Spruce Up Your Barn

Spring is a great time to evaluate your barn’s condition. Following is a 10-step guide to getting your barn in tip-top shape. Tackle one task at a time, and before you know it, your horse’s indoor environment will be clean, comfortable, and well-organized. 

By evaluating these 10 aspects of your barn, you’ll be well on your way to having happy horses, happy humans, and a clean, organized barn all year long.

Step 1: Eliminate Clutter

Barn clutter is unsightly and dangerous, and provides cozy locations for unwanted critters to nest in. Hang large items, such as tarps and blankets, or store them in boxes or on shelves. Arrange small, everyday items for convenience and orderliness. Hang halters and lead ropes on hooks or stalls, says Kimberly Kast, owner of Flyn’ Hooves Stable in Lubbock, Texas.

Mount hooks to organize frequently used barn tools. Keep wheelbarrows along walls, in tool nooks, or outside of the barn to maintain clear aisles. Drain hoses, and roll them up daily. Use a hose caddy for convenience.

Clean the drains to ensure proper water flow. Pop off the drain cover, and remove any hair or debris that might have accumulated there. Dispose of trash, large and small. Horses browsing for loose hay can easily ingest rubber bands and strings.

Step 2. Clean Water Troughs

The trick with organizing barn tools is to hang them up rather than piling them in a corner.

Clean smaller water buckets weekly, Kast says. In winter, he hangs heat lamps from the barn ceiling to keep the water from freezing. Her horses stay warmer, too.

Buddy Knox, a small-scale horse owner, siphons water out of the trough when it’s time for cleaning and scrubs the algae in the tank with a mop or brush. He also recommends keeping goldfish in troughs year-round to minimize algae growth.

3. Streamline the Feed Room

Efficiency is the name of the game for feed rooms. Organize shelves and containers to reduce the time it takes for your feeding regimen. Keep grain in moisture-resistant, rodent-proof containers to maintain freshness. Store feed in plastic tubs or metal trash cans.

Reorganize your hay supply. Knox suggests moving older hay toward the front of your stack, so you’ll use it first. Backfill with new hay. Toss any moldy hay immediately so new hay doesn’t become contaminated Stack the hay on palettes to keep moisture at bay.

Install shelves in feed rooms to organize your horse’s feed, supplements, and medications. Keep a trash can (with secure lid) within reach of the feed room to dispose of empty feed sacks, supplement containers, deworming tubes, etc.

Be realistic about how much extra baling twine and wire you’ll use. Dispose of excess. Wind up the material you’ll use again, and hang it on a designated wall hook. That way, the twine and wire are within reach, but won’t tangle around unsuspecting legs.

4. Compartmentalize the Tack Room

Make or purchase bridle hooks, shelves, and saddle racks to store tack. You can buy durable containers at local home-improvement and discount stores, or order equestrian-friendly systems. Clear plastic containers are especially handy, because you can see the contents with a quick glance.

Organize brushes on a wheeled cart or in other containers, such as labeled grooming totes, to help keep them in one location. Shelving units can add additional storage space for your tack and equipment.

Stash it where you need it. A grooming tote-stool is a convenient place to keep brushes.

Take inventory of your grooming and fly-control products; safely dispose of any empty containers. Check area regulations regarding the disposal of pesticides and other toxins. Safely store those items you’ll need for next season. Evaluate whether plastic spray bottles/containers are safe enough for further use.

Evaluate your equine medicine chest. Safely toss expired or empty medications, and restock your cabinet with fresh supplies. Quest notes that temperature extremes compromise medications’ potency. If you don’t have a climate-controlled place in the barn, move them to the house.

5. Condition Equipment

Give your tack a good cleaning and conditioning. Tack benefits from regular cleaning with saddle soap, but it needs to be oiled once or twice annually to maintain leather suppleness, says Cindy McCully, president of Cynron Saddlery. Hair and sweat accumulate on saddle pads while riding, so pads also need occasional cleaning.

You can clean saddle pads in several ways, such as with a power washer or by hand washing. But if declining temperatures prevent soap-and-water treatment, you can use a stiff-bristled horse brush to remove matted hair and dirt on the underside of the pad for a quick touchup.

