Written by: Mike Barker & Ryan Ollson

What might the farm of tomorrow look like?

Thumbnail for The Farm of the Future

Can we design horse farms that not only provide the functional requirements necessary for keeping horses, but also produce energy, provide bird and insect habitat, treat and reuse water onsite, helping to reduce the amount of water drawn from local aquifers? Can we use materials that are both sustainable and contextually appropriate, becoming integrated with the landscape?

These are some of the questions we asked ourselves when setting out to produce this speculative project about improving the ecological footprint of horse farms. Some of the ideas can be accommodated simply through effective siting of facilities or planting appropriate plant species. Others take more forward thinking and a desire from the industry and landowners to develop farms and facilities that tread more lightly on the environment. An exciting, potentially profitable opportunity also exists for farm owners willing to invest in larger infrastructure such as solar fields or wind turbines, as developing compact farms opens up space to new opportunities.

Small Scale Wind: Wind energy used to run exercisers, treadmills and other small energy input equipment.

Rammed Earth Structure: A low-impact alternative to concrete that uses locally sourced building materials and soil to create an aesthetically pleasing and more ecologically responsible building envelope.

Vegetated Roofs: Vegetated or planted roofs provide increased insulation to the stable, provide bird and insect habitat, aid in collecting and cleaning storm water for reuse, produce oxygen and allow the stable to integrate with its natural surroundings.

White Roofing Membrane: A heat-reflective roof surface, which contributes to a reduction in interior building temperature and reduces isolated ‘hot spots’ in the environment caused by dark-coloured roof and road surfaces.

Natural Ventilation: Clerestory windows, large stall openings and appropriate orientation creates passive ventilation, reducing the need for energy-consumptive mechanical air movement systems.

Windows: Energy efficient, operable windows aid in maintaining proper ventilation in stable and arena, provide day lighting and allow for connections to the outside for both humans and horses, while reducing the need for artificial lighting.

FSC Wood: At a minimum, all wood used in the buildings should be Forest Stewardship
Council certified. Alternatively, fast-growing woods such as bamboo provide a sustainable product that can be used for cladding, structural (as a laminated product) and finishes.

Interior Finishes: Use only paints and coatings with ‘low-VOC’ (volatile organic compounds) ratings. Not only beneficial for environmental reasons, but also healthier for humans and horses, as toxic chemicals are removed from the air stream.

Maintain and Add Hedgerows: Keep development from disrupting wildlife corridors. Study wildlife movement patterns and add vegetated corridors to support wildlife movement through farm.

Plant Trees: Planting large numbers of trees provides habitat, cleans the air, stabilizes soil, produces oxygen, allows a human connection to nature and adds to the beauty of the countryside.

Compact Development: Clustering residences with the equine infrastructure reduces the amount of land needed for roads, pipes, and other service systems.

Orient Structures Appropriately: Orient short ends into wind to reduce the amount of structure that is buffeted by cold winter winds. In this example a northwest wind is assumed.

The goal of this article is not to provide a comprehensive guide, but rather provide ideas for further thought and dialogue. There are several elements that due to the scope of this project have not been addressed. One of the most obvious is the notion of an eco-effective riding surface that does not use valuable mineral resources, water or petroleum-based binding agents, and is premanufactured near to source and installed simply and efficiently. When its useful life is up, it becomes nutrients for nearby food crops.

However, these are simply futuristic musings that do not provide a viable solution today, which the rest of the ideas outlined here do. With thoughtful and visionary design, horse farms can play a role in improving the countryside ecologically as well as aesthetically.