Neutra - 10 tips for better air quality in your stables


Wherever there are animals, there are droppings and all the smells they produce. Unpleasant odours can be detrimental to good neighbourly relations, not to mention their negative impacts on the health of humans and animals alike. Excrement releases compounds into the air, such as urea and ammonia, that are corrosive and can cause hoof injuries, as well as increase the risk of pneumonia in animals. Manure also contains many parasites, bacteria and viruses that cause diseases for both animals and humans. Reducing odours can have a positive effect on the health of your horses and in so doing can also improve their performance.

1. Sufficient space

It is important to ensure that horses have sufficient space both indoors and outdoors. If horses have to be kept indoors for long periods of time due to inclement weather or a cold winter, the need for sufficient space is even bigger. In good weather it is important that horses get to be outdoors as much as possible and move freely about. Over-stressed hooves collect manure, smell and dry faster. Ventilation systems often do not work optimally if the amount of space is insufficient.

2. Cleaning routines

The more excrement your horses produce, the harder it is for your ventilation system to clean the air and the worse the odour will get. Regular cleaning is the best way to control the amount of odour. Mucking out twice a day combined with bigger weekly cleanings is usually sufficient. The right cleaning routines also help insure that disinfectants work properly, thus reducing the risk of illnesses. Good draining is also essential when washing stables.

3. Detergents and disinfectants

It is easy to think that disinfectants, such as bleaches, are effective even if the surface is not washed beforehand, but this is not the case. In order to work effectively, disinfectants must come into contact with the bacteria and viruses that can cause illnesses and odours. They do not in themselves eliminate odours from excrement or urine. To ensure thorough cleansing and disinfecting, a surface-active detergent should be used to remove dirt and manure before applying disinfectant. In addition, all disinfectants need a certain amount of time to kill the bacteria and viruses before they are rinsed off.

4. Composting manure

As manure decomposes, odours are created if there is insufficient oxygen in the mix. Properly composted manure should be odourless. Proper composting ensures that the manure is also more hygienic and that valuable nutrients are not released into the environment but can be used instead optimally for plants. Additives can be used to improve the composting process.

5. Good ventilation

Well-designed stables should have ventilation systems to prevent odours from building up. These range from passive ventilation systems, which utilise windows alongside walls and roofs that can be opened, to active ventilation systems with fans. When planning your ventilation system, it is important to take into consideration the number of animals within the space. This is particularly relevant in cold weather conditions, when the amount of ventilation is often reduced to conserve heat. Stable doors and windows should be kept open whenever possible. In the Finnish climate the amount of outdoor time is often restricted, and horses have to be kept indoors as much as 12 to 22 hours a day.

In addition to testing the ammonia levels inside your stables, it is worth monitoring changes in the air quality. In stables that do not have mechanical ventilation systems, the air quality is usually lowest in the mornings when the windows and doors have been kept shut and the stables have not been mucked out. This means that the horses have spent the entire night in the stable with bad air quality and slept on bedding that has been soaked in urine, a main source of pollutants.

6. Sufficient bedding

Using high-quality bedding, such as straw or wood shavings, can reduce odours significantly. The bedding should be as absorbent as possible but without causing dust. Absorbent bedding creates a comfortable and healthy environment for your horses. Additives that bind ammonia can also be spread on top of the bedding to further improve air quality and accelerate composting.

7. Washable surfaces

Even though wood looks nice and is inexpensive to use, it absorbs odours and is hard to disinfect properly. Regardless of well you clean porous surfaces, over time they will absorb odours that cannot be eliminated. Wood also attracts bacteria and viruses that can cause illnesses. It is important, therefore, that all wooden surfaces are painted to create a surface that can washed easily. Alternatives to wood include concrete, stainless steel and plastic.

8. Raking stables

A horse’s kidneys regulate the animal’s fluid balance. On average, a horse will drink between 20 and 50 litres of water a day – sometimes even 60 litres. The more a horse drinks, the more it will also urinate. The amount of water and urine will also vary according to the amount of protein, sodium and potassium in the feed. Horses usually defecate around 5 to 15 times a day. The amount of urine is harder to determine due to the wetness of the stable. Some animals favour a specific spot within the stable to defecate and urinate, which can lead to a build up in manure. Raking out the manure piles and wet areas will help dry the manure and urine and reduce odours.

9. Use additives

The quality of the bedding can be improved by using additives that improve the absorption of the bedding and prevent ammonia gases from building up. Regularly cleaning your stables, allowing your horses to be outdoors as much as possible and using the high-quality bedding will also reduce the health impacts of odours. Nevertheless, eliminating odours altogether is very hard without using additives. They are particularly recommended for stables that use straw pellets, sawdust, wood shavings, wood pellets or straw for bedding, as well as for stables with bad ventilation. Studies carried out at numerous stables in Finland support the use of additives.

10. High-quality feed

Horses should be given the best possible nutrition. Dust-free feed should be used to ensure good respiratory health. A balanced diet is also important and should provide sufficient antioxidants, which are essential for the horse’s respiratory tracts and lungs. Hay should be soaked in water for around 20 minutes before being fed to horses in order to reduce dust. The protein content of the feed not be too high, as excessive protein increases the amount of urea in urine, which in turn will increase the dampness and odour in the stable.

Ensuring good air quality in your stables is important for the wellbeing of your horses. In Northern European climates, horses often have to spend a lot of time indoors. Ammonia emissions, dust and mould are detrimental to the respiratory tracts of humans and horses alike, and they can be very harmful over the long term. To summarise, the most important elements for eliminating odours are proper cleaning, good ventilation and clean bedding. For the best results, additives should be used on a regular basis to bind the ammonia emissions from urine. This will improve the air quality in your stables significantly.

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