Are you scratching your head trying to figure out the best things to include in your barn plans to provide a safe, secure and healthy place for your horse to live? What do you really need? What are your options? How can you cut costs without cutting quality?
Whether you are building, updating or completely renovating your horse barn, consideration should be given what will help you create a home for your horses that is safe, healthier and environmentally conscious. Not to mention cost effective and with a mind to the work load when taking care of horses.
In my ideal world I would build a model horse farm loaded with all kinds of environmentally conscious features. The following 10 things are what I consider basics; what I must have in my barn.
Some of the things I will mention will have a higher upfront cost but in the long run end up saving you money. When budgeting for the new barn keep in mind that you can always add more items later. It is ultimately more cost-effective to build in as many features as you can afford up front, so the labor will be amortized over the entire job, as opposed to making a special installation call a year later.
1) Consider the Weather
How hot or cold you and your horse are can make a big difference on how much time you want to spend in the barn. Weather can affect body temperature, water availability and the presence of mud, all things that affect horse health and happiness.
The first thing I will consider for controlling the effects of weather in my barn will be barn orientation. Barn orientation allows you to use the sun for warmth or the breeze to cool.
Simply put, understanding the “micro-climate” of your site, i.e. the path of the sun, direction of the prevailing winds and runoff pattern during rainstorms, is essential to planning a barn that works. Pay attention to the prevailing winds on the property. They probably change from morning to evening. With a little foresight, you can orient the stalls and/or breezeway to take advantage of airflow, keeping the barn warm in the winter and cool in the summer.
In weather extremes the material you use for siding or roofing can affect the inside environment of the barn. When building or retrofitting a barn, your next step should be to determine how your weather will affect the material choices you have.
Heavy snows may require one type of wood while areas with high humidity or insect issues might be best with another. Your builder should know which wood to use for your area but a trip to your local lumber yard will give you the answers you need if you mention you are building a horse barn.
Be sure to use lumber that has been certified by the Forest Steward Council (FSC) as sustainably-harvested. Using FSC-certified wood to build can help the long-term protection of forests.
For tackroom floors another eco-friendly wood is bamboo. Bamboo is being used more and more in construction as it is one of the fastest-growing plants on Earth, with reported growth rates of 39 inches in 24 hours.
Wood can be expensive so many horse owners build barns made of metal. With regard to weather be sure to choose metal products with a “cool finish” that is designed to reflect heat.
My dream farm would use reclaimed wood and HDPE (High Density Polyethylene) on the lower part of the stalls. HDPE is primarily recycled post-consumer plastic which is used to create long-lasting, weather resistant material. This environmentally conscious choice is also no maintenance so it will save time and money in the long run.
Don’t forget to insulate the walls of your tack and feedroom as well as seal windows and doors. This will reduce energy demand and help avoid the dreaded frozen pipes. Frozen pipes can create a huge amount of work for you and possibly lead to dangerous dehydration in your horse.
2) Proper Ventilation
After weather considerations your focus should be on ventilation. This is super important for both your horse’s health and your comfort. Without ventilation barn air will be trapped and quickly fill with odors, dust and humidity. Respiratory issues are more frequently found in confined horses over horses that live out most likely due to this. Breathing this air is bad for your horse’s health so providing good ventilation will lower vet bills related to respiratory issues.
Good air flow will also give you both relief from the heat. Warm air naturally rises and can be released through roof ridge vents, cupolas and windows.
Creating a cross breeze with proper window and door placement can reduce the temperature inside the barn by as much as 20 degrees! I love dutch doors on the outside of the barn for this; the top half can be opened to let the breeze in or closed in the winter for warmth. Mesh panel doors on the inside allow air to flow and horses to feel less confined.
Ceiling fans are another way to create a breeze and are safer than using household box fans. They should be on your list if you are planning a new barn but can easily be retrofitted in an existing structure. Models like the Agrifan, by Northwest Envirofan, are economical to operate (maximum 1 amp draw), and come with solid-state speed controls and a 3-year warranty.
The type of barn I will use on my model farm is designed for ventilation. A raised center aisle (RCA) barn has many windows on either side of the raised section that creates wonderful ventilation as the hot air rising and then exits through the window.
