Having been on numerous properties with my herd of up to 11 horses, I have noticed a few elements in barn or shelter design that result in a space that horses enjoy AND that provide protection from horseflies, while keeping cool in summer – but not too cold in winter! Let me share what I’ve learned…
Firstly, I had a bias that a big, airy shelter like this pole barn would be ideal for horses, because it would allow for the maximum amount of airflow:
But as you can see from this photo, I had to add a “wall” to one side for the winter because the wind blew cold air and also blew lots of rain into the shelter from this South end. In the summer, the ceiling height allowed lots of air to circulate, but this design does nothing to minimize horse flies.
My 80×200′ pole barn at my ranch near Vernon, BC, with it’s 24-foot roof, also does nothing to deter horse flies, although it is cool, with both plenty of shade and wind blowing through it. The horses love to sleep and shelter here during the hottest parts of the day, as long as the horse flies are not attacking:
For some reason, this is the shelter at the ranch that provides the most protection from those carnivorous horse flies. This structure is actually part of the original homestead on this ranch:
Note that it is enclosed on 3 sides, with a decently high roof and then a good-sized east-facing window for airflow. I have seen numerous horses bolt for this shelter when being harassed by horse flies.
This preferred ranch shelter above, is very similar to another barn at a property we boarded at – same 3 walls, with a window. But the window was smaller, south-facing and the open side was north-facing, so this shelter did not get nearly as much airflow:
Now, if you have the money or resources to build whatever you want, this next barn is ideal. Because it combines all the successful elements into one structure, so the horses can choose where they want to be, depending on the weather, bugs, wind, etc. I’m going to tell you exactly why this barn design is so brilliant:
I never knew before we boarded at this property how amazingly cool a barn with a high roof is! I don’t know exactly when this barn was built, but it would have been at least 40 years ago. This barn design has a central super high roof area (24 feet), and then two wings off either side; the roof on the North wing is 10 feet high and open on 3 sides, and the roof on the South wing is 8 feet high, sloping down to only 5 feet high (this side is where the wind blows the hardest – so it has the shortest roof and then the whole South side is boarded up, except for a gap at the top for airflow). When this was a cow barn, the feeders ran along the whole length of this South section, east to west.
This is what the North wing looks like – there is only a wall on one side (the other 3 sides are open) and this is their preferred spot to sleep during winter. This roof slopes from 10 feet down to about 8 feet:
The other fabulous thing about having a central area with a high roof, is you can host plenty of beneficial wasps (who will hugely reduce your fly and mosquito population), yet their nests will be well out of the way so they can happily co-exist with humans. Here’s my video on the mutually beneficial relationship we can have with wasps and hornets:
Although the south wing of this barn, where the cows were fed, slopes down incredibly low for a horse, not only have I not seen any of my horses whack their head on the ceiling, but this is their favorite meditation spot in summer. In addition, this is the best spot to escape those biting horse flies and a nice breeze always blows in from the east. Perhaps horse flies don’t like enclosed, darker structures? AND a quick search turned up this confirmation from Wikipedia:
“They prefer to fly in sunlight, avoiding dark and shady areas, and are inactive at night.”
So there you go, the best protection from horseflies is going to be a cool, yet darker, shaded structure.
This old barn is the coolest barn in summer, yet waterproof, windproof and warm in winter. I have two other pole barn shelters at this property (see pic below), but the horses will always choose the sloped roof cow shed in summer and the main big barn area in fall, spring and winter.
Don’t get me wrong, they will often eat from the slow feeders in these paddock shelters, and they really love the variety of options, which give them reasons to move around frequently (movement = exercise!). But if they’re choosing somewhere to lie down, it’s the North wing, and to meditate, it’s either the central area or the South wing of the big barn.
In case you missed it, here’s my video where I take you on a guided tour of my permaculture set-up at this property, where we boarded for 5 years:
So based on my experience, if you’re going to build a barn:
1. Determine which direction you get the most wind blowing during winter, because that’s the side you’ll need walls. But as per the South wing of my big barn, it may still be a good idea to leave a 6″ gap for airflow.
2. Does your wind tend to blow from a different direction during the summer? At our Langley property, the wind blew the strongest from the South during the winter. But during summer, we always had a nice breeze blowing from the East.
3. When you’ve determined where your wind blows from during the summer, plan your barn so that you can have a darker, 8-foot roof or lower, shaded area to deter horse flies – but make sure there’s a decent-sized window to let the wind in.
4. Make sure you have a section or area that’s open on at least two sides, with a really high roof (20-foot or higher is ideal) to provide cool shade and ideal wasp and owl habitats. Put an owl house up in the roof of this section if you can. Wasps will keep fly and mosquito populations down and owls will control rats, gophers, mice, etc.
If you’ve got a barn or shelter that works well for your horses, please post a picture below and tell us what works (and doesn’t work so well) – and be sure and let us know which direction you get the most wind blowing from 🙂