Hidden Dangers on Horse Farms

You'd be surprised how many hazardous materials are on your farm.
Credit: Thinkstock Many older properties could have hidden dangers, such as old fuel tanks.

Many equine facility owners and managers don’t realize they have hazardous or harmful materials—toxic chemicals, corrosives, or flammable substances—scattered about the farm. Leroy Russell knows better. As an agricultural extension agent in Kansas, he visits a lot of barns. When he sees a potentially dangerous situation—like storing fuel by the hay—he points it out. And he does that more often than you might expect.

Take a close look and you’ll probably find many hazardous materials at your farm. That’s because in our everyday operations we rely on chemicals and fuels that likely fall within the scope of a harmful material.

As an equine facility manager, it’s important that you are aware of how these types of materials can affect human and animal safety, and can have an environmental impact if improperly used or discarded.

Getting Started

First, you need three things: a prevention plan, a process for correct handling and storage, and a procedure for recycling or proper disposal.

Most problems, such as accidental poisonings, arise when chemicals are stored or disposed of carelessly. Russell advises that to avoid storage and disposal problems, the first step is to obtain only the amount of material or chemical you need, and use it. That eliminates the storage or disposal issue.

Now, let’s take a look at some of the materials you might have at the barn and what you can do about them.

P Is for Pesticides

Pesticides are widely used on farms. We fight insects with insecticides, weeds with herbicides, and fungi with fungicides.

Read the labels to find out just how your pesticides might be hazardous or harmful. The federal government has stringent rules about how pesticides can be sold, applied and labeled. Never use a pesticide that doesn’t have an appropriate label, preferably the original label.

Russell is a strong believer in reading the label before use. It will give you information about the product, how to mix it, how to apply it, and any other precautions to take. cont.

Manufacturers also provide a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) full of instructions for safe use. This information includes chemical properties, health effects of acute or chronic exposure, physical hazards, first aid measures, emergency procedures, ways to protect workers at risk of over exposure, and information on storage, handling, use, and disposal.

There are two practices that apply to all potentially harmful materials:

  • Whenever possible, store pesticides and fertilizers in their original containers. These containers should be in good condition and should not be stored near animal feed.
  • Store containers in a secure and well-ventilated room where they don’t leak, freeze or get too hot. Make sure that the room is off limits to animals and children. Half the pesticide deaths in the country each year are of children under the age of 10.

The best plan is to get only the amount of pesticide you will use in a year. If you have leftover or unwanted pesticide, take it to a hazardous materials clean-up day sponsored in your area. You can find out about such events by contacting your extension service or county health department.

Gasoline and Other Flammables

The big danger with gasoline and other flammable materials is improper storage—using improper containers, or storing them near hay. One spark from a lawnmower or truck can spell disaster for a barn owner.

Flammable liquids should be stored in a well-ventilated area away from living areas and hay. Gasoline is a highly volatile liquid, and gasoline vapors can be ignited by a spark, flame or hot object.

Russell urges that gasoline or fuel be stored in an approved safety can, and one that has no leaks or dents. Improper storage containers can lead to leakage or fires. He also advises to replace the fuel cap once fuel has been poured from a can, so that the fuel stays securely inside. “I’ve seen people leave the pour caps on, allowing an animal or human to tip or spill the can,” he says. That puts both animals and the environment at risk.

Oils, Solvents, Antifreeze and Batteries

There are lots of other potentially harmful items in the barn, many of which may drip and spill or create solid waste. Among them:

  • Antifreeze. Children and animals are attracted to antifreeze because of its sweet taste. But antifreeze contains ethylene glycol, which is poisonous. Store antifreeze in its original, marked container and never dispose of it by pouring it directly on the ground.
  • Lubricating oils and cleaning solvents. These are items that may be used around the barn for machinery or to disinfect horse stalls. These usually don’t present problems if they are stored in original containers away from animals and children. Again, if you purchase what you need and use it, you eliminate a storage problem.
  • Fertilizer. Fertilizers may come in liquid, gas or solid form and can be toxic if handled improperly.
  • Motor oil. Motor oil is not a controlled hazardous material, but contains metal and can be toxic to many plants and animals. Don’t pour it on the ground or in storm drains, as it can get back into the water source. Instead, store it in a closed, labeled container, and take it to a recycling location or hazardous materials cleanup day.
  • Batteries. Batteries contain lead and sulfuric acid, and can be harmful to people and the environment. Old batteries will eventually eat through their containers and acid can leak into the ground and water supply. The only proper way to dispose of batteries is by recycling. Most businesses that sell batteries accept used batteries when you buy new ones.

Medicines and More

Medical supplies should be stored properly and out of reach of children. Russell says to follow storage instructions on all medicines.

Similarly, keep syringes and needles in a storage cabinet. Discard used needles and syringes in an approved method. A puncture-proof container offers the best protection. Check local and state laws to be aware of any disposal rules, as they vary, or talk to your veterinarian.

It is also important to store medications in a clean environment—not along the wall of the barn where they may get dusty.

Basic safety checks

Pay attention, too, to obvious hazards like old fencing, pieces of tin or glass, and feeders and other equipment that may need repair.

“Also look at what (machinery or implements) you have and if it is near the horses,” Russell says. “You may be taking a chance on an animal getting hurt.”

It is prudent to do a safety survey of your equine facility and catalog all the potential hazardous and harmful products and where they are located. Where possible, you can correct the potential issues before they become hazards. And where you can’t, you at least know where the potential dangers reside.

For More Information

The National Agricultural Safety Database, NASD, at, is a collection of articles and fact sheets about agricultural safety and health, many of which are researched and written by extension services.

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) has an online resource with 180 chemical-specific fact sheets in English and Spanish. The ATSDR ToxFAQs can be found at

In addition, you should check out the resources of your state’s extension service or health and safety organization. For this article, we relied on the Kansas State University Extension, University of Missouri Extension Service, Ohio State Extension, and the University of Tennessee Extension.






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