Building a Sustainable Equine Facility
by Mark P. Dangelo
Our family loves our horses and we do everything possible to make them healthy, comfortable and, well, part of the family. From the feed we choose, to the training they receive, to their stall upkeep and outdoor runs, we create an environment where they flourish. With that in mind, how often is being “green” a primary goal when mapping out and making decisions for equine welfare? Is it even realistic? Moreover, how should facility designs and operating practices be incorporated into new or retrofitted equestrian compounds?
When my family decided that it was time to stop boarding our four horses and bring them onto our farm property, we were confronted with a plethora of choices and actions that would influence our facility operations for years to come. Rather than turn the building of paddocks and barn over to a contactor able to build a standard pole barn with dirt floors and wood stalls, we embraced a “do-it-yourself” attitude. Enlisting the guidance of our daughter , who was studying to be an architect, we segmented the build-out into manageable categories that would help focus our decisions, dependencies and choices.
We researched green (i.e., sustainable) agricultural facilities, building codes, literature from government agencies, residential building standards, and of course, equestrian publications. What we found out after a year of research and design assembly was that there were flashes of green brilliance already out there, but little of it had been completely incorporated into a common approach.
So, with nearly 500 pages of indexed articles and literature, a list of our goals for the facility and animals, the guidance of LEED residential and commercial codes, and numerous interview pages assembled from many trade show discussions with experts, we arrived at a starting point for our own equestrian facility:
Concrete production is a known contributor to CO2 atmospheric pollution. We researched and choose highly green concrete composition that retained strength parameters and code for animal housing. As a key objective for our horses, we wanted floors that could be cleaned to cut down fly and pest breeding and that needed minimal upkeep while incorporating recycled aggregate.
Responsibly harvested and reclaimed wood are key for structures desiring a green footprint. We also decided that we would plant native trees in and around our paddocks to offset lumber usage and production, in addition to providing nature shade, soil management and a natural grazing environment. Furthermore, we chose to skin the buildings with insulated steel sheeting made of the maximum amount of recycled steel commercially offered. Our criteria here were to provide optimal reconfiguration inside the structure (e.g., new stalls, hay storage, waste management), while ensuring integrity and toughness for winds over 100 MPH.
If you map out the orientation of the barn in relationship to prevailing winds and weather from changing seasons, traditional ventilation challenges can be solved with door placement, roof pitches, solar fans and even the bottom clearance of stall fronts and between stall compositions (e.g., using a combination of metal bars incorporated with classic side barriers). Our goal was to eliminate piece meal ventilation fans and design holistically to minimize heat and cold while cutting electrical costs.
For most equestrian facilities, this is the largest challenge. We choose to use traditional bedding materials supported by active composting that are isolated from paddocks and rain water capture areas. The goal is to achieve 90 percent reuse of bedding into gardening and landscaping for our home.
Power and Water
Here we designed for future solar panels on the barn roofs, and we also utilized energy star appliances, instant hot water units, LED lighting, solar roof fans for second story and cisterns for rain water with UV sanitization. Additionally, all stalls have industrial grates for dark / grey liquid capture coming from the animals which is then treated and can be reused if desired. The goal here was to become as self-sufficient as possible.
Stalls and Care
Using standard stall sizing, we choose to modernize designs using washable industrial wall coverings that were rated to withstand animals without compromising care. These coatings could not be chewed, kicked through or otherwise compromised by our horses. Using passive and active ventilation flow-through from the paddock double doors, to the European stall fronts, to the metal and covered wood side walls, we created a familiar, yet 21st century enclosure that needs little to no maintenance.
Fencing and Paddocks
While employing the above structural principles, we adopted equine specific grasses acclimated to our planting zones (90+ degree summers and -25+ degree winters). These grasses were over-seeded across native species to allow for a transition environment rather than a scorched earth practice. The criteria here was to eliminate unsightly fencing, use coated wires to reduce animal injury and to provide a grass base that is nutritious and avoids mud messes.
Our decisions have taught us a great deal about sustainable animal husbandry, but there are also mistakes made along the way. In the coming months, we will expand the above categories to provide more details of what went well, and also lessons learned which should be avoided. Being green is not an outrageous goal for equine owners. It’s about doing things with forethought. In the end, being green is no more expensive than traditional consumption models spread over the life of our large family members. In fact, by our accounting, it is actually less expensive.