Last week as very cold weather approached, Mikki and I got a hankering to knock off one of our outstanding barn projects. Although our barn is designed with room for five stalls, two of them were being used for storage. Since we built a hay loft over one, we’re able to store hay there instead of the other stall. Sure it’s more of a pain to get to but poor Romeo needed a stall. Romeo, being the most easy going horse we have, was chosen to be an “open staller”, meaning he got the run of the center aisle. When the weather is nice, that’s not a bad spot. You get lots of room and we kept the barn door open on one end so he could get water whenever he wanted. But when the wind blows, it blows right through the barn. Clearly we needed to do something. So last weekend Mikki and I cleaned out stall four for Romeo. He doesn’t have a fancy wood door like the others and he’s missing an outside window but he’s safe and protected from the wind.
Here is what it looked like before it was cleared out. What’s missing is all the hay bales. It doesn’t look like much but it took hours to find new homes for this stuff, pull exposed nails and clean all the loose hay off of the ground (it was old and nasty).
And here it is after. It was dark by the time we were done, hence the dark picture.
It doesn’t take long to figure out what products and procedures work well for horse chores. Last night while shoveling horse stalls (it’s more like forking horse stalls), Mikki grabbed the manure fork I normally use and I, in turn, took hers. After a few minutes, we happily swapped back again. Neither of us found it easy to work with a manure fork weren’t familiar with using. That might sound silly but we each use a different size and style fork and that makes more of a difference than I would have thought. Mikki uses a smaller fork purchased at a tack shop for around $20. It’s the typical style you see for manure duties, with a nice smooth aluminum handle. We bought the fork I use specifically for use with pellet bedding such as Woody Pet and Equine Pine. In fact, I think it’s actually manufactured by the Woody Pet people (I think they call it their “Fine Tines Fork” – around $26 at Tractor Supply). Its tines are closer together for catching small manure pieces. It’s also quite a bit larger than the one Mikki uses and as a result picks up a LOT of horse manure, which makes it quite heavy to use. For those who use sawdust or pine pellets, cleaning stalls is partly scooping big chunks of horse manure and part sifting to separate the good bedding from the little pieces of manure. The larger fork does a great job as a “sifter” since it’s deep and the sides adequately keep the payload from prematurely escaping the fork. The smaller fork Mikki uses doesn’t work as well as a sifter because the payload keeps falling off the sides. At least it does for me. Mikki has it down, though and much prefers it over the larger stall fork.
Here’s what they look like. Even though the larger one looks like it’s carrying less horse manure, remember it’s deeper. You just can’t see the depth in the photo.
On the left is the smaller fork, with the larger Woody Pet fork on the right. While shooting these pictures, I lost some of the horse manure from the fork on the left.
Incidentally, we’ve been using both stall forks for at least 6 months without any of the tines breaking. They’ve fallen down in the barn and used as rakes and shovels (not recommended) and have proven to be durable, despite being plastic. The bolt holding the fork onto the aluminum handle of the smaller one needed tightening once.
At some point – preferably before you get your horse, but at least soon after – you will have to decide what kind of bedding you want to use for your horse. Of course your horse’s comfort is an important consideration, but since, unlike your dog’s bed, this bedding won’t just be slept on – that’s right, horses are not “housebroken” – there are other considerations too, such as absorbency and siftability (is that a real word, or did I just make one up?). When you greet your beautiful, elegant equine companion in the morning, you will see that he made a small project for you to work on that day. More likely, two or three projects. He probably even has some stuck to his face. Sweet.
There are several options for horse bedding, beginning with the base – the stall floor. Our barn floor is just plain old dirt, but some barns have permanent flooring. You can also put in rubber floors – we are looking into that. They are easier to keep clean than dirt, and more comfortable for your horse than dirt or cement.
On top of whatever kind of floor you have, you need the multi-purpose bedding. This should provide comfort for your horse and absorb whatever he may leave in there for you to muck out. There are basically three choices: straw, wood shavings, and wood pellets.
Straw is the classic barn bedding. Upsides: It’s cheap and easy. I think it’s pretty comfortable too – we used it at first, and Valentine never complained. Downsides: it’s not very absorbent, and it’s hard to sort the wheat from the chaff, so to speak…when you go for the poo, you get a lot of straw too.
We haven’t used wood shavings for Valentine, but we do use them for our goat, Joey. They work great for Joey, because he hardly ever uses his little house as an outhouse, so one pack of shavings lasts forever. Upsides: They smell great, and cedar shavings, at least, naturally repel fleas. Downsides: We didn’t try these because we decided they wouldn’t be cost-effective. You’d have to buy a lot to fill a stall, and replace the soiled bedding with new shavings at a pretty good clip.
We finally settled on wood pellets. There are several brands out there. When we were researching this topic, the brand we found was Woody Pet. They don’t sell this brand anywhere nearby, but we checked at our local feed stores and co-ops and found a similar product sold under different names, such as Equine Pine and Eagle Valley ABM Advanced Bedding Management. We also asked other horse owners and the people at the feed stores and co-ops, and the consensus seems to be that this stuff is the best thing since sliced bread. So we shoveled out all the straw and put in six bags of wood pellets…
…watered them down to fluff them up per instructions…
…and presto! Soft, fluffy, absorbent and sweet-smelling bedding! Which equals a sweeter-smelling horse. If you love on your horse like I do, you’ll appreciate that.
Equally importantly, the stall cleans up faster and easier than ever before. The sawdust – which is what you end up with after you wet the pellets down – sifts right through the fork and all you’re shoveling out is poo. The urine soaks into the sawdust until the sawdust has reached maximum absorbing capacity, then it clumps together and you can shovel it right out. My big sweetie always pees in exactly the same place, so I just shovel that spot out every couple of days and add more.
I’ve heard scent is the strongest trigger for memories. Mikki’s been under the weather the past few days so I’ve been cleaning Valentine’s stall. These past few weeks a childhood memory flashes to my mind every time I enter his stall. I don’t know why but I keep thinking of my mom cleaning our house when I was a child. She must have been cleaning glass or something because I don’t think ammonia is used very often in cleaning these days. Apparently equine urine contains a lot (cough cough) of ammonia. As I was laying down some straw to soak up the horse urine I realized I can no longer associate the smell of ammonia vapor with something being clean. Just the opposite!
I’ve read that ammonia vapor is one of the reason you need to be diligent about cleaning your horse stall at least every day, especially if your horse sleeps there. Your horse will lay down in the stall to sleep. If you don’t clean up the urine regularly, he/she breathes the ammonia gas and that can be harmful or in some cases even fatal.
Incidentally, dry straw doesn’t soak up urine very well. I’ve heard about some kind of fluffy wood pellet thingies you can use to soak it up better than straw and I’m thinking we should start experimenting. More on that later.