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Building a Low-Maintenance Barn

Weekend to-do list:

  • Fix holes in stall floors

  • Scrub water buckets

  • Replace boards in stalls

  • Clean nests out of rafters

  • Paint barn

  • Fix barn door

To a horse owner this list probably looks familiar. But why spend your weekend doing these chores if you can avoid it? Whether building a brand- new barn or fixing up an existing one, you can avoid some of the work that comes with owning horses by focusing on low-maintenance details during the planning stages. Although some solutions cost more up front, in the long run you save both time and money.

The floor
Horses are hard on flooring. There are two options to building a low-maintenance flooring system. The first option is to use a dirt or stone floor. However, the key to that is proper drainage. Gradually sloping the ground to a center drain system that runs through all of the stalls allows water and urine to run outside rather than sitting in the stall. Once the drain is in the stall, you can fill it in with gravel. On top of the gravel, you can either fill it with straight blue stone or use a rubber grid that you can fill with blue stone. The grid provides more stability than blue stone alone.

The second flooring option is to find good mats. The purpose of a mat is to prevent the urine from getting to the actual ground. Use an impermeable one-piece mat that covers the entire stall floor area.

The water
Install an automatic water system. The water bowls can be easily removed for cleaning and for refreshing the water. Be sure to purchase water meters that tell you how many minutes your horse is drinking in a day. With an automatic waterer, you will never scrub another water bucket or break another bucket of ice. And you will save money by not wasting large amounts of water.

To install automatic waterers, the plumbing must run to each of your stalls. Hide the plumbing in a wall so it's not on the inside of the stall where the horse can kick or chew through the pipe. For those of you in cold climates, the plumbing can be insulated with heat tape that stays on year-round.

The walls
The only way you will never have horses kicking holes in their stall walls is by making your barn of concrete. Horses won't kick those walls more than once. However, concrete is not a common building material due to the high cost. The next-best solution is tongue-and-groove stall walls that are locked together. Ideally these walls should be made out of the hardest wood available, such as oak. The interlocking design prevents the boards from warping with the changes in weather and makes it difficult for mice to create homes in the walls.

Another detail that saves not only time and money but also prevents injury to your horses is placing aluminum angle iron on all of the corners of the stall. When horses are bored, they chew on wood. By placing the angle iron on the corner, it doesn't leave the horses with anything they can sink their teeth into.

Rafters, Siding, and Doors

The rafters
Where there's a barn, there's a bird ...or two or three. Birds love to make their homes in rafters of barns, and typically they leave a mess. To discourage birds from taking up residence in your barn, line the rafters with a plastic ceiling. Plastic not only discourages the birds from roosting but also allows for easy cleaning either by sweeping or by power-washing.

The siding
Painting a barn is more than a weekend project - it's a six-weekend project. You can end up doing more than just painting when you discover rotted wood in the siding. Metal or vinyl siding requires minimal maintenance. Power-washing cleans up vinyl siding in short order. Although vinyl siding may be more expensive in the beginning, in the long run it saves time and money since no painting or replacement is required.

The door
Pay close attention to door design. Sliding doors are ideal because they stay against the stall wall and out of the aisle. If a barn has metal doors, a wind storm can bang them and scare horses. The key is selecting doors that are weighted heavily enough to prevent the wind from getting underneath. Another option is to install door pins or a latching mechanism on your aisle doors. The ideal mechanisms allow you to lock the door in place at the bottom of the door to the ground, rather than just locking two doors together. You can also install plastic weather stripping around the frame.

The typical width of a stall door is 4 feet wide. Although this is large enough for a horse to get through, the wider the door, the more flexibility it allows the handler to get out of the way in case of an emergency. By making a stall door 6 feet wide, it also allows you to get a tractor bucket in the stall if necessary.

Nobody owns horses because they love to clean stalls! By minimizing the amount of maintenance required on your barn, you will save time and money. Put some thought into the design of your horse barn, and you can spend more time riding and less time doing chores.

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