Smart Storage Around the Barn

Learn how to keep horses and humans safe by storing your supplies and equipment properly.
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Smart Storage Around the Barn
When storing hay, especially, consider its combustible properties and nearby machinery, heaters, and other sources of electricity. | iStock

Keep horses and humans safe by storing your supplies and equipment properly 

The cycle repeats itself every year: Spring turns to summer, summer to fall, and, before you know it, winter arrives, then spring again. Have your supplies been sitting on the same shelf (or in the horse trailer or truck glove compartment), exposed to light and temperature fluctuations all that time? Are your feeds, supplements, medications, and other necessities stored safely and securely so they are inaccessible to horses, pets, and children but also in optimal environments to preserve their quality or condition?

Light and heat are the enemies of feeds, medications, and other supplies. And cold can turn a tin of soft and squishy ointment into a rock-hard solid block in the ­winter.

Read on to learn what our experts—Christine Skelly, PhD, extension specialist at Michigan State University and director of MSU’s My Horse University; and Tommy Hays, DVM, a partner at Elgin Veterinary Hospital, in Texas, and a founding member of the Texas Equine Veterinary Medical Association—recommend for safe, smart storage in your barn.

Vitamins and Supplements

Store these items in a dark, cool, dry environment such as a cabinet in a temperature-controlled room, says Skelly. “Temperature and humidity control are important to keep the product from degrading over time; a refrigerator may be too humid, and a kitchen area may get too hot.”

The same goes for feed rooms that aren’t climate-­controlled; while it might be convenient to store supplements here, they could be exposed to high temperatures in the summer and/or light.

Also, keep them in their original package. “Packaging not only identifies the product but also provides protection from light exposure,” Skelly says. It also contains the product’s expiration date and administration instructions. Some supplements are pre-portioned into packages to allow for more storage options, which can be particularly helpful when traveling, she says. Their labels should include this information, as well.

Don’t leave feeds, supplements, drugs, or health supplies in a vehicle or trailer for long periods. “Unload as soon as you reach your destination,” says Skelly. “Extreme temperatures can damage most equine-related health products.”

Organizing and storing products properly can help you ensure each horse receives its veterinarian-recommended or -prescribed supplements or medication(s) at the correct time and in the correct amount, she adds.

Hay and Feeds

The storage guidelines for supplements also apply to hay and feeds: Keep them dry and as cool as possible. “Humidity is what’s going to affect your feed quality,” Skelly says, adding that the molasses in some feeds can mold and clump in extremely hot climates or turn into a solid block in cold climates.

If you don’t have access to a climate-controlled feed room, Skelly recommends buying textured and added-fat feeds (which are prone to spoiling) in small quantities that can be fed within two weeks during summer.

Light primarily affects the color of hay; oxidation is what affects vitamin content. “Whether it’s stored in the dark or in the light, as soon as it’s harvested from the field, it’s going to start losing vitamin content, and by three to six months hay will lose most of its vitamin content,” she says. “That’s one of the reasons why, when we’re developing rations for horses, we don’t include the vitamin content from hay in our formulations. We just look at vitamin content outside the hay, from grains, ration balancers, and fresh forages.”

When stacking hay—and differing opinions exist on methods, Skelly says—mind your safety. Be sure it’s stacked so it can’t fall on you when you’re pulling down bales from below or that you don’t fall through when you’re on top of the stack throwing bales down.

“Ideally, the bottom layer will have good ventilation to discourage moisture,” she says. “A lot of people use wooden pallets under the bottom bales to keep them off the floor. You can also just space out 1-by-4-inch or 2-by-4-inch boards to keep hay off the ground and dry.”

And, she adds, avoid packing your bales too tightly together; stack the bottom bales on their cut sides to encourage air circulation, and organize stacks in alternating perpendicular crisscross patterns that are supported against a wall to stay secure.

Smart Storage Around the Barn
Store horse hay and feed in a climate-controlled feed room if possible. | Alexandra Beckstett

In addition to quality, hay and grain’s accessibility can be a safety issue. Make sure your horses can’t get into the grain bin and gorge themselves (a risk factor for the hoof disease laminitis).

“I’ve had some really determined horses where that has happened; even when you think everything is secure, double-check,” Skelly says. “If a horse gets loose, can it get to your grain bin? It’s not uncommon to leave the feed room door open when we’re going in and out all the time but, if it isn’t latched, a lot of savvy horses will just push that door open and open up the grain bin. For your horse’s safety, always think worst-case scenario.”

When storing hay, especially, consider its combustible properties and nearby machinery, heaters, and other sources of electricity. “I prefer to store combustibles in a separate structure from livestock,” says Skelly. “And I prefer to store machinery and fuel in a building separate from hay, although sometimes that just isn’t possible. Also, make sure that all electrical in your barns is properly installed, situated, and enclosed and suited for outdoor (use).”

Fire risk can also stem from rodents and other animals chewing on wires. And given the opportunity, rats and mice will consume and contaminate horse feeds.

Speaking of contamination, opossums can be potential equine protozoal myeloencephalitis (EPM) threats via Sarcocystis neurona sporocysts they can shed into feed or hay, water, or pasture via their feces.

Metal bins work best to keep out pests, as long as you secure them correctly, Skelly says, adding that rats and mice can chew through wooden or plastic bins (keep in mind sealed plastic bins can also cause feed to sweat and spoil). Be sure to secure your pet food as well, which is another big wildlife attractant.

