Storing Toxic Substances in Horse Stables

Some products found on farms are flammable, toxic, or hazardous to human and animal health. Learn more about how to use, store, and discard them properly.

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Storing Toxic Substances in Stables
Store chemicals or medications in special designated locations to they don’t contaminate horse feed or poison children or pets around the barn. | Photo: Courtesy Dr. Carey A. Williams

You head toward the barn one morning and, as you approach, a raccoon runs out the door. Inside you discover he’s been rummaging through items on your storage shelves, knocking over several pesticide and herbicide containers and spilling their contents onto the floor.

Bob Coleman, PhD, PAS, associate professor in equine extension for the University of Kentucky Department of Animal Sciences, says accidents like this sometimes happen, and when they do you need to know how to handle the substances involved. If a potentially harmful product’s contents leak or spill down the side of a bottle, for instance, and you grab the container with your bare hands before noticing, you could suffer some serious consequences; some products commonly found on farms are highly concentrated chemicals and are dangerous if they contact or are absorbed through your skin.

Other barnyard products can be deadly if inhaled or ingested; some are highly flammable if mishandled; and others can contaminate the environment. It behooves you to follow label instructions carefully, pay close attention to storage instructions, relabel items appropriately, and dispose of them in a safe and responsible way.

Storing Chemicals & Flammables

Chemicals you might use around the farm include pesticides (beyond those labeled for topical use on horses), herbicides, paint, solvents, cleaners, wood preservatives, and disinfectants.

Storing farm chemicals and their associated equipment (e.g., a pesticide sprayer) in a designated location will help you ensure they don’t contaminate horse feed or poison children or pets.

“If chemicals are kept in a closet it should be locked and/or have a sign stating the closet is for authorized personnel only,” says Carey A. Williams, MS, PhD, associate equine extension specialist and associate professor director in the Rutgers University Department of Animal Sciences, in New Jersey. “Some of these chemicals … are toxic if they come into contact with skin, and anyone handling them should wear gloves and/or proper eye protection or masks/respirators.”

To handle some pesticides and herbicides legally, you must take a course on proper pesticide application and be licensed. “Just for this reason it’s a good idea to have these kept in a locked area,” she explains.

Proper storage is also important to minimize product degradation over time, which can diminish efficacy. Store pesticides, for instance, at room temperature in a controlled environment. “They should be stored according to label directions,” says Jason Turner, MS, PhD, associate professor and extension horse specialist at New Mexico State University. “If you no longer have the label directions, go to the manufacturer’s website. You can get a supplemental label from them.” 

Jenifer Nadeau, MS, PhD, associate professor and equine extension specialist at the University of Connecticut, notes that you should never store gas or diesel in your barn. These and other flammable or hazardous materials should be stored in another building. On the other hand, if there are no other options, she says these can be stored in a special cabinet designed for flammables so the materials inside won’t ignite or explode if the temperature around the cabinet rises. “Or you might use an old freezer or refrigerator that no longer works,” she says.

If you do rely on a flammables cabinet, place it in a climate-controlled area of a building, with the temperature maintained well below the stored chemicals’ flashpoint, says Turner. And just in case an accident does happen, make sure a fire extinguisher is readily accessible in each farm building.

If you have a smaller farm that does not have the kind of space and capability to handle all this extra storage, then do not keep more product on hand than you need for the short-term, and make sure you keep it in a safe place, Turner says. 

It’s crucial to store bleach and ammonia safely away from each other and other materials. Even the residue on the outside of their containers coming into contact with the other could create a dangerous fume, says Nadeau. With these and other chemicals, read the storage recommendations, warnings, or precautions for handling listed on the labels, and follow directions closely.

“If you have rodent problems in your barn, you may have poisons for them and need to be careful where those are stored or placed so that cats, pets or other animals, or children can’t get into those,” Nadeau says. Store delousing powders, sprays, or gels in a safe place, where they won’t spill or contaminate feed or water.

Williams says fly sprays or medicated shampoos, topical skin treatments, and hoof treatments are not as toxic as pesticides, but do not handle some of these with bare hands (for example, hoof packing materials), as some labels state the products can be carcinogenic. 

Storing Medications

Because some equine medications can have damaging side effects, owners should store these substances in safe and secure places as well. “Every barn should have a medication cabinet, and it is important to have it locked,” says Williams. “Otherwise, some medications might be overused, abused, or stolen. Things that should be stored in the locked cabinet would include hormonal products like the mare hormone Regu-Mate, anti-inflammatories such as Bute and Banamine, and certain antibiotics that don’t need to be refrigerated.”

Always handle Regu-Mate, for one, with great care. “Women should handle this with gloves and make sure it never comes in contact with their skin,” Nadeau says. “It should be stored in a leakproof container with a warning label.” Liquid tends to dribble down the sides of some bottles or containers due to their design, so transferring it to a leakproof vessel further helps prevent accidental skin contact.

IV/IM medications in bottles
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“DMSO (dimethylsulfoxide) should be handled and stored carefully because anything dissolved in it can be absorbed by the body,” Nadeau says. “You can store it inside another container so that if it spills or leaks it won’t come into contact with anything else.”

Also be sure to check drug expiration dates. Some substances might become ineffective after a certain amount of time, she says, while others can become dangerous.

