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Making your barn safe for winter

barn-winterEvery year I read about barns that have burned down – these are terrible tragedies for farmers and for any animals who may have been trapped inside.

It’s so important to do a review of your barn’s safety especially before winter sets in.  Winter is a time when you may be stalling animals, using heat lamps, storing hay bales, and increasing bedding such as straw, which is highly flammable.

Here are a few tips to start off your safety evaluation.  I recommend that you follow up on serious concerns with an evaluation from your local fire department and other professionals.

The easy steps:

  1. Remove those pesky cobwebs!

    Remove those pesky cobwebs!

    Remove all cobwebs.  Cobwebs light on fire like dryer lint. Most barns are full of them. They can be removed with a broom, or better, cleaned off completely with a shopvac. You’ll need to do this at least once a year, because spiders love barns. And spiders are good; they eat other insects. But the cobwebs they leave behind should be completely eliminated.

  2. badheatlamp

    Don’t use these in your barn!

    Don’t use the cheap heat lamps you get at your local hardware or farm store. These are notorious for causing fires.  If you must use a heat lamp (for example, if you have elderly or newborn animals), the heat lamps made by Premier get good safety ratings – nothing is foolproof, but they are solidly built and have a strong protective guard.

  3. Prohibit smoking anywhere near your barn or any hay/straw storage areas.
  4. Install fire extinguishers at every entrance of your barn and check them regularly to make sure they are charged up.
  5. Keep your barn clean. It’s fine to use bedding for your animals’ comfort, but if you use a “deep bedding” method, you will know that the moisture causes the bedding to heat up – and this can be combustible.  Deep bedding is a hazard (and a bear to clean up in the spring, too!).  Throw away used feed bags and don’t keep chemicals near your barn that are flammable.
  6. Install a smoke alarm. I’ve heard mixed reviews on this idea; some say that the dust inherent in barns will set off false alarms. However, I’d personally rather get up for a false alarm than not be alerted to a real one.
  7. Use common sense. Look around, look up and down, check your loft, your tack room, and any other storage areas for potential hazards.

Getting serious about safety – next steps

  1. Call your local fire department and ask them to do an evaluation for you. They will see fire hazards that you may have missed.
  2. Install a lightning rod on your barn. 
  3. Hire a licensed electrician to inspect the wiring, especially making sure that there is no exposed wiring in your barn.  Rodents and other creatures nibble on exposed wires, and this can cause a short.  Also make sure there is a dedicated breaker system for your barn.
  4. Bring out a building inspector or a good home inspector to review potential structural hazards.
  5. Install a sprinkler system.

There are no guarantees that even in taking all these steps you will be completely protected; but you should sleep better at night knowing that you’ve done all you can to protect your buildings, your assets, and your animals’ lives.

Other resources:

Barn Safety Expert Offers Fire Prevention Tips

Fire Prevention and Safety Measures around the Farm

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