Here are some barn hacks that will make your life easier at the barn in winter. This winter is one of the coldest in Vancouver, BC, Canada since decades. We had a lot of snow too. Not the nicest weather to work in if you work at a barn.
#1 The joy of using de-icers
I have discovered the joy of de-icers in water buckets for horses. The only drawbacks are that you need a power point nearby and they are expensive with $70 – $100+ apiece. If you can use them, they are definitely worth it.
The horses had to get used to them, some horses preferred the icy water above the warmer water at first. It took some horses up to a week to get adjusted to the weird things in their bucket. But it is worth it!
All the horses had access to water due to the de-icers. Something very important for horses that are already compromised with a body score of 2 or 3. I work at the SPCA, so most horses are not (yet) in the best shape. If you feed more hay, see tip #7, horses need more water. If they don’t drink enough they can get colic.
It also saves a lot of time, not to peck ice out the buckets multiple times a day. Frozen buckets are more likely to break.
#2 Insulate your water buckets
For some farm animals de-icers are a hazard. For instance bucks and goats with horns. We put their buckets into a bigger bucket and insulate the space in between with straw. You can also use shavings or whatever bedding you are using. As long as it holds air and provides insulation. If the water bucket is outside, find a spot out of the wind. This is not foolproof, but every bit helps.
#3 Don’t provide warm water in order to prevent it from freezing
Don’t provide your horses with warm water in their buckets. Warm water can freeze even quicker than cold(er) water. This is called the Mpemba effect.
#4 Provide more bedding for the horses
I find flax the best bedding, but only if you use a really thick layer (15 cm or more). Take out only the manure and leave the wet spots as they are. The bottom layer becomes stable and provides warmth and good insulation. Don’t poke around in the wet spots as the ammonia will come free.
This kind of cleaning will work with other bedding materials as well, although flax absorbs moist the best. Better than shavings (too dusty) or straw (this will be very heavy to remove after a while and doesn’t make a soft bed).
#5 How to deal with slippery ice patches after spilling water
You can put some bedding on it (shavings work well) or use some Stall Dry (or cat litter). If you have an arena with sand, keep a wheelbarrow with sand in a spot that doesn’t freeze at night so you can use the sand.
#6 Stay warm at the barn
The other day I read the best trick ever to warm your cold hands in a few seconds. Totally safe too. Just put your hand in your own neck (or someone else’s). I tried it on myself and it really works like a charm. It is only cold for a few moments in your neck but then your hands are warm. I read this tip on Pure Cottongrass, one of my favorite blogs.
Another great tip is to keep your head warm. Wear a toque or ear warmers. You don’t want to risk frozen earlobes. On the other hand, if you are working you will stay warm.
Wear lots of layers. Especially when you are working. Once you’re warmed up, you can peel of a layer.
#7 Make sure your horse stays warm
You are not the only one who wants to stay warm in winter. The best way is feeding your horse a lot of roughage. Slowfeeder nets prolong the time your horse eats, it keeps the hay clean (horses don’t waste it) and they are easy to fill if you use this trick. If you have really big ones it can even save you a feeding round.
In some areas the winters are so cold you have to blanket your horse. Do your research before buying a blanket. Make sure the blanket fits your horse properly.
And a no brainer: provide shelter from the elements for your horse.
#8 House-train your horse
Scooping poop in snow is like searching for Easter eggs (only equestrians will understand the happiness of finding manure in snow). If you house-train your horse to poop in a certain corner of his paddock or pasture you know the Easter bunny’s secret when it has been snowing overnight. A big pile of manure doesn’t freeze as quickly and is easier to remove than frozen, rock solid dung.
House-training your horse costs time but think of all the hours you save in the next 15-20 years if you can half your poop-scooping time.
#9 Snow shoveling made easy
Keeping the pathways you use often snow free is essential. Spray cooking spray or horse detangler on your snow shuffle to prevent the snow from sticking to it.
#10 Have fun!
Not really a hack, but still important. Have some fun!
Build a snowman in the pasture and stick lots of carrots in his head. Then let your horse investigate this weird intruder.
Take your camera with you to the barn and make dozens of snow pictures of your horse. Here in Vancouver snow is not a common thing in Winter, so I made sure I have enough snow pictures of Kyra to last a decade.
If your horse is used to driving, you might look into skijoring or letting him pull a sleigh.
Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
My mission is to improve Human-horse relationships by connecting equestrians with their inner wisdom (you know what is good for your horse if you look into your heart) and sharing the simple principles of learning and motivation. I offer online horse training courses to give you the knowledge and experience you need to train your own horse in a safe and effective way, that’s FUN for both you and your horse. Win-Win!
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