Preparing for a barn disaster
Prevent emergencies from becoming disasters. Whether it’s a fire, tornado or flood, having a plan can prevent or reduce the impacts of these events. Consider not only events around your house, but your barn as well.
Consider what events may be the most devastating for your barn. Planning for these events will help prepare you for other events. For example, you can use a fire evacuation plan for tornadoes and floods.
Get the house ready first
Keep these items in or near your home and at an off-site location.
- Human first aid kit
- Emergency kit with food and water for three days
- Important paperwork
- Photos and written descriptions of all horses
- Extra halters and lead ropes
- Generator with enough fuel for three days
- Working flashlights
- Battery-powered radio
For more details on preparing your house, contact American Red Cross Twin Cities Chapter at 612-871-7676.
Put emergency contact information in an easy-to-find location and make sure that family, employees and clients know where it is. Contacts should include first responders, a veterinarian, your contact information, and others willing to assist during an emergency.
Horse first aid kits
You can purchase pre-assembled horse first aid kits. Learn how to create and use a basic first aid kit for your horse.
Frightened animal behavior
Human safety is always the first priority. This includes the horse owner, family members, employees, boarders, visitors and you!
Frightened animals are unpredictable. Even the gentlest horse can become dangerous when frightened. Take specific actions to avoid getting in harm’s way. Learn more about unwanted behaviors and vices in horses.
Identifying the horses
Identifying horses is valuable if a horse is lost or stolen. If you have a horse without identifiable markings, this is particularly important. Identifying methods are a personal preference, but may also be a breed requirement. Registered horses may already have one or more of the following in place.
- Photographs and written descriptions
- Washable paint
- Etch hooves
- Braid luggage tag with contact information into mane
- Pastern bands
Goals of an evacuation plan
- The plan quickly and safely moves animals and people out of the facility
- Everyone engaged in the facility knows the plan and can carry it out in the absence of the owner
- Brings awareness of potential emergencies and barn problems to horse owners
- The plan is written out and easily accessible to others
- All buildings must have multiple unblocked exits that people and animals can use
Developing an emergency evacuation plan
How will each horse be removed from the barn?
- Will they be led individually or herded?
- In what order?
- Can they be herded out the door to a holding pen? It may not be possible or safe to put a halter on a panicked horse.
Plans for an evacuation like a flood may be different than for a fire where there is less time.
Do you have spare halters and lead ropes located in an area away from the barn?
Having spare halters away from the barn can be beneficial (i.e. during a fire), especially if there are large numbers of horses on the property.
Are there horses that need to be handled differently?
- Examples include stallions, foals or elderly horses.
Where will the horses go if the barn is damaged?
- Ideally put horses in a safe paddock away from the barn.
- During a fire, place horses far from the burning facility to avoid illness from breathing in smoke.
- Is there space to separate horses (i.e. stallions)?
- During an emergency, it’s common for a frightened or confused horse to try and return back to its stall, where it feels the safest.
- Practice using all barn exits.
Will you be able to get food and water to the holding area?
- Applies if they need to stay there for extended periods of time.
Can you trailer the horses if necessary?
- Is there access to a functional truck and trailer?
- Will the horses easily load?
Has everyone involved in the horse facility practiced the evacuation plan?
- A lot can be learned from practicing an evacuation plan. From practicing you can improve your plan as necessary.
Do you know your neighbors or other horse owners in the area?
Neighboring horse owners can be a resource during an emergency.
Common horse barn emergencies
Prevention is the best way to avoid a fire emergency
|Common fuel sources||Common ignition sources|
|Hay||Faulty electrical wiring (including extension cords)|
|Bedding (straw, shavings)||Smoking materials (cigarettes, matches)|
|Liquid fuels (gasoline)||Sparks from motors|
|Wood for building materials and stalls||Improperly cured hay|
|Cloth, blankets, cleaning rags||Small appliances (heaters, fans, heat lamps)|
Fires start when fuel and ignition sources come together in the presence of oxygen.
Fire prevention steps
Identify all fuel and ignition sources.
- Draw a picture of your barn, mark the fuel and ignition sources.
- Have electrical wiring done by a qualified electrician and inspected by a local building inspector or insurance expert.
- Install to code and maintain lightning protection systems.
- Only use extension cords for short-term uses such as powering a tool.
- Correctly install and maintain heating systems.
2. Separate fuel and ignition sources.
- Move hay away from wiring.
- Move stored liquid fuels away from ignition sources.
- Remove any of fuel or ignition sources that do not have to be in the barn.
3. Check wiring for obvious problems.
- Make sure no bare wires are present.
- Look for marks on the wire that indicate heating or arcing.
- DO NOT overload circuits. If you blow breakers or fuses, investigate and correct the problem.
- DO NOT use extension cords to replace fixed electrical wiring.
- Maintain electrical motors on ventilation fans, heaters, and other equipment.
4. Post and enforce no smoking signs.
5. Separate hay and bedding from the livestock.
- Most insurance companies will only allow you to store a small amount of hay in the same building as animals. They may require a firewall between where you house the horses and where you store hay or bedding.
- Keep areas around barns and other outbuildings clear of brush, shrubs, woodpiles, and other materials that could feed a fire.
6. Check hay temperature or moisture before storing it in the barn.
- You can purchase a commercially available hay probe to check hay temperatures.
