Vet-Friendly Barn

Do you love your vet­eri­nar­ian and far­rier? Learn how to keep them happy with these 10 sim­ple barn-de­sign ideas.

Horse & Rider - - Contents - BY BARB CRABBE, DVM

Do you love your vet­eri­nar­ian and far­rier? Learn how to keep them happy with these 10 barn-de­sign ideas.

The sun is shin­ing as I pull into the drive­way of a spa­cious, well-kept, vet-friendly barn. The elec­tric gate at the end of the paved, tree-lined drive opens au­to­mat­i­cally and, af­ter back­ing into the con­ve­nient, cov­ered “vet area” (spe­cially des­ig­nated at the cor­ner of the barn), I’m greeted by the owner, who smiles and of­fers me a steam­ing cup of cof­fee. “Ah,” I think, “be­ing a horse vet is a glo­ri­ous oc­cu­pa­tion.” Just as I’m pre­par­ing to ex­am­ine the horse—pre­sented in an im­mac­u­late, well-lit room—I’m awak­ened from this lovely dream by the rude screech­ing of my pager. A client needs me—“now”—for a nasty lac­er­a­tion on her year­ling’s left hind leg. Groan­ing, I roll out of bed and pull on my jeans— re­mem­ber­ing as I do that this par­tic­u­lar client, though ex­tremely nice, has a barn that’s de­cid­edly not vet-friendly. Specif­i­cally, there’s no truck ac­cess, only lim­ited light­ing, and wa­ter that must be hauled from the house a quar­ter-mile away. Adding to the un­happy prospect facing me is the fact that it’s snow­ing out­side.

I’ve traded my dream for a night­mare. Poor work­ing con­di­tions don’t just make life dif­fi­cult for the mem­bers of your health care team; they can also com­pro­mise the level of care your horse re­ceives. Imag­ine try­ing to sew a black but­ton on a dark pair of pants while the per­son wear­ing them is tap danc­ing—and the lights are off. Now add that it’s re­ally cold so you can’t feel your fin­gers. That’s what it’s like to su­ture a wound on a lower leg in Jan­uary in a poorly lit barn.

Here, I’m go­ing to list the top 10 fea­tures that’ll make your place a vet-friendly barn. They’ll keep both your vet and your far­rier happy, plus help en­sure your horse gets the best pos­si­ble care when­ever he needs it.

Fea­ture #1: Can I Get There From Here?

When I visit your farm, my en­tire “hos­pi­tal” is in the back of my truck. The same ar­range­ment is in ef­fect for your far­rier, too. If we have to walk a long dis­tance from our ve­hi­cle to get to your barn, it’s go­ing to be dif­fi­cult to trans­port every­thing we might need to care for your horse.

In fact, I think it’s a vir­tual guar­an­tee that the far­ther my truck is from your horse, the more things I’ll re­al­ize I need af­ter I’ve al­ready made the trek—ne­ces­si­tat­ing mul­ti­ple trips back and forth. That means the most im­por­tant fea­ture of a vet- and far­rier-friendly fa­cil­ity is that there be truck ac­cess all the way to the barn— ide­ally with enough gravel to make sure we don’t get stuck in the mud.

Fea­ture #2: Ex­cuse Me?

I fi­nally get your horse ad­e­quately se­dated and am pre­par­ing to tie the knot on my first su­ture when the re­quest in­vari­ably comes.

“Can you please move so I can get my horse out of his stall?”

Heavy sighs all around. There’s noth­ing more frus­trat­ing than be­ing right in the mid­dle of a high-traf­fic barn aisle while try­ing to su­ture a wound, work up a lame­ness, or ap­ply a set of shoes. So please, please give us a place to work!

In a per­fect world, your barn would have a des­ig­nated area for your vet and far­rier—ide­ally in a quiet cor­ner where we’ll be undis­turbed. If you ex­pect your horse to stand on cross-ties while we work, a cross-tie area with a solid back wall will help to keep us (and your horse) safe.

And if you re­ally want to make us happy, place this area where we can back our trucks up to a nearby barn door to eas­ily ac­cess all our tools.

Fea­ture #3: Let There Be Light!

Be­ing able to see what you’re do­ing is crit­i­cal when you’re su­tur­ing a wound, ex­am­in­ing a skin le­sion, or pound­ing a nail into a hoof wall. And even if your barn has ex­cel­lent nat­u­ral light, it won’t work for those mid­dle-of-thenight emer­gen­cies.

So if you do have a des­ig­nated area for your vet and far­rier, con­sider in­stalling ex­tra light fix­tures, in­clud­ing some placed ap­prox­i­mately 1 to 2 feet off the ground to il­lu­mi­nate lower legs and feet.

And pay at­ten­tion to in­ten­sity. LED lights will give you the bright­est pos­si­ble light at the low­est pos­si­ble cost.

Fea­ture #4: Turn It On!

Many tools in my truck re­quire elec­tric­ity. Does your horse need ra­dio­graphs? Ul­tra­sound? Is he due for his den­tal work?

If we can’t turn on the equip­ment, we can’t do an op­ti­mal job, which means func­tion­ing elec­tri­cal out­lets are es­sen­tial. And while ex­ten­sion cords are fine, it’s aw­fully nice if we don’t have to spend pre­cious time string­ing 20 yards of cord down a barn

aisle or across a pad­dock.

If you plan to set up that des­ig­nated space where we can work, plan to have sev­eral well-placed out­lets avail­able, too. And if a des­ig­nated space isn’t an op­tion, con­sider plac­ing out­lets at reg­u­lar in­ter­vals along your barn aisle so we can find them when we need them.

