Winter is coming. It’s a line from the ever-popular Game of Thrones series, but it’s also a statement of fact. Perhaps no one is more aware of this than horse and livestock owners. After all, we have to contend with the harsh conditions in order to take care of our animals.
Fortunately, many of us have barns to provide shelter for our horses all year round, but there may be a few things that need to be done before winter arrives. Though winterizing your barn may sound like a big chore, it doesn’t have to be if you break it down into several smaller, manageable steps.
Here are 8 steps to winterize your horse barn:
1) Organize Your Feed/Tack Room
One of the first and probably easiest tasks to check off your list is getting your feed/tack room clean and organized so that supplies are easily accessible. Clean out trash or any unneeded items now so things don’t get overly cluttered during cold weather (when you’ll be less likely to want to deal with it). Now is also a great time to clean/organize your horse blankets and any other cold weather essentials such as heated buckets, leg wraps, and hay nets.
2) Make Repairs Now
If you’ve been putting off any needed repairs to your barn, now is the time to take care of those. You’ll want to inspect your roof and make any necessary repairs to prevent leaks, check your stall doors, windows, and railings, as well as oil or grease any sticky hinges. Make a list of all needed repairs and then check them off. Come cold weather, you’ll be glad you did.
3) Ensure Good Ventilation
Barn ventilation is one of the key components to protecting our horses’ lung health, especially during the winter when the barn is likely to be closed up. Poor ventilation can lead to conditions such as equine asthma, so this should never be overlooked. When horses breathe in a closed-up barn, it creates warm, moist air that rises to the roof and turns into condensation. This not only encourages the growth of bacteria and fungi (which are bad for lung health) but can also lead to rotting and rusting of materials in the barn.
A good barn ventilation system replaces warm, moist air with fresh air. It also removes contaminants such as dust, pathogens, and ammonia that can cause damage to your horse’s respiratory system. If you don’t have a mechanical ventilation system which uses a fan to pull warm, moist air out and an air duct system to bring in fresh air, natural ventilation is your next best bet.
Natural ventilation systems utilize wind and warm air’s tendency to rise to keep air moving in the barn. This is done through higher outlets such as roof vents or a chimney. When air leaves the barn through this manner, fresh air is naturally drawn in through inlets in the walls. If you don’t already have roof vents or inlets, have them installed as soon as possible.
4) Consider Dust Control
Horse barn ventilation in the winter and dust control go hand-in-hand, and a good ventilation system will definitely help to reduce dust. However, there are other measures you can take that will also reduce the amount of breathable dust in your barn. Hay and bedding are the two biggest contributors to barn dust. Therefore, make sure you’re choosing low-dust stall bedding such as straw, larger-sized wood shavings, or even shredded paper or plant products. Avoid using sawdust for stall bedding as it’s one of the dustiest options out there. As for hay, store it as far away from stalls as possible.
Furthermore, only do barn chores such as sweeping or using an air blower when horses are turned out and wait at least one hour before returning them to their stalls.
5) Pre-Plan to Avoid Water Woes
Every horse owner knows that frozen water pipes can be one of the biggest pains to deal with during the cold, winter months. However, you can protect your pipes by wrapping them in heat tape. In a pinch, foam pool noodles can work as well.
To avoid frozen water tubs or tanks, invest in a good tank heater (and maybe even a backup heater), as well as heated buckets for stalls. If you already have these items, now is the time to check to make sure they’re in good working order. Don’t forget to have some extra extension cords on hand in the barn too—that way you don’t have to go looking for them when they’re needed!
6) Mud Management Ideas
Another huge pain in winter is dealing with all the mud during the freeze/thaw cycle. There’s a reason why thrush is more prevalent during this time of year. High-traffic areas such as stall entrances, water tanks, feeders, and gates are the most prone to becoming muddy, but you can remedy this problem by pouring gravel, a mixture of gravel and sand, or even concrete in these areas. If some of these areas are already muddy, one option is to dig them out and fill the space with ⅝-inch limestone screenings which will create a hard base.
7) Don’t Forget Your Barn Cats!
Many of us have barn cats not only for companionship, but to help keep our barns rodent-free. Though cats are pretty hardy for the most part, they will need a little extra care during the harshest of weather. Make sure your cats have a place where they can get out of the cold. You can install a cat door that allows them into the feed/tack room or purchase/build a cat house with straw or some other type of insulation inside. They’ll also need an unfrozen water source, so we recommend purchasing a heated water bowl.
8) Stock Up on Supplies
Last but not least, now is a great time to stock up on needed supplies before bad weather arrives. Make sure you have plenty of hay, supplements, and emergency supplies and medications. It’s also a wise idea to have EQ Probiotic Paste/Max Strength on hand in case of digestive upset, which is more common in winter. This product comes as a single tube or, for owners of multiple horses, you can also purchase a 10 or even 24-pack.
The above suggested checklist should get you well on your way to winterizing your barn. Just remember, a little preparation can go a long way in making life easier for both ourselves and our animals this winter!