Last Updated on February 23, 2022 by Allison Price
A person can take some time to think while cleaning stalls. This repetitive chore allows you to think about your training goals, prioritize your horse tack wish lists, and consider the names of an expected foal. This is also an ideal time to review your bedding choices.
Most likely, you are using whatever bedding material is available in your area and within your budget. That’s fine, provided your horse is healthy and the bedding you choose is safe. It’s a good idea to look at other options. Although the primary purpose of bedding is to cushion and insulate the flooring surface, there are many factors that can affect the choice.
The availability and cost of bedding are important factors. Absorbency is another variable. Horses on high protein diets or horsekeepers who have tight mucking times may choose a highly absorbent material that can capture urine.Although the purpose of bedding is simple, it can be used to cushion and insulate the flooring surface. However, there are many factors that will affect the choice of bedding for each situation.
It can be difficult to weigh these factors. Brian Nielsen, PhD of Michigan State University, says that the bedding material should not be too soft so the horse will not be reluctant to lay down. The big question is whether the bedding material can be afforded. This is easier if it is readily available in your region. It might be great for bedding, but it may be too costly, especially if you need to ship it far.
Your location will determine the cost of your products. Bob Coleman, PhD, a University of Kentucky extension specialist, says that wood products can be quite affordable in some areas. This is because sawmills and manufacturing facilities have to remove sawdust and shavings. However, situations can change with economic changes. There are less byproducts if fewer people build houses and the lumber mills don’t make boards.
Below is a list of the most common bedding options and some comments from experts. This information will allow you to spend your next stall cleaning session thinking about the material you are sorting through.
PROS: Widely available, visually appealing
CONS can become moldy if it is not properly stored or harvested; horses might try to eat it. is not very absorbent.
Straw is the stalk of a plant that remains after it has been harvested. The hollow stalks can be cut, dried and then rolled. A whole grass or legume plant is used to make hay. It must be cut, dried, and then baled. The type of straw used depends on what plant it was supporting, usually wheat, oats, or barley.
Straw can be used to make soft bedding. Horses may be more comfortable if the straw is soft. Foaling horses with straw is a better choice than wood shavings.
Nielsen explained that foaling on sawdust or shavings can cause the baby to be completely covered in this material, which makes it more difficult for the mare to lick the foal. This is not an issue when straw is used.
However, straw is generally less dusty than wood products. This is only true if straw has been properly harvested and stored. Bales of straw should be checked for moisture and mold just like hay bales. If straw was harvested using a combine, which cut the stalks into shorter lengths that are more prone to shattering, it can become dusty. Although straw is not as tasty as hay, horses will still eat it. Consuming straw can cause problems like impaction colic and irritation to the mouth from the barbed seed heads left on the plants.
Coleman says, “Wherever I grew up we used straw.” It’s tried-and-true, and most people are familiar with how to use it. We were lucky to be able to get wheat straw. It is very absorbent, and horses don’t eat it. Barley straw was not an option as some heads had sharp awns which could puncture the mouth or get stuck. While you might find embedded seeds near your incisors and cheek teeth, it is not possible to locate abscesses that are back at the cheek teeth. This requires major dental care.
Nielsen also stated that straw’s absorption capacity is not very high. He says, “If you have ever cleaned stalls with straw bedded on them, you will notice that urine flows down through the straw and pools beneath it.”
Another concern in areas with cereal straw is the availability of suitable bales. Many farmers no longer make small bales. It’s cheaper to have large square bales. These are difficult to manage in a barn. Do you have any way to handle large straw bales? Barns that use large bales have had to rethink how they manage their day. Coleman says that it takes a large tractor to move them. Therefore, you need a plan.
Click here to learn more about the study that determined which bedding was most prone to bacteria.
Wood Product Bedding
PROS: More absorbent than straw; readily available
CONS: Wood can be dusty and cause allergic reactions. Prices can also vary depending on economic conditions.
Wood-based bedding tends to perform well. Nielsen says that wood products are able to hold water, perhaps a bit better than straw. However, this all depends on how it has been processed. Because it has a larger surface area than shavings, sawdust can absorb more water than shavings.
Sawdust, while more absorbent than shavings is also dustier than shavings. This can cause or exacerbate respiratory problems. Horses may also be affected by certain woods. Coleman warns that horses might react negatively to certain wood products. Coleman says that some cedars contain a lot oil, which can lead to allergic reactions and excessive drying-pulling moisture from the hoof horn. To determine if these products will work for your horse, you should first try a small amount.
Black walnut is a dangerous wood for horses. It can cause laminitis in horses who stand on it for any length of time. You need to know where your wood products come from and ensure that the product contains no black walnut. Coleman says that black walnut is safe in a small amount.
Although sawdust and shavings remain the most popular wood bedding options, pellets can also be used, according to Jenifer Nadeau PhD, an equine extension specialist from the University of Connecticut. She states that while pellets were popular in the past, they are now more expensive because they are popular for heating homes with pellet stoves.
Coleman agrees that pelleted timber products can be used as bedding. Pellets are a great option for horse owners because they can use less material. You get more volume when they become moistened. One shovelful pellets can turn into two to three shovelfuls of expanded pellets. A few pellets can be put down and then sprinkled with water to allow them to expand. The pellets don’t get very wet so they can still absorb moisture from the urine and manure.
