Contributed by: Valerie Mellema
Based on your location as well as your horses, you may find yourself weighing the options available to you for stall bedding. The main purpose of your bedding is to keep your horses comfortable when standing in the stall for several hours as well as keeping them dry and healthy. The type of bedding you choose can affect each horse differently depending on if they are prone to allergies or how often they lie down in the bedding.
There are a few considerations to think about when making your selections. These are availability, ease of use and cleaning, time spent on the bedding and how much bedding you’ll require to absorb urine while also providing cushion. The volume you use will also affect your overall costs.
The main goal of bedding is to provide enough absorbency as well as comfort. Most horses spend more time standing than they do lying down, although there are those who are comfortable enough to really lie down and sleep in their bedding.
Three other areas of consideration are the amount of dust created. For horses with allergies, or if you have asthma, you’ll want a bedding with low dust. Straw tends to be the best option for those with respiratory issues. Storage is also a factor. If you have a large stable, you will need adequate space to store either shavings or straw. Will you store it inside or outside? How close will it be to the barn? This can play a factor in your insurance cost as well. Finally, there is disposal. How much room will soiled bedding take? Straw tends to take up more space than shavings. One option is to compost it, but long straw and shavings can take years to break down.
Shavings are readily available and it’s easy to recognize what needs to be disposed of quickly. Dust can be an issue though, but pine and fir shavings are lower dust options. However, black walnut shavings are toxic to horses, so it’s important to pay attention to the type of shavings you are purchasing. Cedar is also a poor choice for horses due to the oils in the wood.
Straw is popular as it is low dust. It’s also relatively inexpensive. Manure and urine tends to settle near the bottom if bedded properly. This means that the straw needs to be deep, but this also means it can take longer to clean your stalls. Some horses like to eat straw as well, which isn’t necessarily bad but can cause colic and choke issues if they eat too much. Straw also requires quite a bit of storage space.
Wood pellets are a relatively new option on the market. The pellets expand and breakdown into sawdust when wet. This means that they can cause some dust, but are less dusty than shavings and regular sawdust. However, pellets come in smaller bags which are also easier to store. When cleaning, you will remove less and therefore your investment lasts longer. They do get very wet though, so you will need to pick out the wet parts regularly. Wood pellets are compost friendly as well. Do be careful about the brand you choose, as stove pellets may contain toxins.
For horses that are very prone to allergies, shredded paper and cardboard is another option. Paper can be purchased in bags and bales. It does blow away easily, so it’s best used indoors. It also composts quickly.
In East Texas, a lot of farms have ample amounts of sand. Sand can be a great bedding as long as horses aren’t eating off of it, as sand can cause colic. It’s soft, it’s free and generally easy to clean.
What About Stall Mats?
Many farms use stall mats for extra cushion and it can help you save money in the long run because you’ll only need bedding for absorption purposes – for the most part. Stall mats can be slick though, so keep that in mind while bedding as well.
What About Lime?
When I worked in a barn as a teenager, all dirt or clay floors had lime sprinkled on top before putting down shavings. This was generally done when the stalls were completely stripped. However, lime can cause skin irritation so be sure it stays under the bedding you choose.
In the end, look at the bedding options available in your area, the cost, the storage requirements and any health factors your horses may have when choosing the best bedding for your barn.