Barn Design for Barn Managers
A barn should ideally be designed with biosecurity in mind, but many barns were built prior to the focus on disease prevention using biosecurity protocols rather than disease treatment. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, according to an old adage.
Existing barns, on the other hand, can be retrofitted to achieve biosecurity goals, even if they were not originally designed that way. To reduce the risk of airborne disease spread, the building should allow for adequate air circulation. In addition to installing windows, ceiling and stall fans can help achieve this. Keep the barn doors as open as possible. Walls between stalls should be tall enough to prevent horses from interacting. Ideally, they should be made solid so the horses do not make nose-to-nose contact between bars, either. Stalls with bars between them can be made more biosecure by installing plywood over the bars or leaving one empty stall between each horse. Wider aisle ways make it easier to prevent contact when people and horses are walking through the barn.
Make stalls out of easily disinfectable materials. Metal, rubber, and treated wood, essentially non-porous materials, are easier to disinfect, while raw or untreated wood and concrete blocks are very difficult to disinfect. Raw wood can be retrofitted by filling holes with caulk and varnishing the surface. Concrete blocks can also be retrofitted with enamel or heavy-duty outdoor paint. Stall floors follow the same principles. Asphalt is easier to disinfect, while sand, dirt, and compacted clay are very difficult. Choose flooring with few corners and crevices. Bedding materials can also influence a farm’s biosecurity. Pine shavings protect against disease transmission better than straw or hemp. Sawdust prevents the growth of flies better than other types of bedding, especially when a drying agent is also added to the floor.
When a horse moves out of a stall, it must be fully cleaned and disinfected before another horse can move in. Remove all organic material (e.g., bedding, feces, feed), clean the stall with soap and water, and then disinfect it per the product manufacturer’s instructions. When cleaning the stall, the flooring mats must also be disinfected!
When deciding where to place horses within the barn, try to group horses owned by the same person together. If many people own only one horse, consider grouping horse by use and age. If possible, use an empty stall to separate the groups of horses. Horses that are turned out in groups should stay consistent.
A quarantine area is incredibly useful in reducing biosecurity hazards. This area will be used by new horses arriving at the farm as well as sick horses. There should be no way for the quarantined horse to contact other horses, and it should be very difficult for humans to contact the horse. To prevent the spread of airborne diseases, the stall/area should be 35 to 200 meters away from other horses and downwind of the main barn. Everything in the quarantine area must be kept there and cleaned and disinfected between horses. A small storage area to keep feed and bedding is very helpful while a horse is in quarantine. There should also be nearby running water for hand-washing and filling water buckets. If a separate quarantine area is not possible, use one stall at the end of the barn with an empty stall between the quarantine area and the other horses. When a horse is quarantined, prepare a foot bath and place it outside of the stall or area. Have clear signs all around the quarantine area indicating that people should not be touch or interact with the horse, that they must wash hands, must use the foot bath, etc. Access barriers to the quarantine area can also prevent unwanted contact with the quarantined horse.
Design the feed room in such a way to keep pests out as much as possible. Pallets or shelves can be used to lift food containers, bags, and hay off the ground, and containers can be kept closed with a tight-fitting lid. Store hay in a dry, cool area where it will not get dirty or moldy, ideally not in the feed room or barn in case of spontaneous combustion. Patch holes in the wall or floor as soon as possible. The door to the feed room must close tightly. Clean and disinfect the feed room and everything in it routinely.
To prevent pathogen transmission from cars that have been to other farms, the parking area for visitors, horse owners, and barn staff should be located far away from the main horse housing areas. Include a tire spray station, so any personnel visiting the farm, such as veterinarians and feed delivery trucks, can clean and disinfect their vehicles. There should also only be one entrance to your farm so it can be easily monitored, especially with a gate and a camera.
- Dwyer RM. Disinfecting equine facilities. Rev sci tech Off Inter Epiz. 1995; 14(2): 403-418
- Yarnell K, Le Bon M, Turton N, Savova M, McGlennon A, Forsythe S. Reducing exposure to pathogens in the horse: a preliminary study into the survival of bacteria on a range of equine bedding types. J Appl Microbiol. 2016; 122: 23-29. doi:10.1111/jam.13298
- PSU Extension Filth Fly Control on Horse Farms
- USDA Biosecurity Assessment of U.S. Equine Operations (PDF)
- Brazil TJ. Isolation of infectious equine cases. Equine Vet Educ. 1995; 7(4): 220-224
- Barros ATM, Foil LD. The influence of distance on movement of tabanids (Diptera: Tabanidae) between horses. Vet Parasitol. 2007; 144: 380-384. doi:10.1016/j.vetpar.2006.09.041
- Equine Guelph Biosecurity for Horse Owners (PDF)
- EDCC What is Biosecurity?
Barn Design Key Points
- Design (or re-design) a barn with biosecurity in mind.
- Air circulation should be enhanced by using fans and windows.
- Prevent horses from interacting by creating tall, solid stall walls or leaving an empty stall in between horses.
- Choose easy to disinfect stall building materials. Waterproof/seal untreated wood or replace stall materials to make stalls easier to disinfect.
- Fully clean and disinfect stalls between resident horses moving in.
- Group horses by owner or by use and age. Consider leaving an empty stall between groups.
- Create a quarantine area/facility away from the resident horse housing. Keep all quarantine equipment in that area, and disinfect it between quarantined horses.
- Use a footbath at the entrance to the quarantine area/stall when horses are present.
- Create clear signs and barriers for the quarantine area.
- The feed room should be as resistant to infestations as possible and should keep food fresh and safe.