Different pellets may have different hardwood and softwood types. Coleman says that heating stove pellets can be hardwood, while bedding pellets are a mix of softwood and hardwood. But you can use both for bedding.” It is crucial to identify the source and type of wood so that you don’t end up with black walnut wood.
Wood product beddings prices depend on many factors. “When there is a lot of construction/building going on, there are more wood products available and prices are lower because they are produced in higher quantities. They become more difficult to find and more expensive when construction slows down,” Nadeau says.Straw is a traditional bedding on breeding farms as it tends to not stick to a new foal.
PAPER PRODUCT BEDING
PROS: Absorbent; not palatable to horses
CONS: May require more frequent mucking; may be difficult to transport with a wheelbarrow
Many properties make paper suitable for bedding. Coleman says that some people make use of cardboard waste from cardboard box manufacturing plants. It can be used as bedding and absorbent. Horses won’t eat it.
He said, however, that paper bedding isn’t used as much anymore. It was difficult to handle. It might blow everywhere if you drag it out in a wheelbarrow. If you weren’t close enough to the place where it was available, sourcing was also difficult.
There have been mixed reviews of shredded newspapers. Nielsen says that a disadvantage to [newspaper] is its tendency to get wet quite quickly. It can look great when it’s first placed in a stall, but once it gets wet, it becomes soggy and darker. The printing ink can also make a horse with a lighter color look dirty.
Nielsen admits that paper bedding has its advantages, but he has also met people who love it. It all depends on how deep the bedding is, how frequently you change it, and how long it has been there. There are some techniques that have worked well for others.
PEAT MOSS BEDDING
PROS: Highly absorbent; low palatability to horses
CONS: Expensive; hard to find the right quantities
It might seem more familiar to you in a garden setting, but peatmoss, the dead, fibrous material formed when mosses are decomposed in bogs, is sometimes used as bedding for horses. It has many advantages: You can use a lot of it, it is very absorbent, and horses won’t eat much. It is difficult to find peat moss in all areas and it can be quite expensive. Nadeau says that you may not be able find it in your area.
Nielsen used peatmoss for bedding once, but that was to conduct research. There are some drawbacks, such as the cost and availability of peat moss and the fact that it is dark-colored. Horses can get dirty. All depends on your priorities. Peat moss is not the best choice if you want your stalls to look neat. Peat moss is also more difficult to clean and sort through because it’s difficult to distinguish the feces from peat moss. It might be okay if it is your horse and you don’t care about its looks.
Peat moss harvesting is also controversial. Extracting peat requires the removal of layers of living soil from bogs. These layers can take many years to form. Critics claim that the process releases large amounts of carbon dioxide into our atmosphere, which can lead to global warming. The British environmental agencies are working to eliminate all peat moss from gardening by 2030.
PROS: Easy to clean
CONS: Not absorbent; can make horses’ coats gritty; not soft. Hay must be fed out of pans or racks to lessen sand ingestion.
Even though sand isn’t widely used for bedding, some horsekeepers use it in areas that have it.
Nielsen says, “I worked in a place where horses were ridden on sand.” There are pros and cons. It was easy to clean stalls. The sand fell right through your Apple-picker fork. Poor water absorption is a disadvantage. The sand may remain a little wet until you add new sand. However, you’re not really taking out the sand because it is so easy to sift through. The hair of horses can get sandy and it is not soft enough for them to lay down on. He says it tends to get hard and pack.” It may be feasible and affordable in some locations. It may be able to stay dry in dry climates with low humidity.
If you choose to sleep on sand, make sure to feed your horse hay from either pans or mats or racks — never directly from the ground. Horses could inhale sand while eating hay. This can lead to sand colic and an accumulation of sand in their stomachs.
SHELLS and SHIVES BEDDING
PROS: Economical where possible
CONS: Not absorbent; it can be difficult to find
Even the most experienced horsekeepers might not be familiar with these unusual but acceptable bedding materials. If you are able to find enough of them, you might be able to make horse bedding from shells, hulls, or “husks” made from nuts and grains.
Nielsen says that peanut hulls can be used as bedding in southern regions. Rice hulls can be used in certain areas. Rice hulls are able to retain moisture and stay dry. “Availability is the most important factor in these materials.” Ground-hulls are often used for feed for livestock. If you’re interested in trying them, this would be a great place to start.
Flax is also included in the “other” category. Flax beddings are a popular choice in Canada and Europe. However, they have a small but growing market in the United States. Flax is a food- and fiber crop that is grown in cooler regions of the globe. The flax fiber processing produces the “shive”, the woody core of the stalk. There are many industrial uses for it, including as a fill insulation or absorbency product. Coleman states that it works well as horse bedding. It is absorbent, so a small amount of it does the job. It is portable and can be packed in bags. However, some owners have reported that it can become slippery after being laid.
Stable horses spend the majority of their day in close contact with their bedding. You should take the time to reevaluate what bedding you are using. You might find your bedding still suitable but it’s best to take the time and look at other options.
I’m Allison, born and raised in San Diego California, the earliest memory I have with horses was at my grandfather’s farm. I used to sit at the stable as a kid and hang out with my Papa while he was training the horses. When I was invited to watch a horse riding competition, I got so fascinated with riding!