3) Good Lighting with Lots of Natural Light
I will design my model barn with a focus on using as much natural light as possible then adding electric light fixtures as needed. The best sources of natural light in the roof are from skylights, windows and roof panels. Large doors at either end of the barn and a window in each stall can also add natural light. Natural light will help you save money by keeping your electric bill down.
Being able to see well at night is super important for safety. It’s best if you mount a light fixture in each stall and at 4’-6’ intervals above the aisle. For safety put light fixtures at least 8 feet off the ground and house them in wire cages so horses cannot reach and break them. In addition run wires through conduit to be sure they are rodent proof.
I will be using EquiLumination lighting in my model barn. They specialize in green energy-efficient lighting alternatives using T-5/T-8 technology. Their lights run on only 234 watts and last 50% longer. These lights can also be retrofitted to existing fixtures.
Another “green” option is Tubular Daylighting Devices (TDDs) which use reflective rooftop domes to capture sunlight and redirect it through reflective tubes into interior spaces. They can be installed without structural modifications while ceiling-level diffusers spread light indoors (a 10” tube lights a 13’x13’ space).
Using energy efficient fixtures can qualify for individual tax credits, and reimbursements of up to 75% of your purchase may be available through new state energy plans or your local power company.
To save money and be environmentally conscious any outside lights should be on a timer or motion sensor to reduce energy use.
Using lighter-colored walls and ceilings are also a good idea because they will reflect the light and lower your dependency on artificial light.
4) Wide Aisles and Big Stalls
This is one area where you don’t want to cut corners. Since most barns are built on 12’ increments it’s easy to use that dimension in your aisles and stalls.
My model barn will have an aisle that is 12’ wide to provide ample room to safely maneuver and work on horses. This also makes it easier for horses to pass each other without risk of injury. You should make it even wider if you plan on storing things like trunks in the aisleway.
Although horses can “survive” in smaller stalls I like a stall that is 12 by 12 feet. Of course for bigger horses a 12’ by 14’ or 16’ isn’t out of the question. Stalls need to be at least eight feet high with doors 4 feet wide.
Stall doors can be either swinging or sliding. With a wide aisle swinging doors can open out but if space is an issue I would use sliding doors. In my model barn I will be using sliding mesh stall doors on the front and doors dutch doors on the back of my stalls so my horses can hang their heads out.
5) Good Drainage & Rubber Pavers
When considering stall floors remember two things; your horse will be standing on this for hours and you need to clean them, so comfort and drainage are very important.
Stall flooring materials are generally dirt, clay, crushed limestone, or a bluestone. These options are easier on the horses’ legs and, in most cases, provide adequate drainage. However, plain earth floors are harder to clean, and can need the labor intensive chore of digging out them and replacing the dirt occasionally. Using rubber mats will reduce this need and they can actually save you enough money in bedding costs to pay for themselves in less than five years.
I really like the Loktuff Stall rubber mats because they are composed of premium recycled rubber materials making them environmentally friendly. Loktuff Stall Mat rubber floors insulate against the cold and will not curl, separate, or change shape under intense pressure and temperature.
There are rubber pavers that are also manufactured from recycled tire rubber. On my farm I will use them in the aisle, in the wash bay and as a way to be mud-free outside in the high traffic areas around the barn.
6) Wash Stall
Even if it has to be outside, to me a wash stall is a must have in any horse barn. It may seem like a luxury but not only will it help with horse health but will save you time and money. You can use a wash stall for cleaning your horse, scrubbing buckets, filling water buckets and drying blankets and pads.
I will use a wash stall design that is graded towards the back and use a long steel drain rather than one graded towards the middle with a center drain. I have found that center drains clog easier and that can create a huge problem.
I will use a tankless heating system for my barn and wash stall. They supply an endless supply of hot water but don’t constantly heat water. They only heat water when it’s needed so have a very low energy factor. Many of these heaters are designed for outdoor installation which eliminates the need for venting.
You can use electricity or gas to power them and they are small and compact so reduce space requirements.
In my wash stall I will use EquiLumination fixtures for lighting as the EquiWet 200 model is safe for wash stalls and wet locations.
