Hay lofts and other overhead spaces are a historically proven way to add valuable storage space to your barn without eating up square footage that you can devote to your horses’ living space, working space, and paddocks. There are also conveniences to keeping bulky items like hay on the second level — once you’ve got it up there, of course! But there are some cons to lofts as well. Let’s dive in and take a look at the pros and cons of hay lofts and overhead storage in your barn.
Hay loft pro: An easy hay-to-horse delivery system. If you’ve ever climbed up a stack of hay bales, thrown down the bales you need, lifted the bales into a cart or wheelbarrow, and then pushed or pulled the whole load into the barn, you know just how appealing any kind of time-saving hay delivery would be! It’s a tiring, time-sucking pattern that’s repeated at least twice a day by most horse owners. Some horsemen get around this with a hay loft, complete with gaps to throw down hay to individual stalls. Once your horse gets used to flying hay from heaven, it’s the easiest way in the world to deliver hay to stalls.
Hay loft con: The inevitable dust that comes with storing hay above your horses’ stalls and your working space. The best hay in the world is dusty and leaves a gentle sprinkling of broken stalks and seeds wherever it goes. Throwing hay down from a loft is going to produce a lot airborne dust just where you don’t want it — floating at eye and nose level, where it can become an irritant or worse to your horse’s mucous membranes. It’s a real concern to consider before adding a hay loft to your barn plans.
Hay loft con: Fire risk. Molding or decomposing hay creates heat, and spontaneous combustion has been connected with devastating blazes. Not to mention, hay is a tremendous source of flammable material if a fire were to break out from another source in the barn. A fire that might be contained will burn out of control if it reaches hay. The utmost precautions must be taken to ensure all the hay in your loft is fresh and mold-free, and any electrical connections in the loft should be kept at the highest level of maintenance. (Of course, this is true of any barn.) Safe storage practices must be taken from the time the hay is cut until the time it’s fed to your horses. (See this article at Horse Journal for more on safe hay storage.)
Storage loft pro: Efficient use of space. Horses aren’t great at second-floors, although there are barns in urban places like New York City where they actually do use ramps to get to their upper-floor digs. Chances are, though, you’re going to keep them all on ground level. When you’re running out of space on your property, though, it’s hard to carve out more land for storage. Why not put it upstairs? A loft with a ladder or simple stairs above your center aisle or stalls can give you plenty of room for all those horse blankets, garden tools, and whatever else you just can’t find room for in your barn.
Storage loft con: A loss of ventilation and light. When you start taking up the rafter space of your barn with floors and walls, you lose the advantage of airflow you might have had before. A raised center aisle barn designed to provide additional light through windows in the raised section of roof will need additional lighting if that space is replaced with a loft.
Utilizing a loft in your barn has everything to do with your personal preferences and needs. It might be the most efficient use of your space, or the only way to contain everything you need for your farm to run smoothly. If you’re considering a loft, consult an expert on the perfect design so that you’re not compromising light, ventilation or safety along the way.