Medications and Vaccines

When storing medications, both over-the-counter and veterinarian-prescribed, the most important thing to do is read the product guide (bit.ly/3m9KiST) or data sheet (searchable online) and strictly adhere to the manufacturer’s recommendations. Some might need refrigeration or other special handling.

Some medications lose efficacy when exposed to heat or light, or even just with age, so check them periodically (for instance, set a quarterly reminder in your phone’s calendar app) to see if they’re at the toss-it point. If they are, then discard them (more on this in a moment). Some medications simply don’t work as well with age; others become dangerous or even potentially deadly.

“I have seen numerous times over the years when expired medications have had bacterial or fungal growths in them that caused severe illness and even the death of horses,” says Hays. “The multidose vials seem to be the worst, as every time you stick a needle in the vial you likely can introduce a contaminant. I’ve actually seen red pieces of the rubber seal floating around in the bottle. If you’re not extremely careful to keep the top clean and the medication stored properly, you risk severe consequences.”

As for vaccines, transport, storage, preparation, and delivery are all key to guarantee they have good efficacy when administered, says Skelly. “Your veterinarian will have the knowledge, storage equipment, and skill to ensure your horse is vaccinated properly.

“Make sure all drugs and needles are kept locked away from the general public, both at home and when traveling,” she adds.

“Also, medication should never be stored or handled in a common area where there is human food or drink.”

Smart Storage Around the Barn
Don’t reuse a needle under any circumstance. Dispose of (sharps) containers when they’re three-quarters full by following your community health guidelines. | Alexandra Beckstett/The Horse

Disposal is just as important as storage. “When the drugs are no longer needed or have expired, make sure they’re disposed of safely,” says Skelly. “Follow FDA guidelines for disposal of drugs (bit.ly/3t0RVOL) and sharps, including needles and glass vials immediately after every use (bit.ly/3ytUiKY). A community drug take-back program might exist in your area.”

Importantly, don’t reuse a needle under any circumstance. “Dispose of (sharps) containers when they’re three-quarters full by following your community health guidelines,” she says.

Another safety factor to consider is drug recalls. You can subscribe to consumer updates at fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates.

If you have any doubts, Skelly says, contact the manufacturing company’s help line.

Grooming Products

Bring all liquids and solids into a temperature-controlled environment during extremely hot or cold weather. “I live in Michigan and need to bring my summer supplies in during the winter,” says Skelly. “If they freeze, their active ingredients may be compromised. Solids, such as hoof conditioners, shampoos, and conditioners, may separate. And liquids, such as fly sprays and ointments, may lose their potency.”

Also, don’t reuse spray bottles or other containers for various chemical compounds. “Have a dedicated spray bottle for each formula,” Skelly says. “Some horses may be sensitive to specific chemicals, and the residue could trigger a reaction.”

Smart Storage Around the Barn
Ideally, store other maintenance items—manure forks, rakes, shovels, wheelbarrows, etc.—in a closet or empty stall area where horses or humans can’t knock them over. | Alexandra Beckstett

Barn Safety

In addition to feeds, supplements, and medications, barn safety encompasses how to store all the gear you need to care for your four-legged friends: the hoses, tools, and other equipment that can clutter barn aisles and cause horse and human accidents if we don’t take the time to return them to their designated spots.

Hoses should be out of the way of traffic so people aren’t tripping over them and horses aren’t stepping on them, Skelly says. “Ideally, you want to roll your hoses up, being careful that they’re situated where a horse walking by won’t knock them and become scared or injured.”

She recommends buying hose reels that you crank, which are easier to manage than winding hoses by hand.

“I also like hoses in wash stalls that are mounted on the ceiling from an arm you can pull around,” she adds. “That way, you don’t have to deal with dragging hoses around your horse on the ground.”

Ideally, store other maintenance items—manure forks, rakes, shovels, wheelbarrows, etc.—in a closet or empty stall area where horses or humans can’t knock them over. “Make sure your equipment is clean before you store it, and hang tools in a safe manner (manure fork tines facing the wall, for instance, unless they’re hung where they won’t snag a horse or human) with enough space between them that if you pull one down, others don’t come crashing down behind them,” she says. “Pay attention to how much space you have, and keep things organized.”

Lastly, trash can be a rodent attractant, fire hazard, and cause of injury to horses, other animals, or humans. “Covered cans are nice (for aesthetics and to discourage trash picking), especially in larger facilities where the public visits,” Skelly says, and you want them heavy enough that they won’t fly away with a gust of wind or tip over if you brush by them. “At our barn, we have a dumpster that trash is taken to twice a day, and the manure is put into the tractor to take to the compost pile. For a smaller barn at a residence, you can use your household dumpster or take trash to the dump, depending on how you and your community handle your other trash.”

Take-Home Message

A little homework, organization, and adherence to package directions can save you from potential disaster in your barn. Heed our experts’ advice, and you’ll spend much less time dealing with mishaps and more time enjoying your horse.

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Written by:

Diane Rice earned her bachelor’s degree in agricultural journalism from the University of Wisconsin, then married her education with her lifelong passion for horses by working in editorial positions at Appaloosa Journal for 12 years. She has also served on the American Horse Publications’ board of directors. She now freelances in writing, editing, and proofreading. She lives in Middleton, Idaho, and spends her spare time gardening, reading, serving in her church, and spending time with her daughters, their families, and a myriad of her own and other people’s pets.

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