Barn and Stable Ventilation

Well-designed barn allows plenty of ventilation and light.
Well-designed barn allows plenty of ventilation and light.

Why horse barn ventilation is important

Improving your barn and stable ventilation promotes healthier equines as well as a healthier work environment.

While making sure you have proper ventilation in your barn may be rather complex, proper ventilation is a crucial aspect in keeping horses healthy, free from allergies and infectious respiratory diseases, and in minimizing your horse's exposure to environmental irritants.

Horses need fresh air

Horses need fresh air

Barn confinement can be detrimental to a horse physically and mentally. Poor air quality may lead to respiratory conditions. If your horse lives in a barn, daily turnout is recommended.

5 ways to improve air quality

  1. Barns need inlets, vents, or windows where fresh air can enter, complemented by sufficient outlets where warm, stale air can escape. For maximum efficiency, these should be close to the roof to allow air to enter the barn, dip down, and then rise to exit once it becomes warmer.
  2. Ceiling fans and duct systems with particle filters should be installed to help circulate air and reduce respiratory irritants.
  3. Sunlight is a potent killer of a wide range of airborne viruses, bacteria, and parasite eggs and larvae. Well-placed windows and skylights contribute to a light-healthy environment. Skylights should have plastic or UV light translucent safety glass to allow more of the useful UV rays to penetrate.
  4. Hay, grain, and bedding are major sources of mold spores and particles in the barn air. When possible, store hay and bedding in a separate building rather than in a barn loft or area. Consider using bedding other than straw or wood shavings, which are major sources of inhalant matter. Rubber matting or shredded paper dramatically cut down the amount of airborne particles.  Pellets and extruded feeds have lower levels of dust particles than poorer quality feeds.
  5. Muck out stalls every day. Otherwise, ammonia fumes and other air pollutants become concentrated and lead to respiratory problems.

Getting the design right for horse barns and stables

Breathe Easy

Breathe Easy

Tightly closing the barn by closing all windows, doors, and fresh-air inlets is a mistake when it comes to your horse's health.

Three major factors contribute to inadequate ventilation in most horse barns, according to authorities on proper horse barn ventilation. First, many barn and stable designers do not realize how much air exchange is needed for horses.

Second, many horse owners and architects of barns tend to follow residential housing patterns and practices, both for looks and practicality.

Third, many horses are being kept in suburban settings for recreational purposes, and their owners are unfamiliar with ventilation performance and benefits. Many of these horses spend long periods of time in their stalls, rather than in an open fresh-air environment that is conducive to maximum horse health.

Simply put, the objective in any well-designed barn and stable is to get fresh air to the horse and eliminate stale air before it accumulates. Good ventilation is, ideally, designed into the original barn plans and takes advantage of wind, air currents, and thermal buoyancy.

Natural ventilation uses openings located along the side walls and the ridge and takes into consideration the topography and how the barn is situated in relationship to its surroundings.

According to veterinarians, horses are most comfortable in temperatures ranging from 45 to 75 degrees F. Horses tolerate cold very well and adapt to cold breezes when housed outside. During winter, horse barns should be kept no more than 5 to 10 degrees F warmer than outside temperatures.

Tightly closing the barn by closing all windows, doors, and fresh-air inlets is a mistake when it comes to your horse's health. If condensation can be seen on interior surfaces during cold weather, the barn does not have sufficient ventilation for good horse health.

Air quality in stalls

Air quality in stalls

Checking the air quality near the floor in stalls is very important, especially for the well-being of foals or for when horses eat at floor level.

During the cold season, ventilation goals change from heat removal to controlling moisture, odor, ammonia, and pathogen viability. Having doors at each end of the barn that can be opened to provide maximum air circulation during cold months helps keep the barn filled with fresh air. For maximum efficiency, the airflow should include the stable area.

Checking the air quality near the floor in stalls is very important, especially for the well-being of foals or for when horses eat at floor level. Dust, bedding, manure, and urine can create stuffy conditions at ground level even before they become noticeable to someone walking through the area.

Fortunately, veterinarians, horse handlers, and architects are becoming more aware of the importance of proper barn ventilation. According to these professionals, a stable or barn should smell like fresh forage and clean horses, rather than ammonia or manure.

Depending on your current barn and stable situation, you may be able to improve ventilation by installing fans and duct systems and simply opening doors at certain times of day. Often, more vents can be cut in the walls and along the ridge line. Make sure that any new vents are waterproof and properly screened.

If you are doing new construction on a barn or stable area, make sure that adequate ventilation, based on the number of horses being housed, is a top priority in your plans. Your local county extension offices and universities with animal programs are good sources for both plans and ideas related to adequate ventilation for barns and stables.

A barn should not be constructed like a sealed-up box. During both cold and hot weather, sufficient ventilation is needed to provide fresh, moving air for your horses while getting rid of stale air at the same time.

Dig deeperTM

Keeping your barn healthy should be a priority for all horse owners. You may enjoy visiting our Healthy Barn Center to learn more.

About the Author

Flossie Sellers

Author picture

As an animal lover since childhood, Flossie was delighted when Mark, the CEO and developer of EquiMed asked her to join his team of contributors.

She enrolled in My Horse University at Michigan State and completed a number of courses in everything related to horse health, nutrition, diseases and conditions, medications, hoof and dental care, barn safety, and first aid.

Staying up-to-date on the latest developments in horse care and equine health is now a habit, and she enjoys sharing a wealth of information with horse owners everywhere.