The High-Tech Barn: Technology Upgrades to Consider for Your StableMarch 26, 2021
Evolving technology affects the equestrian world more than ever before. Advancements have made horse health monitors, ride tracking apps, and automated ride video tracking devices commonplace, but technology plays an equally important role in the stable. More than a convenience, technology can help to keep your horse and property safe.
Even if your barn doesn’t yet incorporate technology, you can add many of these devices and systems onto an existing barn, and it’s often simple to do. Consider upgrading your barn with these devices.
Alternative Energy Technology
Technology is changing the very way that barns operate, and Paul Baker, who works in the sales and social media departments for Country Carpenters, Inc., has seen that firsthand. “Having manufactured and assembled post and beam barns throughout New England for more than four decades, we have witnessed some of the same technologies clients enjoy in their homes being added to their barns,” he explains. “With so many of our barns fully or at least partially insulated, climate control technology has been a significant trend over the past decade.” Baker notes that split pump heating and air conditioning units have become particularly popular recently, and they offer climate control at a fraction of the costs of traditional units.
“Solar power is another significant trend we’ve seen incorporated into many of our barn builds,” says Baker. “Our barns have even been purchased specifically to serve as the solar array platform on numerous properties.”
While solar panels can be added onto an existing barn, it’s important to ensure that the structure is capable of supporting those panels. Baker explains that Country Carpenters, Inc. carries an engineer’s seal on their building plans, meaning that the barns are designed to satisfy stringent building codes, including roof loads capable of supporting heavy New England snow events. “These design criteria exceed load bearing requirements for the solar arrays we’ve seen installed on our barns,” he says.
He notes that adding on solar panels when a barn is being built may alter some of the steps taken in its construction. “For example, some panels have mounting components which are installed before roof shingles, and some are designed to be installed afterward. It’s also not uncommon for a client to request an interior mounting surface in keeping with the style of the barn for panels or other components associated with the array.”
If you’re considering adding solar panels onto your barn, Baker recommends that you do plenty of research. “Compare products, read reviews, and seek recommendations from unsolicited sources,” he advises. “Many municipalities are offering great incentives to residents considering going solar, so talk with your local officials.”
If you’re interested in building a barn and incorporating solar panels, then be sure to talk about this with your barn builder early on in the process. Baker recommends you discuss the intended uses for the barn and the amenities that you’re considering. This way, your builder can accommodate for those amenities in their plans, ensuring a more seamless process.
Video Surveillance Systems
Video surveillance systems have become more affordable and more accessible, making them practical for even smaller backyard barns. These systems provide the essential ability to monitor horses’ safety when you’re not in the barn, and they can also help to deter thieves and keep your horses and property safe.
When choosing video cameras for your barn, you’ll have many choices including home surveillance video systems and even baby monitors that run off of WiFi. But that dependence on WiFi can be an issue for rural barns that don’t have a reliable signal.
Barn Owl was founded to solve that issue. Hannah Parsons, Chief Operating Officer of Barn Owl, explains that Josh Phifer, Barn Owl Founder and CEO, grew up riding horses on farms and ranches, or driving around to check on assets like gates, fences, and water tanks. “During his Air Force career as a pilot, it struck him that tremendous technology existed to solve this remote monitoring problem, yet farmers and ranchers were largely still using manual labor to monitor their properties,” explains Parsons.
Rather than relying on WiFi, Barn Owl cameras use cellular connectivity. The cameras pair with a web app that you can use to view the cameras and keep an eye on your barn and horses. Because the cameras come with pre-activated SIM cards, customers can turn them on and immediately connect to the nearest cell towers, setting up the cameras and web app in just minutes. There’s no need for a third-party installation or monitoring, and customers don’t have any annual contracts. Plus, customers don’t have to go out to each camera to manually retrieve the memory card to monitor the happenings on their property.
Parsons notes that customers are using the Barn Owl system for multiple reasons. Many use it to monitor water tanks, especially during hot summers, ensuring livestock stay hydrated while saving time on the task of manually checking tanks. Other customers are relying on the cameras for security purposes. “Customers receive text or email alerts when cameras are motion triggered to capture photos or short videos,” explains Parsons. They can then access photos and videos on the Barn Owl web app by using any smartphone or device with internet connectivity. “The ability to move the cameras, change settings remotely, and view multiple cameras on one web application allows customers to use the solution for wildlife conservation, watching foaling, and remotely monitoring barns and equipment.”
