I think most barns or sheds can be converted into a decent place for my horses and me. It's a fairly basic set of needs: shelter, feed storage, tack /equipment storage. I'm spoiled by modern amenities, so I'll add electricity and running water to that list. (One winter in my teens the pipe froze and we had to carry water buckets to the barn from the cellar of the house. Never again, if I have anything to say about it.)
I'd like to have a discussion about old barns, what we love about them and what ticks us off, and how we make the building work for keeping horses. This could take awhile but it's a subject I love! Old barns! History! Architecture! Hay!
Let me tell you about the barn my horses live in now.
It's not my barn, it's my dad's. He lets me use it. He likes horses, and doesn't like an empty barn.
I'm not sure how old it is, but I'm guessing around 130 years old. Give or take a decade. It's got massive beams with visible axe marks, from the time they were carved from even more massive trees. It's a design known as "Ontario bank barn." The animals are housed in the first floor and hay storage above.
Have a look inside.
It's a magnificent building. A couple weeks ago, before we got a load of hay delivered, the hay man asked me over the phone if we had room for 300 bales. Yup. We have room. Imagine that whole space filled with hay bales. That's exactly what it was designed for!
At the back wall, there's a yellow pail, which is where I throw the twine string after I cut if off the bale. (You DO NOT want that getting near the horses - twine and legs are a bad combo.) You can't quite see in this picture, but there's a trapdoor in the floor, right over the open shed below. This is right convenient. I just drop the hay through the floor. Gravity! Yeah!
If you think it looks like the beams are leaning to the left, they are. I'm not worried; Dad's lived here for almost 69 years and he says it's always been like that. It was probably built crooked. I doubt it's ready to fall over tomorrow.
I love this set-up. Because the barn's built into a slope, the hay mow floor is ground level. We can back a hay wagon straight in. Once the hay is stored, gravity helps me get it to the horses fast and easy.
Some people don't like this arrangement. There is a dust issue, although with a barn this -ahem- well ventilated, I don't find that dust is a debilitating problem. Some people refuse to store hay in the same building because of the fire risk, and that's totally understandable. I think knowing about hay is key here. I grew up with the rules about hay, specifically the dangers of hot hay. It doesn't go into the barn unless it's dried, never with stems still green and juicy. The stems have to break when you twist them. If it's dry and well cured, with no heat brewing inside the bale, you won't have spontaneous combustion. There is a lot of flammable stuff here, but anything that could cause a fire shouldn't be in your barn anyways. (And that is a whole other discussion. We'll do that one later.) But I get it. I prefer a barn with hay overhead, but I'll never tell someone they're foolish for having a separate hay building!
These pictures were taken up in the loft. The giant wooden wheels used to pull a load of loose hay up to the loft, but that was long before my time. I like to go up there and examine this system. It's simple, but it worked.
You know what? I've done a lot of horse chores. Shlepping hay is a huge pain. Call me lazy. Call me smart. Either way, the least amount of steps I have to take, the happier chore time is!
There's another trap door in the level under the loft, which I throw bales down to the first floor, where the stalls are located. It's a system that works for us.
Putting the hay into the loft requires a hay elevator. It's a lot of work... which is a big deal for me, hence the reluctance to waste a single step!
I'd love to hear from anybody else dealing with an old barn of any configuration -- the challenges, the advantages, and what you'd do different if you could. Or for that matter, what you'd keep if you could.
Oh my gosh, I just figured out that some days, when I'm really busy, I can spend as much time hanging around this barn as I spend in my bed at night. I'm not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing.