Baby-Proofing the Barn
It’s January, and 2014 foals are coming any day now. (Unless you already have a 2014 foal, in which case, wow — that’s some impressive timing!) Are you ready for your four-legged bundle of joy? Make sure you’ve done your baby-proofing. With a human baby, you get a few months in which to remember to buy those foam strips and put covers on the electric outlets. But foals begin a path of banging, bumping, and general destruction within hours of birth — so the time to check out your barn and paddocks is now!
Get on all fours. You need a foal-eye perspective of the nursery, and the best way to do that is down on all fours, bumbling baby style. Throw down some clean straw and some dirty jeans (who are we kidding — all your jeans are dirty) and start looking for baby health hazards. A few examples of impending disaster include:
-Gaps in boards, especially if you have an earth floor which might be lower than your wall-boards. The space between a door and a wall can be hazardous as well. There is almost no space too tiny for your foal to get stuck in, so seal up the gaps.
-Splintered wood, including broken boards or boards which have warped and have protruding sharp edges.
-Protruding nails or screws, which may have come loose or changed positions as wood has settled or been kicked or banged out of place.
Examine feeders. Feeders and mangers can cause a surprising amount of damage. Search the Internet for the horror stories that abound — or better yet, don’t, and just take a look around your own farm. You need feeders and waterers with smooth edges, nothing with any sort of rust or jagged spots, and waterers that are at least waist-high, to keep nosy babies out. If there is any sort of hazard for climbing into something, and/or getting stuck in something, your foal will probably find it.
Check your fencing. The ideal pasture fencing for a foal is bouncy wire mesh with a board on top to keep adult horses from leaning over and bending the mesh down. If you have the rather more common post and rail fence, you’ll want to keep a close eye on where your foal is napping. A foal can easily sleep or roll too close to the fence and get caught beneath the lowest rail of the fence. And again, there is no gap between the fence and gate that is too small for a foal to find dangerous in some way. Make sure that gaps are filled in, and your hinges are set in opposing directions so that the gate can’t be lifted off its bolts if someone sticks their head through and lifts it with their neck.
Clean up your aisle. We all know horses are never loose in your barn aisle — until you have a foal. Foal escape happens to the best of us! You never know when someone will figure out how to get under the fence, take the gate apart, or just plain wrangle loose from your arms while you’re guiding the little guy to the paddock. So this means to avoid foal-wheelbarrow collisions — or any of the other dangerous things we keep in barns, like pitchforks, other horses in cross-ties — you must have a clear, tidy aisle and barn area — especially around turn-out time!
Having a foal around the farm can be a blessing — hey, they’re adorable, right? But they bring with them a host of problems that you might never have suspected. Enjoying a few minutes of peace as you watch your new foal asleep in the sunshine is bliss — just be ready, because the little darling is going to be awake and looking for trouble again before you know it!