Fea­ture #5: Where’s the Wa­ter?

Lo­cat­ing clean wa­ter is of­ten the first step for any vet­eri­nary visit. Yes, I can take it from a wa­ter trough if I must, but in most cir­cum­stances it’s so much bet­ter from a hose or spigot. And if the wa­ter’s warm? You get ex­tra credit—es­pe­cially when tem­per­a­tures plum­met. Sub­merg­ing my hands in cold wa­ter so I can scrub a wound, clean up your lame horse’s legs for di­ag­nos­tic blocks, or sim­ply to wash up be­fore or af­ter a pro­ce­dure can be the clos­est thing to tor­ture.

If my suf­fer­ing isn’t enough to mo­ti­vate you, just know that it’s hard to do a de­tailed job on just about any­thing when you can’t feel your fin­gers. If you’re set­ting up that des­ig­nated vet/far­rier area, con­sider in­stalling a sink with hot and cold wa­ter. (And if that’s sim­ply not an op­tion, I can make do with an eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble spigot.)

Fea­ture #6: Keep It Clean

Whether I’m treat­ing a wound, per­form­ing an ex­am­i­na­tion, or sim­ply ad­min­is­ter­ing an in­tra­mus­cu­lar in­jec­tion, hav­ing a clean area where I can ex­am­ine and treat your horse is crit­i­cal. For some things, such as per­form­ing a joint in­jec­tion, I even try to cre­ate a ster­ile en­vi­ron­ment to min­i­mize the risk of your horse suf­fer­ing from a po­ten­tial life-threat­en­ing in­fec­tion. So clean­li­ness re­ally counts.

Pay at­ten­tion to clut­ter as well. Not only does “un­nec­es­sary stuff” pro­vide nooks and cran­nies where dirt can ac­cu­mu­late, it can get in the way and even lead to in­jury. Keep your vet/far­rier area clean and un­clut­tered, and con­sider adding a cleared-off shelf or counter space where we can place our tools or di­ag­nos­tic equip­ment while we’re work­ing.

Fea­ture #7: On Solid Ground

Con­sider the floor­ing in the area where you ex­pect your vet and far­rier to work. Many pro­ce­dures will re­quire wa­ter to scrub or flush, and dirt floors that muddy up when wet are slip­pery as well as un­san­i­tary. A se­dated horse on a mud-slicked floor is a recipe for dis­as­ter.

Ideal al­ter­na­tives are heav­ily brushed con­crete or tex­tured rub­ber floors that pro­vide con­sis­tent, non­slip foot­ing even when wet.

Fea­ture #8: Keep Pests at Bay

I al­ways groan when flies land right in the mid­dle of the wound I’m try­ing to clean. Not only is it un­san­i­tary, it’s frus­trat­ingly an­noy­ing. In fact, swarm­ing, bit­ing flies are prob­a­bly enough to send your far­rier pack­ing for good—with your vet not far be­hind.

To avoid this un­happy oc­cur­rence, good ma­nure man­age­ment and a clean barn are es­sen­tial first steps. You might also con­sider in­stalling fans in your vet/far­rier area and an over­head fly-con­trol sys­tem to most ef­fec­tively min­i­mize these both­er­some pests.

Fea­ture #9: Cov­ered Area With Foot­ing

When I do a lame­ness exam, I need a place where I can watch the horse move. Un­less your horse has an ob­vi­ous prob­lem like a sole ab­scess or a frac­ture, a thor­ough lame­ness exam will typ­i­cally re­quire walk­ing and trot­ting in hand; longe­ing at the walk, trot, and can­ter; and pos­si­bly ob­ser­va­tion un­der sad­dle.

In or­der for your vet to do a thor­ough job of all this, he’ll need a solid, even sur­face (no loose gravel) that’s at least 50 to 60 feet long for a jogging path, plus an area with good foot­ing where your horse can be

longed or even rid­den.

Is it likely to be side­ways-rain­ing? A roof over­head is an­other wel­come fea­ture. Re­mem­ber, you can zip in­side to change when the exam is done, but chances are your soggy vet will have to head on down the road for his or her next ap­point­ment.

Fea­ture #10: Con­fine­ment Area

The exam is com­pleted and your vet has rec­om­mended two weeks of stall or pad­dock rest.

“But Doc,” you say, “all I have is that big pas­ture over there. Won’t that be OK?”

No, it won’t. If you own a horse, chances are he’ll re­quire con­fine­ment at some point in his life. Even an iso­lated colic episode that re­solves overnight will be best man­aged if your horse can be locked up, so set up or mod­ify your fa­cil­ity with that in mind.

In a per­fect world, you’ll have a well-ven­ti­lated stall where he can be main­tained, ide­ally with ac­cess to a small—or even bet­ter, ad­justable—“hos­pi­tal pad­dock” to use as his in­jury or ill­ness be­gins to im­prove.

These sug­ges­tions may seem straight­for­ward, but you’d be sur­prised how many barns lack even the most im­por­tant ba­sics—and how much your vet wor­ries about this. In fact, while you’re anx­iously await­ing your vet’s ar­rival, chances are your vet is driv­ing down the road un­easily con­tem­plat­ing all the things he may need to ar­range af­ter he ar­rives in or­der to get the job done.

“Will I be able to see? Is there elec­tric­ity for an X-ray? Will I have ac­cess to my tools?” Pro­vide these ba­sics—plus maybe a hot cup of cof­fee—and you’ll have the be­gin­nings of a vet-friendly barn.

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