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Clearing the air: Reducing harmful stable odor is easy

by Rebecca Colnar, Article donated by the mane points horse resource center.

As your eyes meet, there is a compelling attraction. Without loss of eye contact, you stride to his side, tears welling in your eyes. You love your horse, but you realize, as your nostrils are assaulted by ammonia fumes, that these are not tears of endearment.

The spell is broken. "Must love entail such torment?" you ask yourself, turning to the task of stall cleaning.

As annoying as they can be, the smells associated with barns -- especially ammonia smells -- are often the least significant problem from prolonged exposure to ammonia inhalation. Ammonia poses a threat to health -- yours and your horse's-- when the smell becomes noticeable.

Fortunately, a regular maintenance program that draws on common sense

with products to control odor will handle the threat. Daily cleaning of stalls is a must. But how you control odors does matter. For example, hydrated lime, which is caustic, can cause problems for mature horses and is very risky with foals. The substance can burn the soft part of a horse's hoof, and lime dust poses difficulty for the horse's respiratory system and eyes.

Natural desiccants that absorb water without breakdown -- thereby extending bedding life -- make good sense.

The better ammonia-absorbing products effectively eliminate the odors at their source by locking up the molecules of ammonia and hydrogen sulfide -- or, in some cases, changing the bacteria population -- so less ammonia is released into the air. Several products on the market are natural, non-toxic and non-caustic. One either sprays or sprinkles the ammonia-absorbing products on the stall floor, concentrating especially on the wet areas.

Besides better smells, you'll enjoy the added benefit of lessening the fly population in the barn and adjacent areas by creating an inhospitable environment for insect egg-laying and maggot growth. When buying an ammonia-controlling product, consider your objectives -- less dampness, less ammonia, safety (non-toxicity), economy and environmental compatibility.

Ventilation helps horses breathe

When it gets cold, the temptation is to keep your horse barn as airtight as possible to keep your horses cozy. That's unwise. Proper ventilation keeps healthy, fresh air moving in the barn to remove odors and stale air.

Use common sense. If you have stall windows, open them. If you have doors, open them. Strive for cross-ventilation. Fresh air has never hurt a horse, but dusty, stale air can. The trick is to have fresh air without the barn being drafty and uncomfortable.

If you have a full loft, put a window in each stall to allow for cross-ventilation. You might also want to consider having doors at each end of the barn that can be left all or partially open, depending on the weather.

Horse Handbook: Housing and Equipment offers detailed suggestions for adding ventilation. It's available for $7 through Northeast Regional Agricultural Engineering Service, 152 Riley Robb Hall, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853, (607) 255-7654.

Read the next horse barns article on Run-in Horse.
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