Managing dust in the horse barn
A lot of our equine companions spend a good part of the day confined to their stall. A horse that’s coughing, wheezing, and has nasal discharge might appear to have a cold, but could in fact be reacting to dust in the barn.
Katy Ivester is a veterinarian at Purdue University. She says dust is generated from several sources, but the biggest culprit is hay.
"We’ve found that horses fed from a hay net that’s hung in the stall actually have a much greater exposure to dust than horses that are fed the exact same hay from the ground. So, a horse’s dust exposure can be reduced just by feeding from the ground," says Ivester. "Elevating a horse’s feed source, for the most part, is not a good choice when you’re trying to decrease the amount of dust that the horses inhale."
Another option is soaking the hay with water before feeding it. This will wet down the dust particles so the horse can’t breathe them in. Even stored hay and straw can be dusty, so if you can, keep it somewhere else.
Ivester says studies show that good quality wood shavings are better than straw as bedding because they don’t produce as much dust. In general, the larger the shaving pieces, the better.
Good ventilation in the barn is another key for easy breathing.
"Having doors and windows open, even when it’s chilly outside, horses are actually pretty good at dealing with the colder temperatures," says Ivester. "Keeping the barn closed thinking you’re going to keep your horses warmer is usually not the right choice. Keeping the ventilation optimized is always the best thing you can do."
Airflow is a good thing, but if there’s a lot of settled dust, moving air can stir it up. Ivester recommends keeping the barn as clean as you can, and take the horses outside while you’re scooping and sweeping. Wait awhile to move them back in after you’re done because it takes 30-minutes-to-an-hour for airborne dust to settle.
Here's an explanation of the effects of dust and other causes of respiratory problems in horses
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