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Maintaining Good Air Quality in Horse Stables

Maintaining good air quality in your barn is the single most important thing you can do to keep you horse healthy and happy. Article by Thomas L. Croce, Architects

Maintaining good air quality implies that the air inside the barn contains minimal contaminants. Air begins as a mixture of gases, mainly nitrogen, oxygen, varying amounts of water vapor, and contaminants. These contaminants consist of pathogens, dust, and gases, since all air contains some level of contamination it stands to reason that the concentration of these contaminants is the cause for concern with regards to air quality. Reducing the concentration of these contaminants is paramount in reducing their detrimental effect; this is accomplished in two ways, by minimizing the introductions of the contaminant, and through ventilation.

The most controllable of the contaminants is dust. Dust in the barn can be an irritant, infectious, or allergenic, and includes mould spores, pollen, bacteria, and fungi, it can absorb gases, liquids, carry viruses and bacteria. A horse in a dusty environment is more susceptible to infection, and other small airway diseases and can suffers from increased transportation stress. Bedding and hay are the most common source of dust and mould spores in the barn, even the cleanest straw contains significantly more small mould and fungal spores than other types of bedding. Not only is the type of bedding important, but how it is delivered, and stored can greatly affect the interior air quality. Storing both bedding and hay in a separate facility will greatly reduce the amount of dust, mold, and fungus introduced into the air, feeding hay close to the ground will also reduce the amount of inhaled dust.
Horse stalls with Ventilation

Before we look at ventilation, let’s look at the other common contaminants found in barns.
Gases – Common gases in the barn consist of Carbon Dioxide, Carbon Monoxide, Methane, and Ammonia. Carbon dioxide is produced from respiration and manure decomposition, carbon monoxide from engine exhaust, and methane from manure decomposition. The most significant threat to your horse’s respiratory health from gas contamination is from ammonia. The source of ammonia is fresh manure and urine. Ammonia reduces the horse’s ability to remove particles from the lungs, making him more susceptible to small airway diseases. It is highly water soluble and can be retained at high levels in humid air. Ammonia is detectable to the human nose at a concentration of .0005%, in concentrations as low as .07% it can cause respiratory lesions, and irritate the eyes, and at .17% it will induce coughing, and an exposure for 40 minutes at a concentration of .5% can be fatal. Ammonia vapors condensing on stalls or other surfaces can oxidize to form nitrates, which are toxic. By comparison an exposure for 30 minutes to a concentration of 30% carbon dioxide may be fatal, and a concentration of .2% for 60 minutes of Carbon monoxide is considered dangerous. Since the level of detection for most of these gases (except carbon monoxide which is not detectable) is significantly below the level at which it is a health risk, your nose may be the best judge of your barns air quality.

The introduction of contaminates in even the best kept barn is unavoidable; the best way to mitigate their detrimental effects on your horses health is through ventilation and management. Simply turning your horse out during stall cleaning will significantly reduce his exposure to ammonia gases. Ventilation is the process by which outside air is brought into the barn where it collects and dilutes moisture, heat, and other contaminates, and exhausts them to the exterior. Although ventilation is critical it must not create draughts, for example @ 40degrees F. in an area free of draughts your horse may feel perfectly comfortable. But increasing the wind to just 4 mph and the same horse would require a heavy rug to maintain the same level of comfort.

Since ventilation is essentially a process of dilution, the amount will vary depending on the climate, the season, and the size and configuration of the barn. For example, a barn where hay and bulk shavings or straw are stored in the same area as the horses would require a higher ventilation rate to maintain the same air quality as a barn where they are stored in a separate facility. Ideally ventilation varies from just enough to maintain good air quality in very cold climates, up to a maximum rate to reduce heat stress. The ventilation system should be designed to provide at least 3 seasonal ventilating rates. The ventilation rate is measured in cubic feet of air per minute (cfm). In a cold climate the minimum ventilation rate should be 25 cfm. In a typical 12’ x 12’ x 8’ stall, the entire volume of air in that stall would need to be changed every 45 minutes.. In a mild climate the minimum rate should be 100 cfm or an air change every 12 minutes, and in a hot climate the minimum rate should be 350 cfm or an air change every 4 minutes.

Ventilation occurs by three means, natural, mechanical, or a combination of the two. Natural ventilation occurs through wind or thermal buoyancy. For wind to be effective the barn must be carefully oriented on the site and openings carefully located. Thermal buoyancy takes advantage of the natural fact that warm air rises, to be effective the temperature inside the barn must be a little warmer that the outside temperature. In a cold climate insulating the barn will help this to occur. In a hot climate a tall barn would be beneficial. In all cases the air inlets and exhaust locations must be properly planned. The introduction of mechanical ventilation through the use of fans can greatly increase the effectiveness of natural ventilation . All fans are rated according to their capacity to move air in cubic feet per minute (cfm). A fan located in a ventilating cupola will greatly improve thermal buoyancy by removing the warm air accumulating at the ridge or ceiling. While a fan mounted in each stall can significantly reduce heat stress.
Tom Croce designed Horse Barn

Essential to maintaining a healthy horse is to provide an environment that does not needlessly stress or challenge him. Maintaining good air quality is a fundamental aspect of a healthy environment.

Contact: Thomas L. Croce Architects
722 Hoffman Ave
Lebanon, Ohio 45036
Phone: 513-934-3957

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