With winter looming ahead and the colder weather setting in, many horses will be spending more time indoors. It’s prudent to run a ‘safety check’ of your barn to be sure that all is in order and that you and your horses will be safe.
All electrical wiring should be encased in metal or PVC conduit. This will keep your electric wiring safe from exposure to the elements and from being chewed by animals. Keep electric wires and such away from curious horses that may chew – and install cages over light fixtures and switches whenever possible.
The electric panel/fuse box should be easy to find – and have a shutoff switch that will cut the power to the barn without disturbing your water and telephone services in case of emergency. Post “No Smoking” signs and be sure that all visitors, employees, and servicemen follow that rule.
Keep heating appliances to a minimum, if at all, and have a qualified electrician install and inspect them on a regular basis. Refrain from extraneous electrical appliances, such as coffee makers, and establish a habit of unplugging any appliances after use. This applies to clippers and bucket warmers, as well.
Of great importance is the condition of your hay and bedding – a common cause of barn fires is moldy hay. Damp or improperly cured hay will begin to generate heat in the interior of the bale or pile in the absence of oxygen. This combustion process may take some time before the edge of the bale or stack is reached – when the sudden exposure to plenty of oxygen will cause a fire to begin. Hay should be dried and properly cured before storing in your barn. Check your hay from time to time to be sure there is no heat or odor detected.
The use of a rake and broom is important for good fire prevention. Cobwebs should be kept cleared, as they can ignite and serve as an instant passageway for a fire to spread. Rake and sweep up loose bedding every day, and keep the aisles clean and clear of combustibles to act as a fire block. If you have a hay drop from overhead, keep loose hay from hanging over and consider covering the drop area.
Don’t store diesel, gasoline, propane or other fuels or accelerants inside the barn, and keep tractors and farm equipment outside or away from where your horses and feed/bedding are kept. Keep the perimeter of the barn free of weeds and tall grass; trim bushes or overhanging branches.
Doorways and alleyways are no place for clutter or stacks of equipment and junk – both for safety’s sake for you and your horse, as well as in case of emergency, if the fire department or other emergency service needed to respond to a call quickly.
Post telephone numbers of the fire department, veterinarian, farrier, police, your home and cell phone numbers, as well as a neighbor who can help out in case of emergency. And have a fire extinguisher and flashlights handy, along with lead ropes and halters for each of your horses.
Feed and supplements
Keep your feed room clean and clear of spilled feed and grains to keep rodents at bay. Feed should be stored in covered rodent-proof containers (metal is best, as plastic bins can easily be chewed and should be monitored regularly for signs of rodent infestation.) If they find an easy source of food and are not eradicated, mice and rats will multiply rapidly and can be a fire safety hazard from chewing and constructing combustible nests; in addition they can ruin your horse’s feed with their urine and droppings.
Check all medications and supplies to be sure they are up-to-date; get rid of old prescriptions or medications that are expired or no longer needed. Read labels to see if the medications need to be kept at room temperature, and remove them to a warmer place if necessary.
This is also a good time to go through your barn’s first aid kit – and remove outdated items as well as liquids that might freeze during winter. These should be kept in an easily accessible place inside your house or other warm inside location near the barn.
If your horse is kept in a stall during winter, make sure that the footing is solid. If you have wooden floors, check for broken or weakened boards, splinters, protruding nails. Rubber mats can wear after years of use, and heading into winter before the cold weather sets in is the best time to make any repairs to your barn and run-ins.
The old adage “good fences make good neighbors” is true – not only to keep a good relationship with your neighbor, but is a necessity to keep your horses safe and secure. Beginning with your barn turn-out or paddock area, check the fencing and gates, as on many farms, horses will be spending more time close to the barn once the weather turns cold and snowy. And especially after having spent the spring, summer and autumn months out grazing in pastures, barnyard fences and gates will need to be in tip top condition to keep horses contained, especially those that are longing for more turnout time.
Wood fencing should be checked for splits, splinters, and loose or missing nails. Be sure to pick up any nails you might find, as a horse can step on a nail and puncture his foot or sustain an abscess. Additional maintenance will be necessary for painted fencing. If your horse is a ‘cribber’ or chews wood, you’ll need to replace the chewed boards. Similar maintenance is called for with PVC or plastic board fence.
Electric fencing, whether wire, tape or rope, should be checked for a good charge. Be sure there are no overhanging branches or overgrown brush that may interrupt the current. Check the charger, insulators, fence posts and all wire, tape or rope for cracks, weak spots or fraying and replace whenever necessary.
Woven or mesh wire fence should be monitored for holes or areas that may have collapsed by tree branches or other objects; check your fence posts as well.
Before winter weather arrives, monitor your watering areas and add gravel or other ‘fill’ if necessary to prevent puddles and areas of standing water that will become icy and hazardous to your horses during the cold weather. In addition, check the areas of high traffic around your barn, paddock and turnout areas to provide level footing heading into winter for the same reason.
Doing a thorough job of pre-winter preventive maintenance will go a long way in keeping your horses safe and secure during the long winter to come.