7) Climate Controlled Tack Room & Feed Room
This may seem like another item that could be considered a luxury but I won’t build my barn without it.
A smaller farm could combine this and make one room to serve both tack and feed storage. A climate controlled tack/feed room offers heat in the winter to store liquid products so they won’t freeze, thaw buckets if needed and warm yourself up in between winter chores. In the summer having a climate controlled tack/feed room reduces humidity which greatly reduces the mold on tack saving you time cleaning it.
Just consider the effects of extreme temperatures on your feed. Everyone that feeds a textured feed has had the “pleasure” of trying to break a brick of feed because the molasses in it froze. In the summer too much moisture from humidity can cause toxic molds to form. I read somewhere that condensation on your feed can create over 100 different micro-toxins!
If this option isn’t in your budget the best prevention to reduce the impacts of weather on feed is to allow air to flow over storage bins. You can also use plastic bins over metal bins to reduce condensation and use fans to keep the feed well ventilated and dry.
8) Water Systems
Water quantity and quality are two really important things on a farm. Re-using rain water can save money as it takes power to run a well water pump. By giving the water somewhere to go (instead of directly out your gutter or off your barn roof) you decrease the potential for sediment ending up in the water ways.
Whether you are on a well or use a municipal source collecting your rain water is the best way to reduce your demand. Recycled rain water is great for watering landscape plants, pasture irrigation and to water and wash your horses.
You can implement a simple rain barrel system or something more elaborate like a cistern. All farms in the olden days used cisterns (giant rain barrels) because the thought of a dry well was not an option. This can be either a DIY project or you can sometimes find them through your County Soil and Water District.
On my model farm I will use gutter system to a rain barrel for my garden but to water my horses I will install automatic waterers powered by geothermic heat; this keeps the water cool in the summer and above freezing in the winter, and no electricity is required. They avoid wasting water and I will never have to deal with frozen buckets and tanks. This is an option that might cost more upfront but in the long run will save time and money, especially if a horse can’t access enough water and you end up with a colic on your hands!
Here is a great link to water collection systems:
9) Manure Management
There are three things you can do to help manage the impact of manure on your farm; have it hauled away, compost it or just cover your pile.
I prefer composting as it is one of the most efficient ways of getting rid of the pounds of manure your horse will leave you daily.
Compost that is properly managed is an excellent natural fertilizer for your pasture or garden. Proper composting will kill pathogens and weed seeds so if you spread the compost, what you are putting back on your pasture won’t harm your horses. Certain ingredients are needed for efficient composting and using wood pellets for your stall bedding significantly speeds up the process.
If you only have a few horses compost bins can be simple piles that you turn regularly by hand. Farms with a large amount of horses will need a compost system that utilizes a tractor to turn the piles.
If you don’t haul it away or aren’t ready to compost it you should at least collect the manure, create a stack pile and cover it. I recently did a survey of horse owners and, of the farms that utilized a manure stack pile to manage their manure, 90 % of them did not have it covered. When rain water falls on the pile, it picks up pathogens, bacteria and nutrients and carries them to the soil and water on your farm. By throwing a simple tarp over your pile you eliminate a huge amount of this run-off! I see farms all the time that cover their clean shavings pile and hay but do not cover their manure pile.
Solar options are becoming easier and more affordable to use on a farm due to the rapid advancements in technology and the increasing awareness about renewable energy sources.
On my farm I will use a PV system comprised of photovoltaic cells that can convert sunlight into electricity. The electricity can then be used for various tasks on the farm such as pumping water, running fans and operating other tools on the farm that use electricity.
Solar panels and solar lighting may seem quite expensive when you first purchase it, but in the long run you will find yourself saving quite a great deal of money. After all, it does not cost anything to harness the power of the sun.
Many governments offer incentives to help pay farmers for installing renewable energy systems. Contact your local or federal energy department to ask about tax cuts and other bonuses.
On my dream farm I will also use a solar powered fence charger for my rotational grazing paddocks. Not only do they save on electricity but they keep on working even in a power outage. Even if you decide going solar in your barn isn’t in your budget, consider using solar powered fencing.
Of course there are many other “must haves” for the perfect barn but when creating the list for my model horse farm I have already added these 10 things.
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Peace ad good rides, til we meet again,