www.exclusivelyequine.com or by calling 800/582-5604.

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