Keep your barn smelling fresh

A smelly barn is unhealthy and unpleasant for horses and people, an ideal breeding place for flies, and a common source of friction between neighbors.A smelly barn is unhealthy and unpleasant for horses and people, an ideal breeding place for flies, and a common source of friction between neighbors.

Story originally posted by: Richard Klimesh - HorseCity.com Free-Lance Writer

A smelly barn is unhealthy and unpleasant for horses and people, an ideal breeding place for flies, and a common source of friction between neighbors.

Most barn odors, including ammonia vapors, come from the urine and feces of horses. Horses that breathe even a low level of ammonia can suffer weight loss, respiratory problems, and pneumonia. Foals are especially vulnerable since they're much closer to the ground where heavy ammonia vapors settle.

Here's how to keep you barn smelling fresh.

Limit Stall Use

When planning a new barn, provide one or two extra stalls so you can rotate horses to let vacant stalls dry thoroughly.

Horses are generally much healthier when kept outdoors, so use stalls in the barn only when necessary, such as during extreme weather or for recovery from an injury. Use pens and outdoor shelters so horses can urinate and defecate outside, not in the barn.

Maximize Sunlight and Air Flow

Design your barn so sunlight can shine on the stall floors for part of the day to dry the stall and reduce odors. Good ventilation is especially important in insulated barns, which are relatively air tight. Maximize airflow throughout the barn by installing vents in the roof or at the tops of the walls. Locate doors and windows at opposite ends of the barn for cross ventilation.

Make Stall Cleaning Easy

Remove the source of odors by cleaning stalls at least twice a day, more often if possible. Adding fresh bedding on top of old just means more manure and soiled bedding. It's easier and faster to keep a stall clean than to overhaul one that's been let go for a day or more.

Make stall cleaning easy so you'll do it regularly. Prepare the stall properly, choose the right tools for the job and find a good way to dispose of the used bedding.

Use Mats and Absorbent Bedding

Solid rubber stall mats make the best stall floor. Along with absorbent bedding they prevent urine from soaking into the floor and making a smelly mess. Remove wet bedding with each cleaning.

Straw provides a soft bed when its fluffed up and is excellent for foaling. But it's difficult to separate fecal balls from straw and it's not very absorbent, so moisture remains on the floor.

Wood shavings or sawdust are more absorbent than straw, but very fine sawdust can be dusty and harmful to your horse's respiratory system. Feed and farm supply stores generally stock good quality dried wood shavings in bags or bales that are easy to handle and store. Some wood shavings are aromatic and help cover unpleasant odors but avoid shavings from walnut trees because they're toxic to horses.

Choose the Right Tools

Plastic forks are good for picking fecal balls out of fine bedding like sawdust that will sift through the tines. They're strong, light, and durable. A sturdy steel "silage" fork works better with coarse bedding such as straw and large wood shavings, and is also better than plastic on uneven surfaces such as a dirt floor. Forks with lightweight wire tines, called apple pickers, don't work very well for anything.

Use a steel or aluminum scoop shovel to scoop up wet bedding.

Manure Movers

A well-balanced two-wheeled cart works best for cleaning stalls. Choose either a plywood farm cart with bicycle-type wheels, or a durable plastic cart. Most carts are easy to maneuver around a stall with one hand, unlike a single-wheeled wheelbarrow, which require two hands to move and can be difficult to balance. Choose a cart that's narrow enough to fit easily through your stall doors. Some carts are easier to dump than others - try before you buy.

Stall Fresheners

Hydrated lime (calcium hydroxide or slaked lime), although commonly used to sprinkle on stall floors to reduce odors and soak up wet spots,. isn't safe for people or horses. It is strongly alkaline and can cause drying and irritation of the skin, mouth, throat and internal organs. Breathing lime dust can cause irritation to throats and lungs.

Products made from zeolites, such as Sweet PDZ Horse Stall Refresher and Stable Boy, cost about the same as hydrated lime but are much safer, more absorbent, and far more effective at reducing odors. Zeolites are a group of naturally occurring minerals, hydrous silicates, which were deposited as a result of volcanic activity millions of years ago. They are essentially non-toxic to people and animals, whether ingested, on the skin, breathed, or in the eyes. There's no need to let the stall dry out completely when using zeolites. Just remove wet bedding, cover damp floor areas with 1/16" to 1/8" of zeolite product followed by a layer of dry bedding, and return the horse to the stall. The zeolites will absorb any remaining moisture and odors and hold them until the next stall cleaning.


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