• Winterizing Your Horse Barn

  • Winterizing Your Horse BarnDe-icing water buckets, hauling water by hand and pushing heavy wheelbarrows through deep snow or heavy rain are just a few of the things that many horse owners have to look forward to in the winter months. We do them willingly to ensure the good health of our horses during a season that brings equine health issues such as thrush, mud fever, colic from dehydration, and respiratory illnesses.

    Even in Southern California, winters can be quite chilly, especially if you live in the mountains. Before the winter cold, rain and snow begins, you need to take steps to ensure that your horse barn is ready for the weather and that your horses will stay dry, warm and healthy.

    Most barns have running water in them for the horses, bathroom and wash areas. These areas need to be either designed to withstand the winter, or you should have the ability to shut the water down during the cold months.

    Horses create their own heat. If a barn is full of horses, they will add their body warmth to keep the stalls from freezing. A full hayloft also acts like insulation. So filling your barn loft with hay before the bad weather comes has an added advantage. Installing a barn-safe heating source is also a great option.

    Assess Your Barn’s Structural Integrity

    Before winter starts, check your barn for any repairs that might be needed, such as a leaky roof or loose wall panels. Also check the interior to ensure that your stall doors are working properly and that your ventilation system is in good working order.

    You should know the weight bearing capacity of your barn roof. Most barn roofs are built to shed precipitation, but be prepared to clear it off manually in the event of a heavy snowfall.

    Keep in mind that severe frost can cause your barn’s foundation to heave and become unstable. Check the foundation to ensure that there is adequate drainage around the barn’s perimeter to divert water away from the base of the building, thus minimizing the risk of frost formation.

    While fencing is not part of the barn, you will also want to take this time to check for broken rails, rotting posts and any other repairs needed.

    Inspect Your Water System

    In very cold areas, you will need to do some extra things to keep your horses’ water from freezing. Electrically heated or thermal buckets can be used for drinking water. To help prevent frozen pipes, waterlines should be buried in the ground at a minimum depth of four to six feet depending on your climate, and all above-ground pipes should be contained in an insulated space.

    Inspect your water tank for leaks and major rust spots, especially at heating element inserts. Make sure that the insulation is still intact and that the pipes do not leak and are rust-free. If your barn’s water supply comes from a well, service your well pump and check the well house insulation, applying heat tape as needed.

    For those waterlines that are not used in the winter, they must be drained and blown out with an air compressor. Typically these would include water lines to sand ring irrigation, paddocks or seasonal buildings. Exterior hose bibbs also need to be shut down if not properly frost-free.

    A 1000-pound horse requires approximately four to seven gallons of water per day and prefers to drink water at a temperature between 45 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit. If the drinking water provided is colder than this, water consumption will likely decrease, with a correlating increase in the odds of the horse developing colic.


    If you live in a part of country with a mild winter, a heated barn may not be necessary; however, you may appreciate a heated tack room. There are many types of electrical heaters that are safe for use in barns.

    If you have a low number of horses in the really cold months, you may need supplementary heat within the stable. Any heated space should be insulated, cracks should be caulked, and doors and windows should have weather-stripping added. This will ensure that the heat stays in your heated tack room or barn.


    Horses need proper ventilation, especially if they will be spending extended time inside due to weather. A good ventilation system replaces warm, moist air with fresh air, ideally in the winter at a rate of 25 to 40 cubic feet per minute per horse. Dampness in the air contributes to respiratory illnesses and encourages the growth of bacteria and fungus. Dampness can also create condensation, which in turn can promote rot in your barn, ruin insulation and rust metal siding and roofing. A good ventilation system also removes air contaminants that damage respiratory tissue such as dust, pathogens, and ammonia, and minimizes the draftiness of the barn.

    You will know if your ventilation system needs to be reassessed if you notice condensation forming on the windows. Check the functionality of the windows to allow fresh air in, and make sure the attic has proper ventilation. You can help improve the ventilation in the barn attic by stacking your bales so that a gap of at least 12 inches is left between the hay and the walls, giving the air space to circulate.

