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Horse Facts and Tips
First Posted: June 19, 2009
Aug 10, 2011

Horse Bedding

by Debora Johnson

There are many types of horse bedding. There are pros and cons to each one. Ask yourself what considerations you should ponder: allergies, sensitivities, (yours and your horse's) cost, availability, risks, maintenance time, etc. We all know that horses can find a way to get into trouble even if they are put in a "padded cell!" There might be mites and/or mold in straw or wood products. My horse had a sensitivity to pellets. He broke out in hives. Also, remember that your horse may eat the bedding you use. It might be harmful and cause colic or other problems. For example, do NOT use walnut as it may kill a horse or cause founder in a horse. Yellow poplar, oak, and red maple can affect liver and kidney function, respiratory and skin problems. Proper ventilation is of the utmost importance. Cedar often causes allergic skin reactions or hives. Dust is a major culprit in the barn for causing illnesses in your horse and cause you to become sick, as well. If you have asthma dust should be a major concern for you. It might be wise to wear a mask that filters out the dust. Speak with your doctor about that potential problem. Your horse may develop heaves, inflammation, allergic reactions, and ulceration of the lymphoid tissue from too must dust. Make sure that you clean the stalls often to cut down on the build up of ammonia.

There are many factors that are taken into consideration when choosing a bedding for your horse. Among them are some of the following:

Consideration When Choosing A Bedding for Your Horse

  • Respiratory Effects-dust, mold, etc.
  • Cost
  • Ease of Hauling
  • Disposal Problems
  • Availability
  • Absorption
  • Cushioning, Comfort, and Insulation
  • Palatability
  • Allergies
  • Environmental Concerns

Types of Horse Bedding

  • Straw: Barley, oat long or chopped, wheat long or chopped
  • Hay
  • Kenaf
  • Corn Stocks dried or corn cobs
  • Wood Products: Sawdust, shavings, chips, wood pellets
  • Peat Moss
  • Food Industry By-Products: Rice hulls, soybean hulls, peanut shells
  • Shredded Paper
  • Sand
  • Volcanic Aggregate
  • Hemp
  • Equidry Bedding
  • Rubber Mats

Let's take a look at each one of the above individually.

Straw-Barley, oat long or chopped, wheat long or chopped

  • Make sure there are no seed heads left. Horses will eat them
  • Eating seed heads can keep them off their regular feed
  • The horses can colic from impaction
  • Wheat straw is the least palatable to horses than oat, rye or barley straw
  • Wheat straw is less abrasive than barley.
  • Oat straw is the most palatable to horses.
  • Barley awns of barley can hurt a horse's mouth.
  • Large straw bales are expensive to hall far
  • Large straw bales are harder to move around inside a stall area
  • For low dust must be harvested with proper moisture content.
  • If harvested incorrectly may contain lots of dust.
  • Less likely to damage or contaminate the reproductive tract
  • Somewhat absorbent
  • Stall floor should be well covered under straw
  • Cleaning manure and urine means taking out much of the straw bedding
  • Takes longer to breakdown in composting than many other materials
  • Considered good for foaling stalls
  • Comfortable
  • Excellent for pregnant mares
  • Excellent for foaling stalls
  • Economical/however, with biofuels on the rise may go up in price.
  • Easy to obtain
  • Provides warmth because it traps air
  • Cleaning labor intensive-heavy
  • Disposal problems
  • Lots of waste material generated
  • Costly to dispose
  • Forage Mites
  • Highly combustible
  • Spores
  • Horses may eat it and colic
  • Molds-do not let it get wet during storage
Hay
  • Forage mites
  • Horses eat it
  • Hay coughs-now called "chronic obstructive pulmonary disease."
  • Affordable

Kenaf

  • Very Absorbent
  • A natural plant crop
  • Less dust
  • Less labor intensive to clean
  • Cost effective
  • Horses may eat it.

Pine Shavings

If you use pine shavings make sure that they are for equines (horses).
  • Absorptive
  • Dust extracted otherwise this can be a health problem
  • Dried below 16% moisture
  • Pieces are blended from small to big
  • Light, coarse and fluffy pieces
  • No splinters, wood chunks or debris of any kind
  • In case of fire burn more slowly than straw
  • Help to keep odor down

Dried Corn Stalks or Corn Cobs

  • Inexpensive
  • Remember, horses may eat! That can be a risk.
  • Absorbent

Wood Products: Sawdust, shavings, chips, wood pellets

  • Soft woods make the best wood bedding: fir and pine
  • Absorbent
  • Pellets swell when wet
  • Pellets are hard and need to be watered down
  • Pellets are expensive
  • Processing eliminates hydro carbons which may cause hives, coughing, etc.
  • Bedding is sterilized. Reduces bacteria
  • Less odor from urine and feces
  • Reduces flies
  • Good for composting
  • Use less more economical
  • Follow use instructions carefully
  • Sawdust has lots of dust
  • Wood products are becoming more scarce and more expensive
  • Chips can be coarse and uncomfortable for horses
  • Sharp chips can be hazardous
  • Chips absorb less
  • You may not know what kind of wood is in the chips
  • Wood takes more time to breakdown when composted
  • Wood has more acid in it
  • Lime may be necessary to add when spreading composted wood in the pastures to neutralize the acid.
  • When composing wood products, the material needs a higher level of nitrogen.

Peat Moss, rice hulls, soybean hulls, peanut shells, and other byproducts of the food industry

  • Very absorbent
  • Dust free
  • Expensive
  • Can be used with foundered horses carefully
  • Makes stall look darker
  • Harder to muck out urine because it is harder to see
  • Make sure to store it properly!
  • Your horse may eat it.
  • Horses often nibble on hulls
  • Hulls are not very absorbent
  • Hulls are not very comfortable
  • Hulls are less flammable than other beddings

Shredded Newspaper

  • Little dust
  • No pollen
  • Absorbent
  • Soft
  • Clean stalls daily
  • Takes allot to bed a stall
  • Your horse may eat it. A risk factor.
  • Ink may stain a light colored horse

Sand

  • Good for a foundered horse
  • However--May cause sand colic if eaten!

Volcanic Aggregate

  • Naturally occurring
  • Porous-Aerates, softens, and drains your soil
  • Absorbent
  • Provides better drainage
  • Helps with mud problems, too

Hemp Chips

  • Dust extracted and cleaned
  • Natural product
  • Not palatable to horses
  • Chemicals are not usually used when growing hemp
  • Very absorbent
  • Economical
  • Easy to isolate from compost pile when mucking stalls
  • Supply limited
Equidry Bedding

For more information:

The Perfect Stall
  • Made of red clay
  • Durable
  • Absorbent
  • Dust free
  • Comfortable for horse
  • Holds cool in summer
  • Holds heat in winter
  • Non-toxic
  • May be difficult to find
Stall Mats (rubber)
  • Save time
  • Save money
  • Save energy
  • Easy to clean
  • Provides cushioning/alleviates pressure and stress
  • Cuts down on hock and knee sores
  • Less dust
  • Barrier from cold
  • Barrier from dampness from floor
  • More traction

For more Information:

Horse bedding

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