I Heard It through the Grapevine
…That soon there may be a shortage of wood shavings for stall bedding. Consequently, if you are able to find it, the bedding may become cost-prohibitive. So, I decided to do a bit of research on alternative bedding just in case.
Before I get into the actual bedding materials, I would like to do a quick summary on stall mats. The reason for this prelude to alternative bedding is that, depending on the type of bedding you use and what kind of floor you have underneath, stall mats may cut down on your bedding material significantly over a year’s time. Hard floors such as concrete or asphalt/macadam require a lot of extra bedding for cushion, so rubber mats may be a good choice to soften the floor and save on bedding. However, contrary to popular opinion, the mats actually require more bedding than a dirt floor would. Stall mats only allow drainage through their cracks, which leads to periodically having to lift the mats and clean under them, which is a nightmare. We’re hoping one day to try a single continuous matting system like Stall Skins, which is sort of a compromise between the permeability of a dirt floor and the even surface of a matted floor, which might be a good choice if using straw. Stall mats work great with most kinds of absorbent bedding, though they are unsuitable for use with straw or any other kind of draining bed. And, contrary to common wisdom, because mats do not drain and because the bedding is more easily displaced when on a mat, more bedding is required to keep the horse insulated from the wet bedding. But the ease of cleaning a matted stall is what makes it a bedding saver in the long term.
We use them at our barn and have found that over the years the interlocking ones work the best. They stay put and shavings, manure etc. don’t get in between the mat and the floor, as can happen with the mats that abut one another with a straight edge. In my research, I found a good site that will tell you all you need to know about stall mats, their advantages and disadvantages. Personally, I would prefer a good draining floor, so long as it did not become uneven due to erosion. Because our stalls came paved with the same asphalt as the aisle, we’re sticking with the mats – I would never go back to a plain concrete or asphalt floor if given the choice. Check out this site if you’re interested in stall mats for your barn:
There are alternative types of bedding that can be used if wood shavings become unavailable. But I’m going to include the wood shavings in this brief rundown too:
· Wood Shavings
We currently use these because it is easier to muck, it’s absorbent and, although it does give off some dust, by the time the horses come in from pasture it has generally settled. Mold is not a problem with wood shavings and another advantage is they cannot be eaten by the horse. They also look and smell nice in the stall, with a light, bright appearance, and are relatively easy to clean off the horses. If they are packaged in plastic, they can be compressed and stored outdoors, which can be a great convenience. You can see why wood shavings are the most popular type of bedding.
We bed deep with banks going up the walls for both comfort and safety; our horses are all quite large, even for their 12x12 stalls, so the deep wide banks can act as both a ramp and a spacer to help prevent a horse getting cast in the stall, and our horses also love to snuggle up to their banks and lounge against them. However, banks are not always necessary, as horses don’t care if the bedding is deep – their main care is whether there is a soft surface to urinate on, as they don’t like a hard surface for this function because it can splash on their legs.
Straw has been the long-time favorite bedding for horses, and there is a good reason it has been the traditional bedding for so long. It is comfortable, warm, dry and relatively easy to use once you get the hang of it.
Straw is drainage bedding meaning it is supposed to allow urine to drain straight through to the floor and not absorb it. Typically, a straw bed would be done over a dirt or gravel base for drainage, which would then be treated with lime or some other product to neutralize the ammonia. This is why it is not advisable to use straw over mats, concrete or any other non-draining surface unless there is an actual drain built into the floor. If allowed to absorb too much urine, saturated straw is heavy and it becomes hard to separate the manure from it when mucking the remaining clean bedding. Traditionally, a straw bed would be done in what is called a “deep liter system” in which it is applied thickly to the floor, with banks up the walls; it is then allowed to compact as only the manure is taken out of the stall and the urine allowed to drain through. Fresh bedding is added as needed to the top to keep the surface clean and dry, while the bedding below would begin to rot and provide a nice warm, soft bed for the horse. Once a week, the wet underneath is removed and new bedding added to the top. This requires excellent drainage and good ventilation, and every so often, the entire mess has to be stripped out and started over. When we have done straw in the past, we’ve done it on a peat base, which is absorbent and helps to neutralize the ammonia, while also allowing the top layer to be frequently replaced.
A plus is it rots down to make garden compost therefore it is easily disposed of. Sometimes local farmers will even take it away for you.
The disadvantage to straw is that it can be as hard to find quality straw as it is to find quality hay, and the concerns are generally the same. You always want to avoid dusty, moldy or weedy straw. Storage is another consideration, as it must be stored inside a barn or trailer, just as hay would be. Worse, it could be in short supply if there is a bad harvest, and it can be expensive. The advantage of wheat straw over barley or oat straw is that horses are not likely to eat wheat straw. It is also considerably more durable that oat straw, and drains better, as oat straw can be absorbent – it is also very edible. Rye straw can also be absorbent and also has a tendency to break down into small fibers that can irritate the horses. In addition these straw types can be prone to mold. So if possible, buy wheat as opposed to barley/oat straw.
