Here in the northeast region of the country, temps have officially dropped, and both our coats and our horses’ have thickened. If you work outdoors with horses and/or livestock, you know the struggle of winter. Most people just remove their air conditioners, drain hoses, clean out their gutters before they freeze and maybe change the decor around the house. Taking care of a house is usually a constant project in itself, but a whole stable? That is another ball game. No matter if you manage a quiet retirement barn or an elaborate show stable, prepping the barn for functionality in the Winter is a must if you live in the Northern half of the country. If you haven’t already prepped for winter, you’re losing out on time left!
The first thing to consider when you’re about to start preparing, is considering your environment and expected mid-winter climate. Barns that endure the harsh winters of Montana should prep much differently than those in the mild snow in Kentucky. If your area is known for getting enormous amounts of snow, then easy access to walkways and entrances will have high importance.
Deterring water lines from freezing is usually the first concern worth tackling when getting ready for the extreme cold winter will bring. Maintaining hydration levels in the herd can be more difficult as horses are not as willing to drink and keeping up with ice build up can be a pain. Water troughs out in the fields are completely exposed, unlike the buckets in the slightly warmer barn. To combat this, investing in a water heater or creating an insulative outer barrier are common practices. Other than water tubs and buckets, water lines in the barn are important to maintain as well. Spigots, sinks and wash bay hoses should all be checked for ice build up or just be drained and stored during the cold months to avoid issues. Sprinkler systems should be checked and drained as well as to prevent issues with freezing and expanding water lines leading to damage.
If you live in a high winter precipitation area during the winter months, snow removal will be a big chore. Making sure entrance and high foot traffic areas are cleared of any equipment before heavy snowfall, preventing tractors and snow removal machines from access to these areas. Adequate snow removal is necessary for taking the horses in and out of the barn, safe walking for visitors or especially during an emergency that requires all horses and valuable items to be removed from the barn with haste.
Prepping footing areas for horses and people is important to take care of before the snow and ice season as well. Gate areas at the entrance of pastures and riding rings can become a treacherous walking area for the horse and rider. Dirt becomes compacted and hard, making it a perfect storm for ice build up, leading to a hazardous slip. Adding some river stones or gravel is an excellent way to add traction in these high traffic areas.
One of the most important steps to winterizing a barn is prepping the feed and tack rooms for the prevention of rodents. As temps dip, rodents and other varmints indoor areas for warmth and shelter. Feed and tack rooms are often the best places for mice and rats to set up shop because of loose grain and extra heat in these areas. Dropping loose grain, leaving feed tubs open or improperly storing supplements are like ringing a dinner bell for these critters. Having rodents around the barn heightens the risk of spreading disease to insects and horses and creating unsanitary conditions by soiling in feed and contaminating surfaces. Rodents will often collect material for nests and bedding by chewing items that are easily ripped by their teeth. These items can become very costly to replace such as plush saddle pads, leg wraps and even expensive leather goods and turnout blankets!
There are a couple of steps that one can take to deter these nuisances. Making sure doors are shut and these rooms are adequately sealed are the most important steps. This will ensure it is very difficult for the rodents to find access to the room in the first place. Enclosing all feed and supplements ensures that there is no smell that often attracts mice and rats.
Taking the steps to completely winterizing your stable is a lot of work, but preventing problems is much easier and often cost-effective than reversing them after they’ve already happened!