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April 22, 2011

Eight Ways to "Green" Your Barn

Photo by © corocota/Fotolia.com.

Horse people aren't always known for being the best environmentalists. Unfortunately, there just isn't a good way to drive horses all around the country that doesn't involve lots of diesel fuel and giant gas-guzzling vehicles.

However, that doesn't mean we can't go green around the barn. In honor of Earth Day, we've put together a list of some simple changes you can make that will really have an impact. Living the green life isn’t as complicated as it seems. And not only is it good for the earth, it’s good for your wallet.

Here are eight ways you can help save the planet, while also saving money:

1. Catch your rain water!

Using a rain barrel to collect the water that runs off your barn room will reduce runoff, help protect waterways and save money on your water and sewer bill. Just a half-inch of rain on a 1,000-square-foot roof will produce more than 300 gallons of water! You can use the stored water to clean tack, rinse wash racks and barn aisles, or water arenas and landscaping. Rain barrels can be purchased at many garden supply stores or online. Better yet, look for a make-your-own workshop; many local governments and non-profits offer them and will even provide all the materials, including repurposed 55-gallon plastic drums. With $50 and a few hours, you can go home with your own barrel with spigot. 

2. Buy used.

Not only is it easier on your wallet to purchase previously owned tack and equipment, but you’ll also be sparing the natural resources needed to manufacture, package and transport new products. Freecycle (freecycle.org) is a great way to find free (yes, free) anything and everything; all you have to do is pick it up. Also, try Craigslist, eBay and the bulletin board at your local tack shop or feed store.

3. Compost your manure.

Composting creates free pasture fertilizer, reduces your manure pile (or eliminates the expensive costs of hauling manure away), and kills insect larvae and weed seeds. You can also add grass clippings, dead leaves, tree prunings, dog or horse hair and kitchen waste, such as fruit and vegetable peelings, egg shells and coffee grounds. A compost pile can help reduce your garbage output enormously.

Composting takes some effort to manage, but the rewards are well worth it. You need 4'x4' bins that allow enough air for aerobic microbes (oxygen-loving organisms) to break down the compost ingredients into a natural, nutrient-rich fertilizer. You can build containers from picket fences, woven wire and stakes, or pallet bins (many contractors or stone masons will give away old pallet bins, which work great). Dump your compostable materials in 6-inch layers, alternating green (grass, kitchen waste, manure) with brown (straw, leaves, tree prunings). Moisten the pile. To allow the compost to heat up (and thus start the breakdown of materials), turn the pile every three weeks for two months, then every six weeks. For cold composting, just throw in materials as they become available. The difference is hot composts create soil in about two months, whereas cold composts take about a year.

4. Repurpose items around the barn.

You can use feed bags as trash can liners or lay them in garden rows to kill weeds and prevent mud. Plastic supplement tubs are handy for holding individual servings of feed, or odds and ends in the tack room. Larger supplement buckets can be filled with sand or rocks and used for dressage arena letters. (And when you finally run out of uses for supplement containers, offer them to others on Freecycle.) Worn-out saddle pads or pillow wraps make great beds for the barn cats. Whenever you can give an item that would otherwise be thrown away a second life, you’re conserving the resources that would go into making a new item and keeping trash out of the landfill.

5. Buy things in bulk.

You’ll not only be getting the product at a cheaper price, but for items purchased online or out of a catalog, you’ll be saving on shipping costs. Plus, buying in bulk cuts down on packaging waste. Buy hair detangler, fly spray and shampoo in gallon bottles, and just keep refilling smaller spray or squirt bottles for everyday use. Ask your local retail store to carry bulk items or special order for you.

6. Line-dry your horse laundry.

By letting the sun do the work instead of your dryer, you’ll save money on your electric bill and reduce carbon dioxide emissions, which contribute to climate change. For extra green bonus points, create your clothesline from hay bale strings, or just throw towels and saddle pads over the fence.

7. Carry reusable water bottles.

Although it’s important to stay hydrated in the warmer summer months when competing or working around the barn, do the Earth a favor and use your own bottle that you can fill at the tap, rather than store-bought bottled water. It takes 17.6 million barrels of oil to produce the 28.6 billion plastic water bottles that are used each year, 80 percent of which end up in a landfill instead of being recycled, according to TakeBackTheTap.org. (How many recycling bins do you see at horse shows?) Bottled water is also much more expensive—around $10 per gallon, as opposed to $.002 per gallon for tap water. And contrary to popular belief, bottled water isn’t any healthier. Much of it is simply packaged municipal tap water.

8. Reduce energy consumption. Turn off the lights and unplug everything when you leave the barn. Radios, cell phone chargers, computers and most other electronics continue to pull energy from the socket even if they’re turned off, but you can invest in a smart power strip that will cut off current to appliances that are turned off. Also, switching to compact fluorescent light bulbs is not only an excellent way to save money, but it also means you’ll be climbing up in the rafters to change dusty, cobwebby light bulbs much less often!  

Got green tips for horse owners? Post them in the comments!

 
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