The Zen of Mucking Out

I love mucking out. Odd, yes, I know, but I do. I find it therapeutic, and it fulfills my need for instant gratification. For me, there’s nothing more satisfying than turning a dirty, disgusting mess of a stall into a beautiful-smelling, perfectly clean palace in which a horse can happily eat, drink, roll and sleep.

I have mucked out in barns large and small most of my life, and while there are about a hundred ways to clean a stall, I am going to let you in on my method, which I have found to be the most efficient way to muck out while keeping the needs of the horse uppermost in mind. I know there are easier ways, I’m certain there are faster ways, there are likely even better ways. But this is the way I do it.

First, you have to start with the right tools. The list is short. Wheelbarrow or muck skip, stable fork, broom and shovel. This is all  you need, but you do need them all. Gather them and put them close to your stall.

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If at all possible, I would suggest mucking out while the horses are turned out. If the weather is nasty and everyone is staying in, then move the horse to the crossties, or tie him up in the stall with a small net of hay to keep him happy and out of your way. There’s nothing that will slow your efforts more than having your horse plant himself in front of the wheelbarrow, or, worse still, trying to escape out over the wheelbarrow!

Take out the feed tub and water bucket, and put them wherever it is that you do your daily (yes, I said daily) scrubbing out of buckets. You can deal with them once the stall is clean (I find it most time-effective to scrub all of the buckets at once, in kind of an assembly line).

So, with a stall empty of buckets and (hopefully) horses, it’s time to get to work. I start with the stable fork, and remove any pee spots. If you clean out the same stalls for any period of time, you’ll start to know where these are. Horses tend to pee in the same place, and after awhile you’ll be able to go right to them. Don’t be fussy about taking them out. Just scoop away. Getting the urine-soaked bedding out is the most important part of the process. Go right down to the floor.

Next, scoop any obvious piles of manure. You know, the big piles. The ones you can get your fork right under and take out without removing too much of the clean bedding around them. Now your work is almost half done.

Note – if you have stall mats that don’t perfectly fit the stall, you’re going to have urine soaked bedding packed down between them. There’s no way around this. And you’ve got to get it out. Get right in between the mats with fork & broom and get that gross-ness out!

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Next comes the fun part. It’s called “banking”, and it’s where you get to work out all of your frustrations (this is the therapeutic part). Find a clear part of the side of the stall, and start making a little pile of clean-ish bedding against the wall. Try to make it fairly tall and narrow so there’s a bit of a slope. Then, start hurling fork-fulls of the rest of the bedding toward the top of the pile. Clean bedding will add to the pile, and the manure will roll to the bottom, making it easier to remove without taking out too much clean bedding.

photo 1(5)Carefully remove the manure, shaking the fork to let any clean bedding fall to the floor.

photo 1(4)Once all of the manure (and any soiled bedding) is removed, sweep the stall floor. Sweep soiled bedding that you want to remove to the centre and remove it with your shovel (the fork won`t get it all, it will leave some behind), and then sweep clean bedding up against the sides of the stalls. If you have time, leave it like this for awhile so your floor will dry. The easiest way to have a fresh-smelling barn is to allow the floor to dry before you cover it back up again. Use this time to go on and do a few more stalls (I do all the stalls to this point, then come back and pull the bedding down in assembly-line fashion). I also use the “drying” time to scrub my feed tubs & water buckets (and, of course, sneak out to the paddock to take pictures of the horses. I’m a photographer, so that’s what I do. You can do whatever you want).

Now, while we’re letting those floors dry, let’s take a moment to talk about day beds vs. night beds.

In my perfect barn, my plan is to have the stalls open up directly into each horse’s paddock. So during the day, they’ll be wandering in and out of the stall for water, hay, shelter, etc. In order to save my bedding from becoming completely trampled & soiled by dirty hooves, I’m going to make a day bed after morning muck out, and then a night bed at the end of the day when I do the picking out & bring the horses in for the night.

To make a day bed, after you’ve mucked out, pull down just enough bedding to cover the floor. Leave the remainder banked up against the stall walls. This will give enough of a bed to encourage the horse to lie down if he likes, and to keep urine from splashing up off the floor onto his legs when he pees, but it will keep the majority of your bedding fresh and clean.

Image found at www.horseandhound.co.uk

At night, I`ll pick out any manure or urine left from the day, then add fresh bedding to the floor of the stall to make a nice, deep bed for sleeping (as I mentioned in a past post about bedding, I like to leave bedding banked up against the stall wall to prevent horses being cast, and to keep drafts out).

To finish up, put your nicely scrubbed out water buckets back in the stalls (I`ll fill mine now, since horses will be in and out to use them, but if your horses are turned out and aren`t going to be back in their stalls until suppertime, leave the buckets empty and fill them with fresh water just before the horses come in. Leave the freshly cleaned feed tubs either in the feed room or outside the stall waiting for supper grain, and sweep the floor. To keep dust down, I like to put a light sprinkling of water on the floor before I sweep. This is easy to do with your average every-day garden watering can.

Put away your mucking-out tools, and turn off the lights. You`re done! And in case you`re wondering… using this method, it takes me about an  hour to muck out the three stalls at our barn, including scrubbing buckets, knocking down any cob-webs, tidying the hay & shavings areas, and sweeping the floor (this is without rushing, and with factoring in time spent leaning against Sunny`s dutch door watching her graze or play… but that is all a part of the mucking out process for me)!

photo 5Happy mucking out, and Happy Holidays to all of my followers!

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