How To Effectively Manage Ammonia In Horse Barns

Floyd Fain

October 31, 2017

The sweet smell of a well-maintained barn can be undermined quickly by an overwhelming smell of ammonia. But the big issue isn’t the smell; it’s the health hazards that it presents to your horses.

Ammonia fumes entering through a horse’s upper airways and proceeding to the lungs, says Tufts University DVM Melissa Mazan, can cause "lower airway inflammation and pulmonary edema. The most severe exposures with pulmonary edema have potentially fatal consequences."


More Than Just Mucking

The first line of defense against ammonia is vigilant stall-cleaning, but as all horse owners know, mucking out can only do so much during the winter months. 

For those in-between times, you may consider some classic or new techniques:


  • Lime and pine oil are tested home remedies, but they can be known to dry out and cause dust issues.
  • A layer of kitty litter over your shavings can produce the same benefits in a stall as it does in the cat’s box, but litter gets expensive.
  • Commercial products can provide a lot of relief. A 2014 Horse Journal article recommended Bye Bye Odor liquid, Odor-No-More powder and Stall Dry granules.


Is More Bedding Better?

While deep, plush layer of shavings may look as attractive as a pillowtop mattress to us, it won’t necessarily benefit your horse.

As University of Kentucky Ph.D. Robert Colement notes, “Horses standing outside don’t usually choose deep footing. And remember, the more you put in the stall, the more you have to take out.” It may take some experimentation to determine how deep a layer absorbs the most moisture while not wasting pricy bedding.

You may also note your horse’s habits in the stall. If she chooses a particular corner to “do her business,” you can concentrate more bedding and products there.


Does More Turnout Help?

Generally, the more turnout you can provide, the better it is, but harsh weather, stall rest or horses that simply dislike being outdoors can make that difficult.

A better approach may be to consider your barn’s ventilation system. Proper ventilation will help control both moisture and odor. Consider the following two points: Air exchange, the process of replacing stale air with fresh air, and air distribution, where fresh air is moved throughout the stable.

Muck Like A Pro

Scoop, shake, dump – the top grooms know what you’re going through. Here are their suggestions, courtesy of HorseChannel:

  • Use a metal pitchfork for straw and a plastic one for shavings.
  • Look for damp spots and cover with your favorite absorbing product.
  • Let the stall air out before bringing the horse back in.

Bottom line:
With an investment of time and product, you can keep ammonia at bay – providing a comfy and safer home for your horse. 

If you have questions about proper maintenance of your horses, barn or area, contact Red Master Harrow. We are an industry leader of arena drags and have years of experience with horses. 

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*This post has been updated for freshness & accuracy.

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