In this peak time of year for thunderstorms and extreme weather, are your horses safe?
The one force of nature that leaves me feeling paralyzed and helpless is lightning. In New England, we’ve already had a few storms that left us saying, “WOW! That was intense.”
I came home one August afternoon in driving rain and got drenched in the 8 feet from car to house door. My daughter was standing in the center of the room with my digital camera snapping shots of the weather. My first question was, “Where are the horses?” They were standing in the center of one pasture, rumps to the rain, enjoying the deluge and rinse.
Since none of the horses are shod, I always think, Hmmm…Are they safer? Answer: NO.
Years ago, I saw 16 dairy heifers standing on a hillside get zapped by lightning. It struck the ground 30 feet from where they stood and traveled through the water running down the hillside. They were barefoot, just like the horses. It is the high water content in their body mass that acts as the conduit.
Average household electrical current is 120 volts and can cause serious injury or heart attack. The average lightning bolt is 15 million volts! The most common cause of death from electrocution is heart attack.
Of barns struck, the major cause of death is fire and the resulting depletion of oxygen. Many new and modern barns are full of metal: roofing, stall door tracks, copper water lines, fluorescent lighting fixtures, wires, etc.
Since barns pose the highest risk, it makes good sense to make sure your lightning protection is in place and working, and, most importantly, installed by an expert. A few terms handy to know about lightning protection are:
- Air Terminals are the rods you see along the ridgeline of a building.
- Down Conductor is the woven copper or aluminum wire which is attached to each Air Terminal and runs down the side of a building to the ground rod.
- Ground Rods are made of copper and driven 10 feet into the ground. They are typically located about 2 feet away from the building.
- Secondary Connectors tie together other metal components within a barn such as copper water pipes, stall door tracks, phone lines, etc.
Electrical and phone systems, if installed by a professional, should already be protected by “ground faults and surge protectors.” If you have any questions at all seek professional help.
Assuming your barn is protected and safe, when you sense pending storms, don’t wait until it is right on top of you; be pro-active and move horses indoors. A good rule of thumb for gauging distance from a storm is: sound travels at 1100 feet/second or 1 mile every 5 seconds. If a storm is three miles away, there will be 15 second lapse between the lightning strike and resulting BOOM!
You can obtain hazard insurance for horses against lightning strikes, but having a well protected barn and getting them under cover is still the best peace of mind. Most builders install lightning protection on barns or can direct you to a specialist. This is one job that warrants professional assistance. When in doubt, seek guidance and help. Crossing one’s fingers does not always work.
Josh Nelson started Beaver River Associates in 1987 and it soon became the largest worm composting operation in New England. Beaver River is the main supplier of worm composting supplies to Washington State University and Josh actively consults with municipalities in the northeast on organic waste recycling.