    Snow and Ice

    Throughout winter, clear snow from your driveway, walkways and paddock gates, but be sure that you have a good plan in place for snow removal. Piling snow along the side of a building is not a good solution since you will face flooding your barn during the thaw season.

    Sand, rock salt or wood chips spread over icy barn aisles and pathways can provide you and your horses with better traction for safe footing. To minimize the risk of your horses tripping over poor footing, you will also want to smooth out any uneven ground before it freezes.

    Mud Management

    Wet, muddy footing can lead to health concerns such as thrush and mud fever. High traffic areas near water are particularly susceptible to becoming a muddy mess. Areas frequented by livestock and horses are often plagued with mud-related issues, especially in the wet season. When an area experiences heavy rainfall where proper drainage is not installed, mud will usually become an issue. This issue is made much worse when animals walk or stand on the mud and create large ruts and ultimately deep mud. Areas with deep mud can result in injury and disease for horses and livestock, as well as making it very difficult to traverse for humans or farm machinery.

    Laying concrete in these areas is the best way to prevent mud. You will also want to eliminate low-lying areas as best you can, especially if these are in high traffic areas. This can be done in a variety of ways. Bringing in sand, wood bark, sawdust, gravel, or crushed asphalt are all options to help prevent mud at gates and entries to barns and arenas.

    Dust Control

    Dust is an inherent part of life in a barn.  It is usually just a giant nuisance, but it can also become very dangerous for some horses with respiratory problems, not to mention the electrical systems in the barn. While an appropriate ventilation system will go a long way toward improving the air quality in your barn, there are other ways to minimize dust and pathogens.

    One of the most important sources of dust and pathogens is stall bedding. Horses often benefit from soaked hay, and perhaps a low-dust bedding. Options include straw, pellets, and some rice hull brands. If your barn has attached runs to the outside, consider using a similar low-dust bedding in the paddocks also.

    Rubber stall mats provide extra cushioning for joints, reducing the amount of bedding needed and thus cutting down on dust.

    Rodent Control

    Your barn provides an appealing haven for rodents. With plenty of grain to eat, hay bales to make nests and plenty of chewing material (blankets, saddle pads, wood), your barn provides plenty of entertainment and warmth during the winter months.  Mice and rats can carry and transmit parasites and diseases, contaminate your horse’s feed, and chew through wire insulation and expose live wires.

    There are two main components to keeping rodents at bay: prevention and eradication.

    Keeping your barn tidy and clutter-free will make your barn a bit more inhospitable to rodents. Store your grain and feed in rodent-proof containers. Seal up any cracks or gaps measuring 1/4” or greater. In a pinch, steel wool can be used to block these openings temporarily.

    The preferred method for removal of rodents is trapping. Only use poisons as a last resort. Rodenticides must never be used in any place accessible to horses, dogs, cats or children. Also be diligent about removing the poisoned carcasses as quickly as possible to protect pets and other animals from consuming them.

    Preparing for the Worst

    In the event that you become snowed in, make sure you have hay and feed stockpiled to last for at least two weeks. Power outages are not uncommon, and it is recommended that you have a few five to ten-gallon containers of water stored away inside where they will not freeze. You also might want to consider investing in a small generator that can provide power to briefly run the barn lights or water pump.

    A little effort this fall to realistically assess your barn, including water, heating, and ventilation systems, footing, and pest control, can go a long way toward giving your horse a healthier, happier home.

    The Castlebrook Difference

    Castlebrook’s barns have a warm, inviting look which adds to the beauty and value of your property. All Castlebrook barns, round pens and round pen covers and designed and manufactured on site at Castlebrook’s facility. That is why we can provide you almost limitless choice of sizes and styles. Castlebrook can manufacture a barn, round pen and cover to suit your exact needs.

    Castlebrook never misses a ship date. We are so confident in our on-time guarantee that we are willing to guarantee it — in writing! Castlebrook understands how important it is for your project to go as smoothly as possible. This begins with your structure shipping on the date we’ve promised. Castlebrook knows of absolutely no other barn company offering this guarantee. Where other companies disappoint, Castlebrook guarantees to be on time, every time!

    Please contact our professional team today at 1-800-52-BARNS. We gladly accommodate Saturday appointments!