When you open a stable door, you should be greeted by the smell of fresh hay and horses. Too often you're met with the stench of ammonia instead. Not only can ammonia insult your sense of smell and make your eyes water, it can also be a health hazard to the horses -- especially the foals -- who live in that barn.
Causes of Ammonia Build-up
Not only is an ammonia smell unpleasant, it is also a sign of poor stall management. The smell occurs when the stall drains poorly allowing urine to pool in it. This odor becomes even worse if stalls are not cleaned daily or if there is limited air flow. In addition to the daily removal of soiled bedding, the addition of a commercial stall freshener or hydrated lime can do much to relieve this smell.
Prior to the marketing of stall fresheners, horsemen spread hydrated lime across a stall after stripping it or thoroughly cleaning it. Not only does the lime dry up any wet spots, it removes the ammonia odor. In addition, lime is inexpensive and easy to obtain. Hydrated lime is created from limestone, a common sedimentary rock, that is first burnt in special kilns to produce quicklime, which is widely used in industry. Hydrated lime results from the addition of water to quicklime.
Using Hydrated Lime
When 1 or 2 lbs. of hydrated lime is sprinkled in stalls after cleaning and before re-bedding, a study conducted by the University of Illinois and reported by Horse Extension Specialist Frederick Harper noted that stalls were free of ammonia odors for 48 to 72 hours with straw bedding and 72 hours with sawdust. This compared favorably with commercial stall fresheners.
Benefits and Cautions
While lime has proved successful in ammonia reduction, its use in recent years has come into question since it is a very strong base. The National Lime Association, as reported in an Equus Caballus article, has, in fact, categorized it as a hazardous substance that can cause eye irritation and burns to unprotected skin. Since it can also damage the respiratory system, use extreme caution when handling it. Despite the possible hazards, use hydrated lime as a disinfectant for stalls, especially those used for foaling and for housing an ill animal. Use enough bedding to totally cover it so that animals do not come into direct contact with it.