Spring Cleaning in 10 Steps

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The frosty winds of winter have finally dissipated and the warm breezes of spring have arrived. This is the perfect time to clean up around the barn. Here’s a list of ten cleaning tips that will make your farm sparkle in time for the arrival of warm weather clients.

1. Stalls. For even the most meticulous barn operators, stalls often look unkempt after a long winter. Ideally, mats should be removed, sanitized, and allowed to dry in the sun, while organic matter and pooled urine underneath is removed and the floor leveled. Too labor intensive? At the very least, stalls should be stripped, and mats and walls scrubbed with a non-toxic solution that can break down organic matter and kill pathogens.

Should you power wash your stalls? There are two opinions on this. Judy Graves of Willoughby Stables in Monroe, N.C., power washes each spring. She considers it a huge time saver that cleans better than hand washing. “It takes about 30 minutes per stall,” says Graves. “We concentrate on the walls and avoid spraying the mats too much. This is a great way to get old grain out from behind buckets, organic matter off the walls and inspect each stall carefully. I find that when I power wash, I discover holes, sharp points or other things that need attention.”

Others, such as Joy Koch of Comfortstall Stable Supply Company in Santa Rosa, Calif., prefer to clean by hand. “I moisten the walls and then come back in 30 minutes, and with a mixture of baking soda and vinegar, I scrub them with a stiff broom, then quickly rinse. A wet/dry vacuum is a must to remove all the dirty water once you’re done. I rarely need to power wash, and if one had ill horses, I would consult with the local vet hospital for disinfection protocols.”

Are power washers too powerful for the job? In an article on Biosecurity Guidelines in 2006, the AAEP recommended that power washers be set at less than 120 psi to avoid aerosolizing pathogens. (120 psi is equivalent to using a garden hose; most power washers range from 1500 to 4000 psi.)

Dr. Ann Swinker, equine extension specialist at the Pennsylvania State College of Agricultural Sciences, adds that excess water when cleaning can create serious problems: “If there is no drainage or way to air out the barn, you may be creating a damp environment that over time could promote the growth of mold and mildew.”

2. Varnish and paint. Once Graves has cleaned her stalls, she can see which stalls need a re-touch of varnish. “You have to keep horses out of the stalls until the varnish is dry because you don’t want them to lick it,” she says. “The varnish helps protect and preserve the wood, and I’ve noticed that my horses tend to avoid chewing on the varnished areas.” Dr. Swinker cautions that varnish can be highly combustible while drying. Avoid using open flames or electric heaters while the varnish is drying, as these can start a fire.

Most paints today, with the exception of some foreign brands, do not contain lead. Paints used on metal, such as stall grates, may have toxic fumes—so remove horses until all surfaces are dry.

3. Mud around gates. “If you’re getting mud around your gates, then I’d have to ask if you just built a fence and put a gate there, or did you bring in a couple truckloads of crushed rock and create a road base?” asks Koch. “If there’s mud, then you have to go back and engineer the area like you’re going to build a road. You have to elevate it and compact the aggregate, using a little water and a roller to make it hard so you have a nice entrance. In some high-traffic cases we’ve also imbedded soil stabilization mats to add structural integrity to the area. Of course, over time, horses bring organic matter in from the field, including manure, so regularly scraping off these pressure points maximizes the performance of your investment.”

4. Flowers and gardens. “Curb appeal is very important,” says Mailin Beckman of Hunter Creek Farm in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. “My farm needs to look clean, and attention to detail, such as a flower garden, says a lot. A border made with pavers or stone around the garden adds the final touch.”

Dr. William Hutchinson, past dean of science and engineering at Holyoke Community College in Holyoke, Mass., advises using annuals that are insect resistant. “Marigolds, impatiens and begonias are excellent choices as they are less apt to have insect pests and require pesticides. For hot/dry regions, plants may need frequent misting to keep red spiders at bay,” he says. Many farms mix horse manure into the soil as fertilizer and that’s fine, says Dr. Hutchinson, although you should avoid using fresh manure—its high urea content can burn roots: “For heavy clay regions, such as Arizona, manure mixed with sawdust is a good soil additive as it keeps the clay from compacting, which can inhibit water retention.” If planting bushes, Hutchinson suggests consulting a local nursery to avoid invasive or poisonous plants, such as some members of the mountain laurel family.

