Last year we saw temperatures below zero here in western Kentucky we were fortunate to have been prepared. My friends and clients asked how we were handling the cold and keeping our mares safe. We shared our information but also decided that we needed to see if there was anything else we were missing. The answer is many things as this referenced article on getting your barn winter ready shows by Ramm Fence on how to organize and prepare your barn in case bad weather presents itself.
1. Safer Stalls Prevent Injuries. For those of you who stall your horses 50% of the time, if not longer remember it needs to offer a sense of security. A horse's stall should be a safe place that provides comfort, rest and easy feeding. Check all of your stall walls to be sure that there are no protruding nails, sharp edges or worn feeders that could result in an injury. Replace any old wood and be sure your stalls are free from split, chewed, and uneven boards. Holes in stall walls or any open spaces can turn into a place for a potential injury from a kick or a curious nose. note: I've found that horses are often bored and anything that can go wrong does and particularly in confinement. Rub over the walls with your hands to see if there are any issues and check your horses daily when feeding to see if there are any sores or injuries they have sustained. It is never a good idea to assume their stalls are free from harmful areas.
2. Ventilation, a Key to Better Health. Horse Barns need to have good ventilation so that your horses stay healthy. You can offer natural ventilation through windows in your horse's stall. Hinged, grilled, or mesh doors allow you to open, close and clean your windows and sills while protecting your horse from the actual window. Grilled or mesh partitions in between each stall will allow horses to socialize with each other and let natural air flow between stalls. Additionally, mucking your stalls regularly will keep the build up of ammonia at bay. note: We found last year during the below zero weather that our horses needed the ventilation and preferred to stay outdoors part of the day. Their coats had naturally grown thick as winter approached and as we keep our horses outside 90% of the time. We kept them in our small lot with access to the warm barn and stalls which they used only part of the time. We did find that they enjoyed the alleyway better as a group during the nights vs. the stalls. Horses are social animals and prefer to stay in a group.
3. Save Both Time and Money with Stall Mats. If you feel that its time to look at a better way to keep your stalls in shape, think about adding stall mats or a mattress system. Some of the benefits include using less bedding, keeping a level surface for your horse which also allows for easier and more efficient cleaning. Horses don't 'circle' their bedding and hay into a dirt floor and you no longer take the base of your stall out with the old bedding when you clean. Stall mats save both time and labor as well as minimize stall base maintenance practically to none. note: We use mats in our stalls and it does make it easier to keep clean and provides a natural barrier from the cold much like insulating your floors. The trick is to have enough bedding available to absorb efficiently.
4. Never Guess if Your Horse Has Enough Water. We all know that water is very important for our horses any time of the year and especially in cold months. Water not only hydrates, but also helps to keep horses warm in colder weather. If you're thinking about using automatic heated waters, now is a good time to get water lines run and individual waterers in stalls. Be sure to make waterers low enough that horses don't have trouble drinking from them, but high enough that hay and dirt don't easily get into the bowls. Generally setting bowls at a little below shoulder height works well. Smaller animals or ponies need lower bowls for easy access. If your horses are in pasture a lot, be sure to consider a waterer that is made for outdoor pasture use. Pre-plan and be sure it's situated in a place that horses can congregate easily. Since areas like this get so much wear, rubber wash mats around a waterer can help to keep the dirt around it firm and in place.
If you would prefer to use buckets in your stalls in the cold months, consider using an insulated bucket holder. They help to keep heavy ice formation at bay. By filling buckets twice a day, the labor associated with breaking thick ice from buckets is helped immensely. The use of the bucket 'floater' that lays on top of the water does not seem to be an issue with horses water consumption. If you would like to avoid ice completely, try a heated water bucket in your stalls. The buckets fit nicely into a bucket holder that also helps to keep them in place if water gets low, discouraging horses from 'playing' with the bucket. The cord is protected with a coiled wire, which can be run through the stall wall or out of the partition to a standard outlet. The buckets automatically turn on and off at 42 degrees, taking the worry away from a continual 'on' heater. Electricity costs are pennies a month, but peace of mind? Well that's priceless!
5. Maximizing Areas for Manure Disposal. Be sure that when you clean your stalls you have the easiest path to and from your manure pile, bunker, compost, or wherever you dispose of used bedding. Whatever your means is for cleaning - tractor and spreader, 4- wheeler with bed that dumps, or even a wheelbarrow, think about your path when snow is on the ground and take measures now to make your path easier to use. Spreading small stone on a path helps with traction. Filling low ruts on the ground now will help to avoid places where you could get potentially stuck.
6. Store Up On Bedding. Now is also a good time to decide what bedding you will need through the winter months. If you're using saw dust or shavings, decide where you will store it. If you're buying in bulk, which can save money, think about constructing a three sided storage area for easy access. Some people pour a concrete pad, use a wood floor or some other means of keeping moisture from getting to the bottom of the bedding. Consider using a tarp or cover to keep bedding dry if your storage area is outside of your barn. Other options for storage can be an empty stall, the corner of an indoor arena, or an unused trailer. Always use caution when getting bulk shavings to be sure it does not contain wood from nut or fruit bearing trees, which can be toxic to horses. note: Make your bedding 3x as thick for winter months as they enjoy laying in the warmth created by that bedding and it is easier to clean out from that vantage point vs. continually hauling in new bedding.
