Dust control is an important part of maintaining the cleanliness of your barn, arenas and round pens – and the health of you and your horses!
Everyone is harmed by dust. Both outdoors and indoors, it puts people and horses at risk of respiratory illness. This means it’s vitally important to find natural ways to reduce dust in your barn, arena and other areas where you and your horse reside or work.
Clean oxygen is the lifeblood of every cell in our bodies, and when that oxygen is filled with dust particles, it gravely affects our performance. Liken the respiratory system to a machine – as the machine collects dust, the filter gets clogged and reduces its ability to work efficiently.
Logically, any type of respiratory blockage affects overall health. It’s well documented that respiratory illnesses weaken the immune system, scar lungs, hinder reproduction and hamper the ability to heal. While many respiratory illnesses are caused by bacteria or viruses, many are also caused by exposure to pollutants or irritants in the environment that directly affect oxygen consumption.
Defining dust – pollutant or irritant?
Respiratory irritants include things like smoke, chemicals and dust, whereas pollutants are thought of as indoor particulate materials and allergens. We can mitigate their effects by controlling them, but first we must identify them.
In the equine industry, dust is the number one irritant. Dust can be composed of dirt, clay, hay fines, shavings, sawdust, mulch, mycotoxins, mold and/or dander.
Depending on the individual human or horse, irritants and pollutants can affect just the respiratory system or may evolve into other complications. Unfortunately, no one is immune – young or old, strong or weak, healthy or not – so managing dust in your barn, arenas and round pens is crucial.
The importance of dust control
Regardless of where your farm is located or how it’s set up, there will always be respirable dust in the air you and your horses breathe. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), “silica dust less than 10 µm is light enough and has enough surface area to stay airborne long enough to travel beyond occupational zones.” Fortunately, you can improve this inevitable problem with good barn-keeping tasks and natural dust control products.
Dust control do’s and don’ts
- DO rinse mud or brush dirt from your tractor’s wheels before entering your arena
- DON’T add new untreated footing to your dust-controlled footing
- DO brush your horse outside or near the wash rack and rinse the dirt down the drain
- DO beat mud-crusted, dusty blankets outside, away from your barn and arenas
- DON’T add old shavings, sawdust, wood chips or mulch to footing; aging wood products break down into dust particles
- DON’T store hay in the same barn your horses live in – it is very combustible, and contains mold spores and dusty particles
- DO send your horses outdoors while cleaning the barn/stalls, and wait 20 minutes before bringing them in so the dust can settle
- DO wear, if possible, a N95 NIOSH mask when cleaning stalls or dragging the arena.
Dust control options
Water your arena thoroughly and let it soak overnight to keep footing moist longer. It is not uncommon to spend three hours putting down 20,000 gallons of water, since hitting the surface with a “light spray” leads to quick evaporation.
This isn’t the most eco-friendly option, and many states are mandating the conservation of water. If it’s permitted in your state, you can harvest rainwater and use that – however, any strategies or products that reduce water use are beneficial to all.
Apply salt at 50 pounds per 1,000 square feet – it’s inexpensive, readily found, and prevents freezing. It should be refreshed every six months.
Salt is corrosive to tractors, locks, hinges and anything metal when airborne. It also dries out saddles, horse hooves, soles, frogs, lower legs and leather boots, and should therefore be wiped off after exposure. A heavy rainstorm may wash it away or dissolve it if used outdoors, and the runoff isn’t good for plants.
Peat moss has become quite popular as an arena footing. Though initially expensive to install, it has great longevity and is easy to maintain – just empty a bag here or there. It may become slippery if overwatered, and lose its stability.
Though this dust control option is inexpensive, it’s not recommended. It rusts all metal within a barn – shovels, tractors, picks, etc. – and can burn nostrils and hoof pads. It is also known to damage trees, bushes, grass and plants, and may cause scratches.
There are two types – organic and petroleum. Palm oil, mineral oil and soybean oil coat fine dust particles, increasing their weight, which results in less airborne dust. With semi-annual application of plant oil, less is needed each time, which reduces future costs. Over time, however, some oil may become rancid.
Utilizing motor oil for controlling dust is an environmental hazard, very slippery and against the law nationwide.
This option works very well, but it’s expensive. Similar in mode-of-operation to oil-based products, it combines small particles with larger ones to weigh them down, resulting in less blowing dust. Subsequent applications take less product.
This option is great for both outdoor and indoor arenas, as well as all types of organic footing and rubber/fabric mixes. One gallon treats a 100’ by 100’ area to 3” to 4” deep. It attracts dust and forms larger particles, which then become part of the footing material. It keeps footing damp longer and reduces the amount of water needed by at least 50%.
This option cannot be used for outdoor arenas or round pens, since rain or snow will either wash it away or cause it to permeate into the footing. Magnesium chloride does not freeze, and pulls moisture from the air to reduce dust. A 100’ by 100’ arena may require two pallets or more to start, then will need to be maintained with one pallet every two to six months. Overtreatment could result in less-than-ideal footing, making it either slippery or hard like concrete. All remaining bags should be stored indoors in an area that’s protected from moisture; be sure to rinse your spreader after use!
Silicone gel and crystals
Analyze a sample of your footing for correct pH levels, pollutants, salt or oil content before choosing a product. Upwards of 1,400 pounds may be needed for a 100’ by 100’ arena. Ensure the material does not become either overwatered or dry. Rehydrating the material can be challenging.
On average, humans take 23,000 breaths per day, and adult horses take 14,000. Make them count by taking steps to eliminate dust on your farm!