5. Trails. “Cleaning up trails is an important job,” says Dr. Swinker. “Snags [trees that hang low over the trail] are very dangerous. You need somebody who is chainsaw certified and has the right protective equipment to remove them. Additionally, washed-out areas on the trails should be attended to, because just a little rain can create a gully. State horse councils and the USDA Forest Service have information booklets on how to properly drain and repair trails for best results.”

6. Fire extinguishers. Every barn should have at least one, placed in an easy-to-access spot. Check once a month to confirm that the pressure is at the recommended level. For those with a gauge, the needle should be in the green zone. Once a year, fire extinguishers should be serviced by a local fire service provider. They’ll check and certify the pressure, recharge it if necessary, and verify that the spray nozzle is on correctly. Most business codes require that this be done on a regular basis. If you own small home extinguisher units, these may be disposable rather than rechargeable; once the pressure is lost they should be discarded.

7. Cobwebs. Cobwebs in barns, run-in sheds, or haylofts are not just unsightly, they are a fire hazard. Workers should wear masks and horses should be removed before cleaning out cobwebs from ceilings and fans, from between stall bars, and from every place spiders congregate. In regions such as California where biting spiders are a problem, use a vacuum instead of a broom. Even in areas where spiders are fairly innocuous, vacuums are a good idea to keep the dust levels down.

8. Fly systems. “First I test the system by placing the tube that normally goes into the spray tank into a bucket of water,” says Graves. “That way, I don’t waste expensive fly spray when I test. Typically, I’ll find leaks caused by the tubing coming loose. The nozzles also get clogged easily, so I clean them all out and replace damaged ones. Be careful,” warns Graves, “to check the grade of tubing you purchase to replace worn parts. Tubing from a local hardware store may not be of a high enough grade. I know, I tried it and it didn’t work. The tubing got clogged and couldn’t handle the pressure.”

9. Tack room. Consider having a tack room cleaning party for your clients, where they come on a designated day, you provide light snacks or lunch, and they go through all of their belongings. “Have clients take their winter blankets home,” suggests Graves, “and make sure they go through their entire tack trunk. I’ve found moldy, black carrots at the bottom of trunks that stunk up the entire room!” Once everything is out of the tack room, Graves takes the opportunity to varnish the walls. She also suggests disposing of old, dusty ribbons on the walls. “It’s amazing how tattered, dirty ribbons can make a tack room look rundown,” she says.

10. Blanket storage. “Here in Florida,” says Beckman, “moisture is a big problem, so it is imperative that winter blankets be stored correctly. I launder them and then seal them individually in large plastic wrap bags. This keeps moisture, dust, and spiders out. I mark each bag with the size and customer’s name, and store all in a cool, dry place.”

More Spring Chores

The ten ideas in this article are by no means a complete list of spring cleaning chores. Here are several other suggestions:

• Fences. Tree damage has been brutal in some parts of the country this year, so walk all fence lines to ensure that they are safe and in working order. Check posts for rot.

• Gutters and downspouts. Remove old leaves and other clutter to allow rainwater to flow easily. Install wire covers to limit future buildups.

• Dirt/gravel roads. Level and fill potholes.

• Replace expired items in your First Aid kit.

• Power wash your barn roof to remove debris and, in humid climates, mold that may be growing. Also check for shingle damage.

• With water runoff, note where drainage is a problem and address those areas.

• Inspect wires for rodent damage.

• Check water troughs for cracks caused by freezing temperatures.

• Inspect fans for wear or damage.

• Inspect tarps covering sawdust for rips.

• Replace broken pallets used to raise hay above floor. Clear out old, dusty hay collecting between boards of pallets.

• Check all storm shutters.