- Peat moss
Peat moss can be used as a base underneath other types of bedding or on its own. It is not pretty bedding, and the dark color sometimes makes it hard to find the manure and wet spots, though it sifts very well through a pitchfork, which makes cleaning very easy and little bedding, is wasted. It is also extremely absorbent and wet spots can be scooped out as a solid clump without disturbing the rest of the bedding.
Peat is soft, warm, and mold-free and it is easy to dispose of as it can be easily spread or used in a garden, etc... Some vets recommend peat for horses with allergies to other beddings because it doesn’t support mold spores. I’ve read that humans should wear a mask when working with this in the garden so it is important to mist it lightly when it is first put down to keep the dust down. If used alone as a bedding, be prepared for it to cover the horse’s legs with black dust, etc. I also would not recommend feeding hay directly off the peat.
We’ve found the best way to use peat is as an absorbent base for other beddings. It works great under straw or shavings provided it isn’t disturbed too much while mucking. It is perfect for the sort of horse who has a consistent wet spot in the stall. The wetter it gets, the better it gets as it packs down, absorbing any wet that filters through the bedding above. When mucking, one simply has to clear away the clean bedding on top and dig out a small damp patch of peat. It can be a little expensive but it’s easy to find in any garden store, and the cost is often offset by its durability and ease of cleaning. It should be remembered though that peat is not a renewable resource, so it should be used sparingly.
- Sawdust/Wood Pellets
- Sawdust has a clean appearance, the horse cannot eat it and it can be stored outside if wrapped in plastic. The disadvantages of using sawdust as bedding are that it is extremely dusty, and having a horse with a respiratory condition, we do not use this. We have also found it to be irritating to the horse’s eyes.It can become hot and soggy too which makes it heavy to muck. I would try to avoid this if possible.
Wood pellets are wood shavings/sawdust that have been compacted and dehydrated. They’re easy to muck and there should be less wasted bedding. The startup cost is more expensive than wood shavings, but this is balanced out by using less. These pellets are meant to be sprayed with a hose and then they become fluffy. I’ve found this bedding to be too dusty, like sawdust. There is also a tendency to use too little of it because it is more expensive initially, and it becomes messy. I’m not a fan, but it does have its advantages. Like sawdust, it sifts well through a pitchfork, which means less waste, but it can also get heavy when wet. If you choose to go with this type of bedding, don’t skimp on it. Here is a site you might want to check out for more information: Woody Pet
- Cardboard and Shredded Paper –
As bedding this is easy to use, warm, dust and mold free and, though the paper is more of draining bedding, the cardboard is very absorbent. It usually comes in plastic so is easy to store and inexpensive. Although it provides comfort for your horse, it compresses easily and requires a hefty amount to create and maintain the proper bed. This bedding will keep your horse cleaner than other bedding products (except for newspaper, which will cover your horse with ink and is not recommended.) One disadvantage to this type of bedding is the disposal aspect, as it can’t really be composted or spread in the field. Some suggest burning it or using it as a weed deterrent in gardens. Straw or wood shavings to supplement the paper and cardboard can be another way to go. We’ve never liked paper bedding, though we hear better things about cardboard.
Though we personally have never tried this bedding, it sounds interesting. It is derived from the soft centre of the hemp plant and it is like a natural sponge. It can absorb up to 12 times more water than straw and 4 times more than shavings, thus the bed remains dry and warm. It is easy to handle, lasts longer and requires less maintenance than other fiber bedding and it is free from dust. It is also a highly fertile organic fertilizer therefore; it is easy to dispose of. The only disadvantage to this type of bedding is the initial set up cost of a bed is slightly higher. I’ve never seen this for sale anywhere, so I will just give a link to a site and you can decide for yourself: Aubiose ( It looks as if this is a company in Europe, but they say they supply North America, I couldn’t find a site for it here).
Is hard to find but may be available in some areas. There is not much on the subject of hemp, so I’m guessing it’s the same as the above-mentioned Aubiose and reading their site will give you additional information if you’re interested in it. It’s hard to say yes or no to this as I’ve never used it or seen it.
We have wanted for a long time to try kenaf bedding, but it is incredibly hard to come by. Nafcore seems to be the primary distributor of this product, but whenever we’ve contacted them, they told us they were unable to help us. I’m hoping they get their act together and get this product out there, as I think it would make an ideal bedding. It is super-absorbent, 100% renewable, dust and mold free, and fine enough to sift easily through a pitchfork for mucking. It will also compost, so it can be disposed of in a number of responsible ways, and it is bright and clean looking in the stalls. If you’ve used this before or you know of any way to get a hold of some of this stuff, let us know!
Is a poor choice all around, so even if you’re tempted to use your old hay for bedding, it’s a bad idea. Once it is wet, it turns sour quickly and smells. If the hay is old it may be moldy and your horse is at risk for respiratory trouble. Even if the hay is no good, horses will probably try to eat it and perhaps get sick. It is also more expensive that traditional bedding and it’s hard to clean up. Because it’s softer than straw, it doesn’t muck out well with a straw fork and will become impossible to muck once it’s wet.
There is another site I thought might help if you need shavings but can’t find any in your area. I don’t know how big an order you would need to place, but if the requirement is too large for you, maybe a co-op of the horse community in your area could band together and buy a truckload. Here’s the site:
Until next time
Quote for Today
I live in a house but my home is in the stable