Hay baled too wet can become hot and ignite due to microbial activity and spontaneous combustion.
Fire detection doesn’t replace fire prevention.
- Not a good choice for barns due to the amount of dust and particles in the environment.
- Use them in relatively clean areas like tack rooms or lounges.
- Detects high temperatures or rapid increases in temperature.
- Most expensive and most accurate.
- Detects wavelengths of light from flames.
Some fire detection systems can connect to a telephone dialer, which can automatically place calls to homes, cell phones and/or emergency responders. These systems:
- Allow time to evacuate the barn.
- Speed emergency response times.
- Reduce damage from a fire.
Consider installing emergency lighting and lit exit signs. Emergency lighting will help if the power goes out or if there’s a lot of smoke. Lighting may be more important for commercial facilities.
Containing the fire prevents further spread and allows more time for people and horses to safely leave. Below are four guidelines to limit fire spread and devastation. These guidelines may not be possible for all horse owners. But in the design of a new facility or remodeling of an existing facility, you should consider them.
Separate fuel sources from where horses are housed.
Install fire walls or fire curtains.
- These structures slow or stop the spread of fire from one part of a building to another.
3. Install fire extinguishers.
- Place extinguishers throughout the barn, in easily accessible areas.
4. Install sprinklers.
- While this isn’t cost effective for everyone, sprinklers can provide time for an evacuation.
- Consider cold weather when choosing a sprinkler system. See the section on sprinklers below for details.
- The ABC type extinguisher will control the vast majority of small barn fires. The 10-pound size is portable and practical for most horse owners.
- Space extinguishers throughout the barn in convenient locations.
- Check extinguishers every few months to ensure they maintain their charge.
- Check with your local fire department to test and refill extinguishers annually.
Water is held in the pipes under pressure and will flow immediately when triggered. This is a problem in cold weather states and many generally do not use these in unheated barns.
In a dry pipe system, gas pressurizes the pipes and pumps the water supply only as needed. This prevents water from freezing in the pipes. Besides being more expensive, dry pipe systems require more water pressure to force the water through the pipes quickly.
In this system, gas also pressurizes the pipeline, and the valve is controlled electronically. Preacton pipes are the least prone to accidental tripping, but are more expensive.
Severe weather is beyond your control. In Minnesota, severe weather includes; tornadoes, lightning, floods, droughts, or blizzards.
Animals are generally safer outside than inside. Horses in the barn are more likely to be hurt if the tornado damages the barn. Horses outside will have greater risk of being struck by lightning.
The tallest point in an area attracts lightning. The safest place for animals during a lightning storm is inside a building. If shelter is not possible, move your horses away from the tallest point and from standing water. Have a properly installed lightning rod and ground system for your barn.
To prepare for a long blizzard, ensure there is enough forage for the horses. You may need a generator and fuel to run necessary electrical equipment (heating systems, water pumps, and lighting).
Fortunately, in a drought situation there is time to prepare. Unfortunately, the length and severity of a drought is unpredictable. To best prepare for a drought:
- Stockpile hay if possible, and identify backup sources for hay.
- Identify alternate water sources.
- This is important if you rely on surface water or a shallow well.
- A horse's water intake needs to increase during hot, dry periods.
- Be alert to fire hazards and increased fire risk.
- Remove horses from pasture to maintain the health of the pasture and the horses.
- Look for poisonous plants.
- When feed is short, or horses are hungry, plants that horses normally avoid become a tempting source of feed. For more information on poisonous plants, see the University of Minnesota Extension book "Plants Poisonous or Harmful to Horse in the North Central United States."
Horse owners need a flood plan if in proximity to a low area, a stream, a river, or a floodplain. During a flash flood there is limited time, so preparation is key. To prepare for a flood consider:
- Have an evacuation plan.
- Watch for down power lines.
- Have an electrical generator and supply of fuel ready on higher ground.
- A generator is a critical piece of equipment to have during a power outage.
- Look for debris before returning horses to paddocks and pastures.
- Listen for reports of infectious disease outbreaks.
- Outbreaks of diseases such as anthrax or Potomac Horse Fever can occur among animals in some areas of the country.
- These outbreaks tend to occur during hot weather immediately following a flood.
Have emergency contact information and first aid kits accessible in the barn.
Severe human injury
Take a first aid and CPR training course. Check American Red Cross for dates and locations of classes.
Severe horse injury
Learn how to create and use a horse first aid kit.
Infectious disease outbreak
In the event of an infectious disease outbreak:
- Have a quarantine area.
- Be able to isolate infected horse(s). Consider this when planning a facility or emergency plan.
- Use separate grooming equipment and tack for infected horses.
- Have materials available to clean grooming equipment and tack.
- Soak what you can in disinfectant solution. Don’t soak leather in bleach. Wash blankets when possible.
- Prepare a bleach foot bath and hand sanitizer.
- Have a 10 percent bleach foot bath at the barn door for everyone going into and out of the infected area.
Barn designs should include
- Multiple exits
- Use of curtains or firewalls
- Fire resistant materials
- Good ventilation
- Hay storage separate from animal housing
- Easy access to water
- Quarantine areas
- Located out of flood plain and other wet areas
- Facility and ground cleanliness
- Local veterinarian
- Local fire and police departments
- Horse Facilities Handbook by Midwest Plan Services
Reviewed in 2018