Occasionally clean and disinfect grooming supplies, as well. Clean brushes daily by running your hand across the bristles to remove hair and dirt. To disinfect grooming items, dilute bleach in a bucket of water at a 1:10 ratio. Submerge items into the mixture, and allow them to soak. Remove the items, rinse them thoroughly with clean water, and allow them to air dry.

6. De-clutter Barn Aisles

No matter how careful you are, grain will escape to the floor. Sweep the barn aisle frequently.

Keep aisles clear of items that may inhibit horses’ movements or compromise safety. You may be surprised at the things you’ve allowed semi-permanent residence in the aisle. Take a few moments to find a proper place for anything that doesn’t belong and will hinder movement of you and your horse through the aisle.

Sweep barn aisles daily — not only to enhance the barn’s aesthetics but to help prevent fire. To minimize dust raised when raking a dirt aisle, Kast recommends watering the ground lightly before raking. Dampening your broom while you sweep a concrete aisle-way may also help keep the dust down.

7. Seasonalize Horse Clothing

It seems most barns have an abundance of seasonal horse attire: summer sheets; fly masks; winter blankets; hoods; etc. Clean and repair your horse’s clothing. Store off-season items in plastic containers or tack boxes to keep them dust- and rodent-free.

When your horse’s attire is removed — such as during exercise or on a warm day — hang the items on a blanket rack or stall door to keep them clean and ready to use, Jessica Knox suggests. Blanket racks and hooks can be purchased inexpensively from many catalogues and stores, and require minimal assembly.

Blankets can be cleaned several ways. Some people prefer to dry clean them, while others throw them in a washing machine. Buddy Knox says one affordable cleaning method is to place the blanket on a fence or concrete slab and hand-wash using water, laundry detergent, and a stiff brush. Make sure you rinse the blanket well to prevent skin irritation from leftover soap.

Industrious sparrows have made their nest in the barn rafters. An owl mannequin may discourage them.

8. Clean Out Cobwebs and Dust

One of the hardest things to do in a barn filled with horses is keep it clean. However, cobwebs and dust are fire hazards, so now is the time for a clean sweep. You can easily dislodge and remove cobwebs with a broom, mop, and/or industrial vacuum. Wear a hat, gloves, and a jacket to keep cobwebs and creepy-crawlies out of your hair and off your clothes.

A hose with a spray nozzle can be used to dislodge those hard-to-reach cobwebs, Maxey says. Kast recommends using a leaf blower to blow cobwebs and dust right out of the barn. She does this about every three weeks.

Cobwebs and dust can also cloud barn windows and accumulate on light fixtures, making your barn dark and dingy. Clean windows and dust lighting fixtures, and allow the light to shine through.

9. Eradicate Barn Pests

Rodents and birds are common barn nuisances, but you can take steps to eliminate or reduce their presence. Barn cats are a traditional means of assistance to reduce rodent populations.

Feed and supplements should be kept in rodent-proof containers: Metal or plastic trash cans and heavy-duty plastic containers work well and are inexpensive. Clean up spilled grain immediately to help keep pests at bay.

Evaluate your barn for the presence of bird nests. If you don’t want birds in your barn, remove the nests by hand. According to the Iowa State University Extension, netting placed around barn rafters and commercial repellents can be used to discourage nesting birds. Plastic owls and snakes can “trick” birds and rodents, helping to reduce their numbers in your barn.

Evaluate the condition of all hinges and gates. A few drops of oil can help keep them moving freely.

10. Check Wiring, Hinges, and Mats

Take a few minutes to evaluate your barn’s overall physical condition. Quest recommends checking your electricity and wires, and making sure you have extra extension cords and electric water heaters.

Check the hinges and running tracks of your barn and stall doors, and gates for rust and debris. Make sure they’re in working condition, and clean and oil them, if necessary.

If your barn has aisle or stall mats, pull them out for an occasional cleaning with water and soap. When you remove your stall mats, check for level footing, and eliminate any urine spots. Use lime or commercial stall deodorizers on urine spots; follow the manufacturers’ instructions for proper use.

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