9 Ways to Keep the Smell Out of Your Barn

Reduce unwanted odors on your farm to keep your animals healthy and your neighbors satisfied.

by Dani Yokhna
PHOTO: iStock/Thinkstock

Where there are animals, there is manure and its smell, which can be a cause of neighborhood discord. So what can you do to minimize the damage it does to your neighbor relations? Before we get into those tips, don’t forget about its impact on your animals’ health. Urea and ammonia, compounds released from manure, are very caustic and can cause foot injuries, as well as increase an animal’s risk of developing pneumonia. Manure also carries many parasites, bacteria and viruses that cause diseases in the animals and the people handling them. By reducing odors on your farm, you are improving your herd’s health and therefore their production, as healthy and comfortable animals produce best.

1. Prevent Overcrowding
Always ensure your animals have enough space both inside their shelter and outside in the paddock. Often producers don’t create enough shelter for all the animals because they are trying to save money and most animals don’t use the shelter unless the weather is poor. When the weather is inclement or you experience cold winters that require keeping the animals inside for more of the day, you need to ensure that the animals won’t be crowded. When the weather is good, you need to ensure there is enough space for all of your animals out in the pasture. Overcrowded pens accumulate manure—and therefore odor—faster. Often the ventilation and drainage systems are not able to keep up if there’s not enough room.

2. Clean Routinely
Odors are worse when manure piles up too much for the ventilation to handle. Cleaning regularly is the best way to keep odors down. Proper cleaning also lets your disinfectants work better and reduces the incident of disease.

3. Don’t Confuse Cleansers and Disinfectants
Many people think that disinfectants, such as bleach, will work without properly cleaning the surfaces, but this isn’t the case. Disinfectants need to reach the bacteria and viruses that cause disease and odor as they break down the manure. On top of that, disinfectants don’t actually clean any of the odor causing manure or urine. To properly clean and disinfect you need to use a surfactant, commonly called detergent, to break down the manure and dirt before applying a disinfectant. Every disinfectant has a contact time that it needs to kill bacteria and viruses properly before you rinse. Read the label of the disinfectant product you choose to ensure it can work it’s best.

4. Cover Up Lagoons with Straw
If you have a lagoon drainage system, covering it with straw, corn stalks or wood chips will help slow the release of odor. Other covers include tarps and using buried septic fields.

5. Compost Manure
Properly composting manure helps reduce the amount of odor by both slowing odor release and speeding up the manure’s digestion to soil. As an added benefit, you get rich fertilizer to use on your farm or sell to gardeners and landscapers.

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6. Provide Adequate Barn Ventilation
A properly designed barn will have a ventilation system to help prevent odor buildup. These systems range from passive airflow by utilizing windows and raisable walls and roof vents to forced air systems with fans. Always ensure that the ventilation system is able to handle the number of animals you keep, particularly in cold weather when the ventilation system will be turned down to conserve heat.

7. Lay Enough Bedding
By providing a deep bedding, such as straw or wood shavings, you can significantly reduce odor. In winter, you can compost the manure in the shelter, creating a manure pack beneath the clean bedding to provide some heat as it composts.

8. Utilize Washable Surfaces Wherever Possible
While wood had a nice appearance and is cheap to use, it’s not easy to disinfect properly and absorbs odors. Regardless of how well you clean, porous surfaces take on odors over time that you’re unable to remove. They also trap bacteria and viruses that can cause disease. At the very least, ensure that all surfaces are painted to create a good, washable surface. Ideally you will be able to use water sealed cement, stainless steel and plastic puck-board, but often we must compromise because they can be expensive.

9. Harrow Pastures to Break Up Manure
Most animals use a specific area as a bathroom, creating a buildup of manure. By harrowing the pasture to break up the manure piles, you let it dry out, reducing the amount of smell. The sun’s ultra-violet light is also anti-microbial and anti-parasitic, reducing the numbers of pathogens in your pasture.

These are just a few tips to help you keep your farm’s odors under control and by all means, not the only ones. Most importantly, remember that proper cleaning, drainage, ventilation and clean bedding go a long way in reducing unwanted smell.

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