For products that need to be kept cool or refrigerated, Turner recommends purchasing a small dorm refrigerator or a used full-sized refrigerator solely for storing these products in an area where children or critters can’t access them. “Here at the university we have a refrigerator in the barn where we keep the drugs and injectables, and we don’t want someone’s lunch or any food product in there,” says Turner. “We see this from time to time; somebody takes the greasy Regu-Mate bottle and puts it back. It may not have gotten on the sandwich, but did it get on the outside of the bag where someone might touch it? Make sure you never store food where you are storing drugs.”


Product labels provide directions for safe and effective storage. But occasionally the label is worn past recognition or has fallen off the container altogether. In either case, relabel the container.

“You can write on bottles and other containers with marking pens, but if the product is alcohol-based and any of the liquid spills onto the label, it will take the writing off,” Williams says.

Coleman suggests using a sticky label on which you’ve typed the information, then cover it with clear tape. “Not only should the label tell what it is, but also how it should be used (proper dilutions if it’s a concentrate, dosage and administration instructions if it’s an animal product), expiration date, etc.”

Turner adds, “Here at the university labs we do research and feed analysis and use various chemicals. One of the things we always need when working with any chemical is a material safety data sheet (MSDS). It states the hazards of working with that product, how to store it, etc. The MSDS for kerosene, for instance, gave me its flashpoint and other characteristics regarding its flammable nature.” 

It’s also important to consider extreme temperatures on the other end of the spectrum: Depending on their formulation, pharmaceuticals, pesticides, paints, and other products might lose potency if they freeze. This should also be indicated on the label. “Improper storage will cost money in the long run,” says Turner.

Proper Disposal

It cannot be emphasized enough: Buy, store, and keep only what you need for the job at hand. If you have a section of fence to paint, for instance, don’t buy and store enough paint/solvent for an entire property’s worth of fencing. If you buy conservatively and still have some left over, remember that it can be hazardous to keep and should be disposed of properly.

“Most toxic products have label directions for disposal of empty containers,” says Williams. “For many chemicals it may be as simple as a thorough rinse with soapy water before the container is put into the trash or recycle bin.”

Other disposal processes require a little more work. For instance, the old oil you drained out of vehicles or tractors should go to a mechanic’s shop for disposal.

Storing Toxic Substances in Stables
Dispose of syringes, needles, and other medical wastes in sturdy, purpose-labeled containers. | Photo: Alexandra Beckstett/The Horse

If you have to discard expired or unused drugs, dispose of them properly as well. Never flush medications down the toilet; they might end up in a water source. Nadeau recommends mixing old liquid drugs with something like kitty litter or coffee grounds and putting the mixture in a waterproof container before tossing so no animals can get into it and it’s less likely to leak out.

But before you toss, make sure you do so legally; some municipalities don’t allow for landfill disposal of discarded drugs, hazardous waste, or chemicals and, instead, designate certain times for drug and other chemical disposal. “Check with your local regulations for disposal and see if there is a pickup day for these, or a place these can be taken,” says Nadeau.

Old thermometers are another potential hazard if they break and mercury spills. Consider these hazardous waste. “Medical wastes should also be carefully disposed of, including syringes and needles,” Nadeau says. Put needles in a sturdy metal container that won’t permit the needles to poke through if it gets crushed. 

“Fluorescent light bulbs are another possible hazard if broken, so the burned out lights need to be disposed of or recycled properly,” she explains. “You are not supposed to put them in the trash unless they are environmentally rated bulbs. There is a new mercury bulb that’s controversial as well.”

Other farm wastes include oil filters from farm trucks, tractors, or other vehicles. “Recommendations are to hot drain the oil (after the motor has been running and the oil is warm) by taking out the oil plug and draining the oil overnight,” Nadeau says. “The old oil filter can be put into a sealable bag inside a coffee can with lid or some other leakproof container.” 

Antifreeze is another hazardous liquid that you should never leave in an open container or where it might spill. Pets are attracted to this poisonous (and even deadly) product’s sweet smell/taste, and horses might try to sample it as well. “Sometimes you can bring it back to the store where you purchased it, or take it to a gas station or automotive repair shop for disposal,” Nadeau says.

Old automotive batteries are hazardous because of the lead they contain and should not be put into a dump or garbage site. “These can often be taken back to the store when you get a new one,” Nadeau says.  

Wood preservatives are another environmental hazard; do not discard, burn, or bury their residues or containers. These too must go into a secure container for hazardous collection.

Take-Home Message

Coleman says the important approach to storing dangerous substances is, simply, to think about what you are handling and stockpiling. “We routinely use a lot of things, but are we following all the precautions on the label?” he says. Typically, we don’t read labels completely because we’ve purchased, stored, and used these substances before and think we are managing them correctly. We might need to remind ourselves every now and again of the proper procedures to safeguard our horses’ and our own health and safety, along with that of our barn and visitors.


Written by:

Heather Smith Thomas ranches with her husband near Salmon, Idaho, raising cattle and a few horses. She has a B.A. in English and history from University of Puget Sound (1966). She has raised and trained horses for 50 years, and has been writing freelance articles and books nearly that long, publishing 20 books and more than 9,000 articles for horse and livestock publications. Some of her books include Understanding Equine Hoof Care, The Horse Conformation Handbook, Care and Management of Horses, Storey’s Guide to Raising Horses and Storey’s Guide to Training Horses. Besides having her own blog,, she writes a biweekly blog at that comes out on Tuesdays.

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