7. Buying Hay at the End Summer Will Cost Less Than Through the Winter. Towards the end of the summer season you can pre-plan, save money, and have your hay ready for winter. Hay storage needs to be well ventilated. New hay, directly from the fields, requires a 'curing' time of at least a month to 6 weeks. Heat from fresh hay curing (sweating while it dries), can build up between bales and become extremely hot. If you're stacking new hay, provide pockets for air flow. Be sure your hay storage area can get plenty of air. Check hay daily by sliding your arm in between bales and open areas to allow air flow, (if needed), during the drying process. Early purchasing will prove to give you better hay prices rather than waiting until after the first of the year when prices can double. You may also want to check on prices for large round hay bales. Some horse owners prefer using these and filling a round hay feeder less frequently as opposed to bale feeding. It's something to consider, (depending upon your preferences and how much your horses are in pasture), and could be a money saver for you. note: We also found this year that you can get roughage in many types of hay in a pelleted form vs. the cubes which is a good source of heat for your horses. Do Not overfeed this. Black Oiled Sunflower Seets are also a good source of fiber, moisture, and protien which we have added to our feed and our ladies love them.
8. Cobwebs are a Fire Hazard. Give your barn and stalls a good dusting. Cob webs that catch bits of hay, bedding and dust can be fire hazards. A dust-free barn is better for both you and your horse's health, too. Dusters can be purchased with handles that extend allowing you to reach up into your rafters and tops of your stalls. Even a broom will work. Or if you want to go a step further, cover a broom with an old cloth and that will help to further collect unwanted cob webs and collected dust. note: I'd always said that if I ever had a barn that I would not have cobwebs but that is a lost cause most of the time as they spring back up immediately it seems. However, I always make an effort to get them down and make twice the effort in the winter which pays dividends as they do not spring back quite as fast! I use one of those dust busters just for that instead of a broom. Works great!
9. Unclutter Aisles. No matter how wide your barn aisle or walkway is, it's important to keep them free from rakes, pickers, and small items such as brushes, buckets and lead ropes. Having your stall cleaning tools in one convenient place saves time, rather than having to go from one end of your barn to the other to find things. Find a good corner or wall where you can hang tools and always return them to that place after each use. Hang lead ropes and halters on each horse's door or you can purchase a row of hooks that hang over your stalls front partition for quick and easy access. Keep brushes in tack boxes or brush boxes that are out of the way of your horse's path. Be sure that your aisle has some kind of traction so that horses don't slip from wet or snowy hooves. Natural dirt floors are easy for horses to walk on, however, they can become dusty. Rubber pavers are an option and they help to keep surfaces level, have a non-skid surface and reduce dust. Stall mats are another option that will keep the dust down and give better traction. If you have a concrete aisle that tends to be slippery, consider using a concrete sealant mixed with grit to help provide a rougher surface. You can also consider using rolled rubber matting.
10. Make Sure that Your Lights are Working Properly. As colder days approach, it gets dark out earlier. Lighting is an important part of seeing to do cleaning, feeding and daily checking of your horse. If your lights need to be cleaned from cob webs and bugs, remove light covers and wash your fixtures and replace any non-working bulbs. If your lighting could use some help, natural light fixtures can be bright with out heavy glare. There are also sealed lights available that eliminate the chore of cleaning with high ceilings. If possible, provide light in or beside each stall, in feeding areas, and outside of any entry areas. This will help you, or anyone else who helps, with your barn.
11. Horses Out in Pasture? Provide Protection. One or two freezes can cut the nutrition from grass that your horses have feasted on during summer. Its important to remember to watch for any signs of weight drops at this time of the year, and regulate your horse's amount of hay. Grain can be a good source of nutrients as well as provide warmth. If you feed your horse outside, be sure to supplement with enough hay so that your horses can 'graze' with the hay that you provide. If your pastures are turning to dirt, it is very important to be sure that you provide enough roughage, such as grass hay, to keep them 'busy'. Board horses tend to pick up more dirt from foraging that can lead to colic. They also tend to try to eat grass on the other side of the fence, abusing it, and creating costly maintenance. Electric fencing will help to stop horses from leaning and cut the cost of replacing your existing fence. Horses also need shelter from the wind and elements. A simple 3- sided shed, with the back facing the wind, will provide much needed protection. Sheds can be secured to the ground with large anchors that will help to avoid damage from heavy winds.
Before the chilling winds begin, plan to get your barn projects completed. You will be so glad that you took some time to get organized, clean, and make chores more convenient. A few months from now you will glad that your barn runs efficiently and that your horses are easily cared for due to good planning! Have a great month and be ready for cooler weather! Enjoy the cooler days and good rides! Be sure to check your needed measurements with pre-fabricated stall parts. If measurements don't match, you can have custom pieces made for your stalls.
SOURCE: http://www.rammfence.com/resource-center/ramm-articles/12-tips-for-winterizing-your-barn RAMM Fence Systems, Inc. makes every effort to provide reliable and useful information on horse health, care and products. The statements made on this website are based on years of experience with horses, however, they are based on generalized situations and should not replace diagnosis or treatment by a veterinarian or consultation by a professional. RAMM Fence Systems, Inc. does not assume any legal responsibility. Readers should always consult qualified health care providers for specific diagnosis and treatment.
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