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Ammonia: Out Of My Barn!



Bedding and Flooring

Besides fresh air, the other ingredient for ammonia control is management. Bedding is useful to soak up urine and contain feces. One study revealed that wheat straw reduced ammonia (but not necessarily dust) in the air more than bedding with wood shavings or straw pellets. Kenaf fiber (made from the kenaf plant, related to cotton) is another bedding type that shows promise in its fluid absorption capacity.

Wheeler remarks, "One remedy is to bed stalls well with extra bedding placed where the horse soils most often. A slight slope to the stall floor spreads urine puddles to surrounding dry bedding for absorption. Frequent, at least daily, removal of soiled bedding is key to ammonia control."

She adds, "Porous flooring (packed dirt, clay, or stone dust) retains urine moisture (and associated odor/fumes) that reaches it. However, impervious flooring (concrete) suffers from being too hard for horses stalled all day." The use of tightly interlocking or seamless stall mats keeps urine from seeping beneath the mats where it wouldn't be accessible to absorbents or cleaning.

Ammonia-Absorbing Compounds

An enlightening study (University of Kentucky, 2000) indicated that despite daily stall cleaning, high ammonia levels persisted near the floor in stalls not treated with ammonia-absorbing compounds. Mazan comments, "It's a little worrisome when we see a study like this showing that despite bedding with straw and daily stall cleaning, ammonia at floor level rises from 2.5 to 228 ppm. The situation is worse for foals that spend more time lying down."

Urine contains urea (a product of protein metabolism) that is "broken down" (hydrolyzed) to ammonia and carbon dioxide through the action of the enzyme urease, a protein found in bacteria associated with feces and stall flooring materials that have been fouled with feces. Wheeler reports there are two points where this process can be disrupted effectively: "The first is by feeding a reduced-protein diet (that meets the requirements of the horse) but results in less urea content in the urine and, hence, less ammonia." (Feed supplements, like Yucca schidigera, have been used in ruminants to limit ammonia production and could have promise for use in horses, she notes.)

Wheeler continues, "The second is to stop urea hydrolysis by denying access to the enzyme urease; however, urease is ubiquitous in horse stalls. Some stall products contain urease inhibitors. Hydrated lime theoretically could reduce ammonia by creating a hostile, basic (high pH) environment that lessens survival of urease-containing bacteria."

A third option is to prevent ammonia from becoming airborne once it is formed. Many commercial products are available to use for this tactical approach. Wheeler reports, "Zeolites (minerals that absorb water and gases) have a high capacity for adsorption of ammonia molecules; clinoptilolite is a typical zeolite used for animal bedding. Another bedding product is diatomaceous earth that quickly absorbs water, thus lowering the potential for urease-containing bacteria to form ammonia."

Take-Home Message

Many strategies used to eliminate ammonia also diminish the airway insult created by dust, with an added benefit of eliminating fly attractants. These include:

  • Clean stalls once or twice daily to remove all urine-soaked bedding, and strip stalls at least weekly.
  • Remove horses from stalls while cleaning to minimize exposure to ammonia gases that are stirred up with raking and pitching of bedding.
  • Provide good drainage in stalls and aisleways to facilitate exit of urine, and regularly clean under mats when possible.
  • Use highly absorbent bedding materials.
  • Mix an ammonia-neutralizing product with clean bedding.
  • Provide excellent barn ventilation and avoid closing up a barn when possible.
  • Use slotted inlets at eaves that are open year-round to allow refreshment of air.
  • At every opportunity, house horses outside or turn them out regularly to offer a clean air environment.




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