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Ask the Vet, Sallie S. Hyman VMD, DACVIM: Barn Safety

Safety In and Around the Barn

 Winter is upon us and both people and horses are spending more time in the barn.  Now is the perfect time to do a barn safety check to make sure that you and your horses will be safe and stay healthy indoors.

 Keeping Safe

Barn safety boils down to a lot of common sense and good planning.  First and foremost, keep a first aid kit around, for both people and horses.

Tools and Clutter

It is critical to keep aisles and doorways unobstructed.  This means making sure that things get put away where they belong.  Horses will, if given a chance, injure themselves on just about anything left in their way.  Wheel barrows, pitchforks, brooms, etc. should be put away where a person or horse cannot become entangled in or injured by them. Having all items put away and out of the aisles will keep exists open in case of an emergency. 

Poisons

 Speaking of keeping items out of the way, make sure that all chemicals, bleach, lime, drain cleaners, etc. are out of the reach of children and animals. Both are curious and could end up with a mouth or eyeful of something that is harmful. Keep the poison control phone numbers handy in case of accidental ingestion.  Human poison control is 1-800-222-1222.  Animal poison control is 1-888-426-4435.  It is run by the National Animal Poison Control Center at the University of Illinois.  A fee is charged for information by the animal poison control center.  Keep other emergency numbers handy as well, such as Fire, Police, Ambulance, Veterinarians, and horse owners. 

Electrical Hazards and Light Fixtures

 We usually think of “spring cleaning” as the time to knock down all of the cobwebs, but it is just as important to do so in the winter.  Cobwebs can be a fire hazard and collect dust that is unhealthy.  Dust and cobwebs over lights and electrical outlets is definitely a hazard.  Use a vacuum to suck the dirt and cobwebs out of outlets.  Do not use a leaf blower.  That will only blow the dust further into the receptacle.  Any receptacle that is near water should have a ground fault interrupter (GFI).  This will prevent you from getting shocked.  Check to make sure that light fixtures are securely attached.  Overhead lights should be hung high enough so that a horse cannot hit them, even if rearing.  If this is not possible, then all light bulbs should be covered with metal safety cages to prevent them from breaking if hit.  Check all areas of the barn for any nails that may have come loose that could cause a cut eyelid or nostril. 

Fire Safety

 Fire safety is of extreme importance.  And wintertime is the most important time to think about it.  Horses spend more time in their stalls.  Most barns stock up on hay and bedding for the winter and store it in the barn. Horse barns are not regulated the same way as many other livestock facilities, and certainly not like residential homes in terms of fire safety design or prevention.  Think about what a barn consists of.  It is usually constructed of wood, stalls are bedded with straw or wood shavings, and the loft or some other area is filled with hay and bedding materials.  This makes for an extremely combustible mix.  It takes only 2-3 minutes for straw in a stall to ignite and burn a 10x10 foot area, burning at temperatures of 300 degrees.  Thermal injury to a horse will occur when they are within 6 feet of that fire in their stall.  In order to get your horse out unharmed, he must be evacuated within 30 seconds of the fire starting.  That is not a lot of time, so prevention is the best defense. 

There are ways, however, to help keep your barn fire safe.  Have a fire evacuation plan.  Keep fire extinguishers at all exits, in the tack room, and anywhere else you want one.  Have smoke detectors in the barn that are kept clear of dust and cobwebs, that have working batteries in them, and are checked at least twice yearly to see that they are in working order.  If at all possible, store hay and bedding in a separate building.  For many people, this is not possible.  In that case, make sure that your hay is dry and cured before you store it in the barn.  Drying hay produces a lot of heat and actually combust and start a fire.  There are temperature probes you can get to check the temperature of the hay to make sure it is not dangerous.  Stack the hay properly to ensure good air flow to help heat dissipate and to prevent mold. 

Ventilation

 As a veterinarian, the most important concern for me when horses spend time in their stalls is proper ventilation.  Many horse owners anthropomorphize and believe that their horses want a nice warm, cozy barn, in the winter, just like we want.  Horses are designed to withstand the cold and keeping the barn locked up tightly is actually detrimental to their health. (Clipped horses will need blankets.) Ideally, a barn should be only 5-10 degrees warmer than the outside temperature in the winter.

 
 

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