Most horse owners take great pride in providing their horses with clean, nice-looking stables; some of us might even throw in that extra bit of bedding for added comfort. But could we be unknowingly harming our horses more than helping them?
Let’s look at some facts on the different types of horse bedding and how they can affect the health of our horses.
Choosing your bedding
Good stable managers need to ask themselves some questions prior to choosing bedding:
– What health concerns are involved with each different types of horse bedding?
– What are the advantages and disadvantages of each type of horse bedding?
– What is the availability of your preferred bedding? Are you willing to pay more to have a certain type of bedding?
– Where will the bedding be stored?
– Will the bedding you choose work with your stable flooring?
– If your horse has a respiratory disease, or develops one, how can you best manage your stable to aid in his comfort?
There are many different types of horse bedding available. The most common being straw and shavings. There are also the less common ones: cardboard, paper, peat moss and hemp. And there is, of course, wood-pellet based bedding.
Straw is harvested from cereal grains, such as wheat, barley and oats. Straw’s main disadvantage is that because it is a crop, it is susceptible to mould and can be quite dusty.
It is an inconsistent product. If there has been a rainy season, it can be mouldy. It is not recommended for horses with respiratory problems. There is a lot of wastage and a high volume must be used. It’s also not very absorbent.
But it is readily available and so it is reasonably priced.
Straw is excellent for broodmares. Many people use it for foaling stalls since it’s more difficult for straw to be inhaled by a newborn foal and usually will not contaminate the umbilical cord. However, getting rid of stable waste that is straw-based can be quite tricky.
Horses might eat straw bedding and so impaction colic can be a concern.
Straw is best used with stone dust or clay flooring so that excess liquid can drain away. If straw is used on a concrete or asphalt stable floor, excess urine that is not absorbed could make the floor slippery. In addition, straw has a tendency to shift, exposing the flooring; this could be hard on feet and legs if the exposed floor is concrete.
Shavings and wood chips
Shavings and wood chips have some advantages over straw. They are quite absorbent, readily available, provide a more consistent footing and there is less wastage. They are less susceptible to mould but can be very dusty. The main disadvantages are that raw wood products do not compost easily and shavings can be quite costly.
Avoid shavings made from the black walnut tree as it has been associated with laminitis. Also the wood from yellow poplar, oak, and red maple can affect liver and kidney function – or even cause respiratory or skin problems.
Shavings and wood chips can be used on any type of flooring.
It is good to use plenty of bedding to start a stable; keep it clean and replenish bedding as necessary, but don’t get carried away and put too much bedding in the stable. Having too much can lead to mould and increased growth of toxins. How often the stable has to be stripped of all bedding for a thorough cleaning depends on how much time the horse spends in the stable.
Shredded paper and cardboard
Shredded paper’s main advantage is that it is more absorbent than straw, shavings, peat moss and hemp.
However, it’s disadvantages include the risk of mould if the product has ever been exposed to the elements. Avoid beddings that have a glossy paper (associated with heavy metals), staples, glue, or ink other than vegetable ink. Find out the source of the paper.
You should not be surprised if your white horse gets up in the morning and is covered in newsprint. Also, since paper has the tendency to blow around, your yard could look very messy! Paper composts well, but it might be tricky getting the local farmer to take it.
Paper can be used on most flooring types, except concrete which can become slippery if the paper becomes too saturated.
Recycled cardboard has the same features as shredded paper, but you have to be really careful of the source because if the original product (such as boxes) was exposed to rain, mould could be a problem. Ask the manufacturer if the product could have any shredded plastic (such as plastic wrap from the original packaging) in it, since horses might ingest the plastic.
Peat moss bedding is made from partially decomposed moss and is commonly used by gardeners to improve sandy and clay soil. Its ease of composting makes it an excellent bedding to use if disposal is a concern.
This a good bedding for horses with respiratory problems. It can appear dusty, but the particles are usually so large that they don’t cause a respiratory problem. It is easy to muck out, comes in bags (although bags can be bulky), can be used with all types of stable floors and it’s easy to get neighbours to take it away for you. However, it does cost more, and it typically must be purchased at a gardening store.
In addition, grey horses can end up looking dirty, and it can create a film over water buckets. Some people love it. Some people hate it.
Hemp is dust-free, absorbs ammonia fumes (thus reducing stable odour), is easy to work with, horses won’t eat it, and it decomposes rapidly. Quality of the bedding can be inconsistent since it is a crop and can vary by growing season. It also can be susceptible to mould contamination. However, if you buy it from a reliable source, then it can be a good product to use.
Of all the different types of horse bedding, wood pellet bedding is by far the most absorbent. It will absorb four times as much moisture as straw and three times as much as shavings.
Having an absorbent bedding is important because unabsorbed ammonia from urine can accumulate inside a stable and irritate the eyes and the mucous membranes of the horse’s respiratory tract.
Good-quality wood pellets are recommended for horses with respiratory problems.
When looking for a good-quality wood pellets, the use soft woods such as pine is paramount and you should avoid products that have been exposed to any type of chemical.
True wood pellets are not made from raw wood. Pellets should be made from heated wood which is then compressed, squeezing out all of its moisture. The pellet is formed when the natural resins stick together to create the finished pellet.
But some manufacturers heat their wood too fast and at too high a temperature. The result is a darker, brittle pellet which is far less absorbent and becomes dusty.
Many imported pellets contain a chalky additive to keep the pellets intact during transportation. And many cheap pellets are made purely from compressed sawdust which break down to dust.
So why is Sorbeo superior?
Sorbeo is made from virgin spruce pine soft wood from sustainable Scottish forests. Our wood is slowly roasted over a few days using our own biomass boilers which extracts every milligram of moisture from the finished pellets. This unique process retains the colour of the bedding and improves its overall absorbency. You will find that more moisture is absorbed over a longer period of time making sorbeo the ultimate wood pellet bedding.
High quality wood pellet bedding is reported to be more hypoallergenic than all other beddings.
There are so many different types of horse bedding – and the choice is yours but whatever you choose, the general principles are the same: Watch for dust and mould, store bedding away from the elements and keep your stable dry to avoid ammonia buildup.
If in doubt, switch to Sorbeo!