Why is barn lime used in horse stalls?

Taking proper care of a barn or horse stalls can be challenging, especially in humid climates or during harsh winters.  Both environment leads to a damper than desired barn interior and the problems associated with it.  In humid climates, a damp barn will provide the perfect environment for insect infestation.  During the winter months, many barn owners keep their barn doors closed to keep the barn warm. While necessary in many colder northern states, a closed barn causes the level of ammonia to quickly build up.  What can you do and how do you control these issues? Is barn lime a good solution? To answer these questions, we must first understand them.

Barn lime or gardening lime, not to be confused with the more toxic hydrating lime, can be used safely on barn floors to prevent the harsh smell of ammonia build-up.  Ammonia comes from materials found in horse waste, called urea.  Urea is in horse urine and manure and although it is odorless and non-toxic in its original state, it will convert to ammonia if left to pool and sit.  At this point, ammonia becomes dangerous to horses.  Continued exposure to high levels of ammonia can cause a variety of problems in horses and other livestock, including thrush, respiratory problems from chronic irritation of airways, and may also cause horse with heaves to have difficulty breathing.  Foals are especially susceptible to the effects of ammonia because they are more likely to lay on the ground, closer to the smell.  Their developing immune systems can be damaged by the toxic scent of ammonia if stalls are not properly maintained.

barn lime

Barn Lime, used safely, can help keep your barn healthier for your horses!

Biting flies, mosquitoes and other insects are naturally attracted to moist, wet environments.  This is where they lay their eggs and breed their colonies.  Your horses will be driven mad and possibly become diseased by these flying pests so keeping their environment as dry as possible will keep them healthier and happier.

Powerful ceiling fans above stalls and wash stalls is a great way to divert fly attention and maintain a dry environment.  Some who need a bit more help will crushed lime under the bedding in the horse’s stall. It absorbs odors and soaks up moisture.  However, lime can be harmful to your teams skin, eyes and respiratory system, so cover it with bedding and don’t leave it exposed. Your horses should never stand directly on lime powder or get it on their skin.  Realize there are pros and cons of using lime to absorb the odors and strive to maintain a clean barn.  And also, look into other natural materials such as diatomaceous earth, clay or zeolites.  These options absorb moisture well, without causing respiratory problems. They also help absorb odors, which aids in reducing the dangerous ammonia smells.

Here are some more tips on how to help reduce ammonia levels in your horse stables or barn.

  • Strip stalls daily to remove manure and soiled bedding from the stalls. Clean the stall where the wet areas are so the rubber mats can dry and air out.
  • Avoid completely closing the barn, when possible.  Fans and ventilation, such as slotted inlets at eaves that are open year-round, are great for reducing the smell of ammonia.
  • Keep fans running around the clock to rotate in clean air and push contaminated air out of the barn.
  • Apply an ammonia-absorbing compound, like lime, diatomaceous earth, clay or zeolites to any and all wet spots inside your barn. There are several types on the market and they can significantly reduce stall ammonia levels in your horses environment.
  • Keep an eye on the ammonia levels in your barn so you can adjust levels as needed.
  • Consider using rubber horse mats in your horse stalls as they are easy to clean and greatly reduce the smell of ammonia, keeping your horses safer.  Other types of bedding such as straw, wood shavings, hemp, paper and flax each have varying levels of urine absorption and ammonia odor control as well as comfort and health properties but rubber mats are considered the best option. Other materials can be dusty and aren’t as comfortable.
  • If you’re considering installing horse mats, be sure the ground underneath is prepared for proper drainage.
  • Don’t forget about keeping your horse trailer clean!  If the doors are closed up between transportation, a high ammonia environment will quickly be noticed.

Do you have experience to share with the rest of us?  We’d love to hear your advice on using barn lime in the comments below!

Saratoga Stalls is a premium national supplier of horse and barn products. For more information on custom barns or horse stalls please contact Curtis Gardner, CEO, at (800) 918-6765.