If you live where it gets cold in the winter, youll have to decide how much of the barn to heat, if any. Ask yourself: "Is the barn primarily for my comfort or my horse's health?" Horses are generally more comfortable--and much healthier--living outside or in an unheated barn.
It has been found that horses living in a stable rather than outside have higher antibody titers, meaning they have been fighting infectious agents likely caused by bad air and dirty bedding. If you can, build a variety of paddocks, runs and sheds so horses can live outside most of the time.
All but very young foals and sick horses will do fine in an unheated barn as long as they are protected from drafts. When it gets really cold, below 0°F, it ishealthier for a horse to wear a blanket and have plenty of fresh air than to close the barn up tight and blast him with a heater. When a horse does require additional warmth, because of sickness or injury, you can use an infrared (radiant) heater or a well-protected heat lamp.
Most barns only require heating in one or two rooms, commonly the tack room and utility room. A warm tack room will provide a place to prevent freezing of medications and grooming products and give you a place to warm up between chores or horses. A heated utility room will keep your washing machine, pressure tank, water heater or other water appliances from freezing. An exception is a show barn where horses are kept with a short hair coat year round. A temperature of 50°F is comfortable for people to work and is healthy for horses, too.
Any space that is heated, whether one room or the entire barn, needs to be insulated and have a vapor barrier on all sides (as well as the ceiling, walls and floor) to prevent damage from condensatio and to make efficient use of energy.
Damp air contributes to respiratory ailments, stiffness, and bacterial and fungal growth. It also promotes condensation, which can drip down onto your horses, tack and feed; rot framing; rust metal siding and roofing; ruin insulation; and cause ice to form on ceilings and walls.
Condensation problems occur mostly in climates where temperatures dip below 35°F for an extended period of time. Barns in the desert and uninsulated barns where the inside and outside temperatures are about the same seldom have condensation problems.
You can prevent or minimize condensation by:
- keeping humidity low
- providing plenty of ventilation: in a heated barn this will allow humid air to escape; in an unheated barn, it can keep the inside air temperature close to the outside temperature
- installing insulation: it can keep the inside surfaces of the barn close to the inside air temperature
Humidity fuels condensation, and be assured that respiring horses and wet stalls supply plenty of moist air. Respiration from a 1,000-pound horse puts two gallons of moisture into the air each day. Four horses supply eight gallons of humidity per day, and that's not counting moisture from evaporation of urine and manure. A good humidity level for horses is 50 to 75 percent, with 60 percent being optimum; however, too dry is better than too humid.
A dehumidifier, although suitable for an enclosed room, is impractical for an entire barn. Better to eliminate the primary source of moisture by using stalls only when necessary and by removing wet bedding as often as possible when horses are in stalls.
Good ventilation begins with good design. Ventilation designs (or lack thereof) that work for animals like cows, pigs and chickens are seldom ideal or even adequate for horses. Horses typically spend many more years in a barn than other animals. Plus, they are usually required to perform as athletes and so require a plentiful supply of clean air for optimum health and fitness.
Besides contributing to condensation, poor ventilation prevents stalls from drying out and leads to moldy bedding. And it can make air downright unhealthy.
Contamination by ammonia fumes from decomposing urine and dung, dust from hay and bedding, bacteria, and mold and fungal spores all can contribute to allergy and respiratory problems in horses and humans. Foals are especially vulnerable to high levels of ammonia and are unfortunately subjected to higher concentrations because they live close to the ground where ammonia tends to layer. Respiratory infections often set in once a foal's developing immune system has been weakened by ammonia fumes. The goal of ventilation is to exchange stale inside air with fresh outdoor air without chilling horses in the process.