April 22, 2021

Spring Barn Cleaning Tips

Spring officially started a month ago, yet it's never too late to fulfill the urge to purge, clean and de-clutter. Horses and their humans benefit, and better breathing is a happy result for both.

By Kim Miller  | Equestrian Writer

Clean air is critical to horse’s health, happiness and performance, but the barn is a tough place to maintain it. Poor air quality is likely the cause of those nagging coughs and runny noses that elude diagnosis. These symptoms can be normal in healthy people. In horses, however, they're often early warning signs of respiratory problems.

Scientific evidence proves the surprising prevalence of Inflammatory Airway Disease in horses: higher than 80 percent of active sport horses have it to some degree. A 2018 study published in The Journal of Internal Veterinary Medicine established a clear link between fungi in the airways and IAD incidence. Fungi is one of those microscopic, inhalable particles borne into the barn via hay and straw.

In the past year, we've all learned how damaging microscopic airborne particles can be. The clouds of dust that arise from shaken flakes of hay or straw are loaded with them: specifically fungi, bacteria and other allergens that can compromise equine respiratory function.

Fortunately, there are simple ways to clean up barn air and reduce respiratory risks.

Start At The Top

Things will get worse before they get better. The first step toward clean stable air is the messy process of shaking loose dust and dirt from rafters, corners and behind and underneath piles of hay, trunks, doors, equipment, etc.

Horses should be nowhere near this endeavour. Mind your own respiratory health, too. Smart horse owners were ahead of the COVID curve in the mask wearing department because surgical masks or a bandana over the nose and mouth were already common accessories on barn cleaning duty.

Use a ladder and broom to rid the rafters of spider webs and nests. Nesting birds might seem harmless guests, but they’re also disease carriers. Plus, the straw, mud, bits and bobs used to construct their nests add to air quality challenges. The presence of spiderwebs, by the way, indicates a lack of adequate ventilation, which is critical to healthy barn air.

Examine the floor for depressions that are or could become places for urine to accumulate and emit unhealthy ammonia odours. The floor underneath waterers and stall mat seams are common wet spots. Let them dry out completely. Then level the surface by filling the holes with an absorbent base material.

Shavings & Hay

Getting the barn clean is one thing and keeping it that way is another. Happily, many challenges can be mitigated by proactive barn management, especially your approach to two of the biggest culprits in poor air quality: shavings and hay.

Stall conditions are ground zero for air quality. Thinking beyond the daily removal of manure and urine, to what’s underneath the bedding, is the key to long-term clean air.

The aforementioned Inflammatory Airway Disease study described wood shavings as much better than straw bedding, because the latter is more prone to fungal growth. However, “more is better” does not apply to shavings when it comes to clean stable air. People see a nice, cushy surface to support their horse’s sweet dreams, but the horse’s lungs see an onslaught of respiratory irritants that come with that deep bedding.

Padded and sealed flooring systems like those pioneered by Haygain's ComfortStall are an ideal way to reduce bedding requirements to only that needed to absorb urine. They provide plenty of cushion without compromising air quality. And, preventing urine from seeping below the flooring, as happens with individual mats, prevents the build-up of urea and bacteria that leads to ammonia, a major airway irritant.

Good Hay Can Have Bad Stuff

Moving on to hay, even the highest quality, most expensive varieties arrive with dust fungi, bacteria and other allergens that compromise equine respiratory health and can trigger allergy symptoms. Hay is grown in dirt, harvested with heavy machinery, then usually transported long distances and stored for long periods.

Haygain Hay Steaming is the best way to rid hay of respiratory risks. By injecting high volume steam, at temperatures exceeding 100°C, the Haygain process eliminates up to 99% of the inhalable irritants commonly found in hay. These include the fungi that is a known Inflammatory Airway Disease trigger.

Just as in riding and training horses, doing the basics right applies equally to keeping the barn clean and horses breathing easy.


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