The leaves have fallen, and the temperature is dropping. Winter is just around the corner. Keeping yourself and your horses healthy and comfortable during the cold season can be tough, but making sure your barn is ready ahead of time will help you have a smooth and safe winter.
Tip #1: Do a thorough walk-through of your barn and property.
Walking through and making sure all doors latch properly, sliding-door tracks are clean and there are no leaky water faucets are just a few things to look for before it gets too cold. Although proper ventilation is very important to maintain throughout winter, it is also important to make sure the doors do stay closed when you need them to. Keeping an eye out for any leaks from the roof should also be on the list. This can be hazardous in the winter months as puddles in the barn can freeze and be dangerous for both people and horses. Checking all the fences and gates outside is a smart idea also. Fixing anything and everything you can before the temperatures drop is always safest.
Tip #2: Maintain proper ventilation.
Most barns are built with proper ventilation in mind. As the temperatures drop, heat in the barn rises and takes with it dust, ammonia, pathogens and moisture, all of which are dangerous and can lead to respiratory illness. Ensuring that you barn has vents on the roof as well as making sure they are clean before winter comes is vitally important to making sure these unhealthy particles can escape. As the hot, moist air rises, fresh air is sucked in via windows or vents that are in stalls or on the walls, so checking that all windows open/close properly is also essential in assuring proper ventilation in your barn. One way to know if the ventilation in your barn needs improvement is if there is condensation building up on any windows.
Tip #3: Check all water-systems.
Horses tend not to enjoy drinking freezing cold water when it’s chilly outside. It has been recommended that you give your horses warmer water rather than cold to ensure that they drink enough for the duration of the wintry months. If your barn has heating elements for water, going through and confirming that they all work will save you both time and the frustration of dealing with it when your hands are freezing. If water heaters are not an option, then putting someone in charge of checking all water buckets regularly is vital. Horses need to drink water to help digest the amount of food that they are consuming to help prevent colic. Having ice in their buckets can sometimes deter them from drinking it and increasing the risk of colic. Any large floating object such as a soccer ball, volleyball or even an empty plastic gallon jug placed in outdoor water troughs will help prevent the water from freezing. You’ll want to also make sure that any water pipes are securely insulated and not leaking to prevent pipes from breaking. In the case that a pipe does break, it is smart to know where the main water line is ahead of time to be able to shut it off.
Tip #4: Deep-clean the barn.
As stated earlier, ventilation is so important due to all the dust and pathogens in the air at a barn. But doing everything you can to reduce those risks is a great option to keeping your barn even tidier during the winter. Fall is a great time to go through and deep clean everything, from the stalls and arenas to the tack rooms and restrooms. Eliminating as much bacteria and dust from the barn before it gets closed-up for the winter will really reduce the risk of health issues in both horses and people.
Cold temperatures and shorter days tend to lead to your horse being cooped up inside for longer periods of time. This can often lead to the development of bad habits such as cribbing or weaving. Help him keep his mind busy by giving him toys or things to do. Having a Jolly Ball in the stall for your horse is a great way to keep him entertained. Maybe even take the ball away from him during the summer and return it to him every winter with the intention of making it seem new and exciting. There are other horse toys out there as well. See what your horse likes and switch back and forth between two so that he doesn’t get bored. Having hay available at all times for your horse will also help prevent boredom. Horses burn a lot of calories keeping themselves warm in the winter so feeding a little extra during the cold months is not a bad idea. As always, consulting with your vet on increasing your horse’s forage intake is always recommended.
Being prepared is never a bad idea. Writing up a “Fall To-Do” list to go through each year is recommended to help keep yourself accountable and on track. Having a safe, healthy barn this winter will make for a great start to the new year.