Those benefits indicate that more barns are likely to adopt technology solutions in the coming years. “We’ve seen a significant increase in customers using our solution for security systems,” says Parsons. “Farmers and ranchers are saving time and money, and they’re protecting their property by monitoring it remotely. We anticipate a significant increase in adoption of technology solutions by farms and ranches in the coming years.”
Barn Management Apps
Managing a barn is a challenging job, especially when you’re balancing farrier and vet appointments, feed and shavings orders, worker schedules, and more. Technology like the Smart Barn App can help to keep all of that important information centrally located, and it allows you to stay connected to the barn even when you’re elsewhere.
The Smart Barn App founder and developer, Patrick Husting, was inspired to create the app when he saw the reactions to and popularity of his other app, the Equestrian App. Husting, who has more than 25 years of experience in the software industry, experienced the challenges of barn ownership and management himself, after building a house and barn in Washington. “Being a tech guy, we were already putting some smart technology like lighting, switches, and cameras into the house. I extended that out to the barn,” explains Husting. “I wanted that view into the barn – and what a blessing that was to this day. When I put cameras into my barn, I could check them on my iPad. Once, I caught a horse that was sick by checking in on the camera.”
But Husting noticed a communication disconnect with many of the professionals who worked with his horses. “The equine massage therapist would just leave a bill, the farrier would come and leave a bill, and I wanted to know, “What did you do? What did you find?” My instructor was teaching me to sit on my pockets during lessons, but there was no, “Here’s your current session and here’s what you should work on.” We need to document that and keep great records and use that going forward. This is especially true with healthcare – if you’re not tracking where you were to where you want to be, it’s never going to get better.”
Husting turned to the app market in search of a solution, but he found that there really wasn’t one. So, he wrote an app for himself to document his journey with horses. News of the app quickly spread, with other horse owners asking to use it. Husting officially released the Equestrian App in June of 2018.
The app’s popularity quickly grew. Today, the app is used by almost 20,000 horse owners, including the Russian Olympic team. Husting has developed and released more features, including ride history and tracking, show history tracking, horse weight tracking and charts, tack tracking, and more.
The newly released Smart Barn App builds on the functionality of the Equestrian App, but is designed specifically for barn owners. Barn owners can hang a tablet in their barn to feature the app, and Husting describes the system as being similar to an LCD panel in a home. The app’s features center around barn management, encompassing everything from equipment inventory to a to-do list.
“Your equipment and your tractors require maintenance, and with the app, you can track all of that,” explains Husting. “You can inventory that equipment and make sure that it’s maintained well, which means it will also last longer.”
The tablet serves to replace the traditional whiteboard that’s in so many barns, and it offers some distinct advantages over that traditional system. Barns with multiple staff can use the tablet and app to assign tasks. If a barn manager assigns a task to a worker, that worker will receive a notification on their phone or desktop, alerting them to the additional work.
The app also has a Marketplace function. Barn owners can enter and keep contact information for vets, farriers, bodyworkers, hay suppliers, and other important contacts, allowing staff to quickly and easily access this information when it’s needed.
Both the Smart Barn App and the Equestrian App work together. The Smart Barn App is free, and the Equestrian App is free for up to five horses. Paid subscriptions are available for upper-tier plans.
Setting Your Barn Up for Success
Many of these technologies can be incorporated into an existing barn, but if you’re planning to build a new stable, Baker suggests that you share your intended uses for the barn, as well as the technology that you want to incorporate, with your contractor at the beginning of the project. “Planning for such in advance is often much easier than adding technology in after the fact, and it may afford the opportunity to keep unsightly wires, cables, and pipes hidden,” he says.
If you haven’t yet incorporated technology into your barn, now is the time to start. Technology can already enhance barn management and horsekeeping practices, and advancements are made every year. Who knows what options might be available to barn owners in five, 10, or 20 years?
By Paige Cerulli