As the air chills and the temperature drops, winter barn preparation becomes a priority for horse owners. While it may seem a cliché to say, an ounce of prevention truly is worth a pound of cure when it comes keeping horses healthy during the winter months.
Taking the time to prepare for cold weather saves time, money, and frustration, plus these actions will keep your horse comfortable and healthy during the winter season.
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Check barn doors, barn windows, and other areas for large drafts. Cover holes that would allow in too much cold air. Eliminate drafty areas, but leave spaces for fresh air to circulate. Good ventilation is critical. A barn that is "too tight" prevents any airflow from circulating and can lead to respiratory ailments.
Check all barn doors and windows to make sure they close properly. Replace anything that's broken from windows to door latches. Just as important is to make sure that the door tracks are cleaned out. You will want ample clearance to allow for snow, ice, and even for the expansion of frozen ground. Look for drafty areas and take steps to mitigate cold, windy drafts that might affect horses.
To avoid frozen barn doors. Clean out areas beneath doors. Install or replace gutters above barn doors to redirect the flow of melting snow and other precipitation. De-icing products are sometimes necessary to create safe work areas around the barn.
Horses can and will consume some snow through the winter, but six to ten times as much snow must be eaten to provide an equal amount of water, and the calories used to melt the snow should be used for body warmth, condition, maintenance and overall health. Be sure to keep cats and dogs away from treated areas. De-icing materials should not be ingested and can irritate padded paws.
Clean out the cobwebs. Cobwebs can be a fire hazard when they cover lights and electrical outlets. When covering windows they also reduce the amount of natural light that comes into a barn during the winter. Update your lighting. This means replacing burned out bulbs and possibly adding lighting to areas that get even darker during the winter like entryways, and wash racks and grooming areas.
For general lighting you may want to change traditional light bulbs out for ones that use less energy. Solar sensor nightlights work great for wash rooms and other areas that could use some continual lighting throughout the day and night.
Inspect light bulbs and electrical systems. Shorter days begin long before the cold weather sets in. Replace blown light bulbs and hire an electrician to make any necessary repairs to damaged wiring. A well-lit barn is easier to work in and is safer for horses, horse owners, and visitors.
Store battery-powered flashlights or lanterns in easily accessible locations. When winter storms interrupt the power supply, finding the way around a dark barn is challenging.
If the flashlight or lantern was used last year, check the batteries to be sure the light is ready to use.
"Neglect is the worst thing that happens to the horse during the winter months. Most horses are turned out to pasture and we only see them in the dark at feeding time," states Ann Swinker, Penn State Extension Equine Specialist. "The important thing is, do not just turn horses out and forget about them. Every day at every feeding, your horse should receive at least a visual examination."