Horse bedding options

Compiled by Larissa Cox

Owning a horse is costly and with the always increasing costs, horse owners are always trying to reduce expenses.  One major expense in a barn is horse bedding.   Finding the right product for you is very important.  With the ever increasing choices of bedding, it is sometimes difficult to decide which product best suits your needs.  Here are some options for horse bedding.

Shavings: With its light colored, fluffy appearance, shavings are still a firm favorite as horse bedding with many types available from wood flakes to sawdust all of which are absorbent.  Prices vary considerably and supply is becoming inconsistent.  Shavings can be bought by the bag or by the truckload; it is easily handled and has a pleasant odor and appearance.  However, the sawdust may contain fine particles that irritate the respiratory tract of some horses and dry storage is necessary.  The source must be reliable to exclude metal shreds and other debris and shavings must not contain black walnut products which can cause laminitis.  Wet sawdust really clings to coats and shavings are hard to brush out of tails!

Straw: One of the oldest and most traditional bedding materials this is another good bedding choice.  While straw makes for an inviting, comfortable bed for horses, it is not particularly absorbent and often quality is widely varying.  Because straw also contains dust, horses with sensitivity to this can find this bedding unsuitable.  Straw is not good for rapid mucking out, with long strand straw taking a considerably longer time to clear.  Straw is often used in foaling stalls because it won’t stick to horses or clog a foal’s nostrils.  Used straw can sometimes be sold to mushroom farmers for easier disposal.  The disadvantage of straw is that it is sold in large, heavy bales so storage and handling can be difficult.  It is not very absorbent and can be expensive or in short supply during some time of the year.  It can be dusty or moldy and some horses love eating straw bedding which can cause impaction.

Unused Old Hay: Often left over from previous years, this is a common bedding practice.  This material has many of the same advantages and disadvantages as straw.  It is likely to be dusty, horses will probably eat some if it, it may be contaminated with animal urine or droppings, it can be a possible source of diseases such as EPM.  On the other hand, it has already been paid for and delivered and probably needs to be used before new hay can be stored!

Chopped Straw: Is a modern straw option.  It is soft, warm and contains small fibres which do not knot together.  It is also dust free and usually provided in smaller bags for more convenient transportation and storage.  However, the supply of chopped straw is very inconsistent.

Corn Cob Pellets: Best Cob Horse Bedding, manufactured in Independence Iowa, has brought horse owners a revolutionary new horse bedding solution for the 21st century!  Corn cob pellets are made from the lightweight, most absorbent parts of the cobs.

Hemp: This product is super absorbent and dust free, but an expensive option.  Made from the fibrous part of the hemp plant, it is produced in uniformly sized shreds.  Used in Canada where its cultivation is legal, it must be imported for use in the United States, which is an expensive complication.

Paper and Cardboard: Paper has been used for years as horse bedding and the popularity of finely shredded cardboard is increasing.  Soft and very supportive, these products are very absorbent and are usually products from recycled materials.  It is fairly easy to clean stalls, it is free from mold and dust and good for horses with respiratory problems.  It is not likely to be eaten and this product can be composted.  However, some horses may be sensitive to ink and light colours horses may have coat staining from newsprint.  Shredded paper can easily be blown around by wind when dry but can be very heavy and clumpy when wet.  It must be purchased from a reliable source to ensure the exclusion of metal debris.

Rubber Matting: Rubber matting makes an excellent time investment.  The initial set up costs are higher as it requires measuring and fitting before installation.  The key factor is a level stable floor.  If it is irregular, then wet patches can form requiring more cleaning.

Peanut Hulls and Rice Hulls: Attractive choices if locally available.  Peanut hulls may contain aflatoxin which is toxic if ingested.  As with most bedding materials, dry storage are is a must.

Kenaf: Is a natural tan colored natural plant fiber which is very porous and spongy.  It has a low lignin and high cellulose content.  It is not available in all areas and yes, horses may eat this bedding.

Peat Moss: It is virtually dust free, absorbent and easy to compost.  It is available by the bag or truckload.  Dry storage is needed for bulk shipments.  Not all horse owners like this product as it is very dark in colour and very unattractive.

Wood Pellets:
This is rising in popularity in use for horse bedding.  Wood pellets have been commonly used for cat litter and while they do not look particularly inviting in a horse stall, they make an excellent bedding.  As wood pellets get damp, they expand which requires far less of an amount to complete the stable bedding resulting in a highly economical product.  It decomposes rapidly making it a good addition for farmland and gardens as well as creating a smaller muck heap than other horse bedding products.

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