Bedding material lacks resiliency if it easily compresses under the horse's weight.
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Recycled paper products are 3 1/2 times more absorbent than wood shavings. This not only reduces the amount of stall waste generated, but saves money as fewer bags of bedding are required.
Many equestrians choose a bedding material based upon three criteria. They want bedding that is inexpensive, easy to use, and safe for their horses. While this may seem a straightforward way to compare horse bedding, there are many attributes and properties of bedding materials that influence its cost, ease of use and safety. So let's take a look at some of the ways bedding material can differ and how these attributes affect performance of the different types of bedding.
Another benefit of straw is the rate at which it composts. Stall waste containing straw bedding has a 30:1 carbon to nitrogen ratio. Since this is an ideal ratio for microbes, stall waste with straw composts quicker than that containing wood by-products. This rapid decomposition rate also produces significant heat to kill parasites and discourage fly reproduction.
Despite these benefits, straw doesn't perform as well in other areas. It is less absorbent than shavings, so more straw is needed to maintain the stalls. This also makes the wet spot in clay-floored stalls more prone to erosion. Straw also lacks resiliency and it tends to shift around the stall as the horse moves. As a baled plant product, straw can be dusty and contain poisonous weeds or debris.
Some horses also find straw particularly palatable, especially oat straw. Palatability is enhanced when straw contains grain heads that weren't completely removed during the threshing process. Although digesting straw generally doesn't pose a problem for horses, grain remaining on wheat and rye straw can be contaminated with ergot, a toxic fungus that causes founder.
Shredded paper and cardboard have not gained popularity as horse bedding, even though they are more absorbent than either straw or wood by-products, compost quickly, and have good insulation value. Bedding made from recycled paper or cardboard is also relatively dust free in comparison to either straw or shavings. There is also much less concern about mold, poisonous plants and foreign debris with recycled paper products. Because of these attributes, shredded paper or cardboard is often recommended for horses with respiratory problems.
Although recycled paper has the potential to be excellent bedding material, they do have some drawbacks that deter many equestrians from using it. Shredded paper is highly absorbent, but it decreases in volume as it soaks up moisture. While this reduces the amount of stall waste that must be removed, it can also leave stalls inadequately bedded. These products work best when stalls are cleaned on a daily basis and bedding levels are carefully monitored.
The size of the stable, storage and disposal options, as well as labor costs, are just a few factors to consider when selecting a horse bedding.
The commercial availability of prepackaged paper or cardboard horse bedding is limited in comparison to wood shavings and pellets. It can be tempting to use recycled paper from home offices and small businesses, especially when it's available for free. However, shredded paper can contain staples, fragments of paperclips or other impurities that could be accidentally ingested. It's best to only accept shredded paper from a trusted source.
Agricultural by-products, such as peanut shells or rice hulls, are readily available and often fairly inexpensive in areas where these crops are cultivated. In comparison with more traditional horse bedding, peanut hulls tend to be less absorbent. Both rice and peanuts can also be contaminated with aflatoxins, which are produced by fungus residing on the seed and hull. Most horses don't find peanut hulls very palatable, but aflatoxins can be a problem for those horses that consume contaminated peanut hull bedding.
In the last few years, corn cob bedding has become widely available as a prepackaged product. The corn cobs are processed either by grinding or pelletizing. As a bedding material, corn cobs are relatively absorbent and clump when wet to make stall cleaning easier. It also doesn't cling to manes and tails. In comparison to wood by-products, corn cob bedding isn't as dusty and composts more quickly. However, some horses can be allergic to compounds in corn cobs and may develop respiratory problems when bedded with these products. It also lacks the fresh pine scent associated with most wood-based horse bedding. Pelleted corn cob bedding makes a soft, comfortable bedding once the pellets are broken down, but prior to that they can be uncomfortable and slippery on some types of floor.
Hemp horse bedding is an agricultural by-product made from the inner core of the type of Cannabis plant cultivated for industrial use. Hemp has no drug content, like its close cousin Marijuana. As a bedding material, hemp is more absorbent than straw and wood by-products, has a low palatability, decomposes quickly and is not very dusty. Being a fibrous material, it is both resilient and warm in the stall. Although hemp is championed as an excellent bedding material, it is not readily available in the United States due to a ban on its cultivation. However, it is legal to grow industrial hemp in Canada.
Peat moss is a natural resource that grows in wetlands and moors. While it has many of the positive attributes of a good bedding material, peat moss is expensive to use and most equestrians are turned off by its dark color. Since peat bogs only regrow at a rate of about 1mm per year, peat moss is not considered a sustainable resource.
A German study found horses bedded on straw spend more time nosing through their bedding and lying down than horses bedded on shavings.
The qualities of a bedding material determine how fast the stall can be cleaned and how much horse bedding is needed.
For most of us, there are few things in life we buy for the sole purpose of throwing them out. These disposable items, such as toilet paper and paper plates, are relatively inexpensive and often make up a small percentage of our monthly budgets. Unfortunately, this concept doesn't always hold true for owners of stall-kept horses. One of the most expensive aspects of equine upkeep is bedding - an item we buy to intentionally throw out!
Since horse bedding is destined to be discarded, it comes as no surprise that the two most popular types of bedding material are actually by-products from other industries. Straw, which is essentially the plant stem that remains after the grain head has been harvested, has long been the traditional bedding for horses. In more recent times, wood by-products from the lumber and furniture industries have replaced straw as the most commonly used bedding material.
Although not as popular as straw and wood by-products, other materials have found their way into our horse's stalls. These include recycled materials, like paper and cardboard, as well as agricultural by-products, such as corn cobs, hemp, peanut shells and rice hulls. Even peat moss, which is neither recycled nor a by-product, can be successfully used as horse bedding. With so many choices available, perhaps you've been wondering which bedding is the best?
Ultimately, many variables affect the type of bedding equestrians prefer to use. And while no bedding is a perfect fit for everyone, most bedding materials meet the criteria of being inexpensive, safe and easy to use. So don't be afraid to experiment with the traditional as well as the not so traditional bedding material to find the horse bedding or combination of bedding that works best for you.
Wood by-product bedding includes shavings, sawdust, wood chips and wood pellets. These materials are produced from scrap wood that is left over from the manufacturing of lumber and wood products, such as furniture. This type of horse bedding can be purchased in bulk directly from lumber yards, sawmills or furniture manufacturers, but is also available prepackaged from farm supply stores, feed mills and tack shops.
By far the most popular bedding, almost 80% of horse owners use some form of wood by-products in their horse's stalls.
Switching to a more absorbent bedding is one way to reduce stall waste. Wood pellets are almost twice as absorbent as shavings.
In studies that evaluate the performance qualities of horse bedding, wood by-products were found to be fairly absorbent, resilient and provided consistent footing. However, wood by-products do vary in their ability to absorb moisture. In general, prepackaged horse bedding tends to be drier than bulk bedding purchased directly from a lumber yard or sawmill. Even when comparing different types of prepackaged bedding, wood pellets are more absorbent than shavings. Other benefits of using wood by-products include low palatability and compatibility with any type of stall flooring, including rubber mats.
Unfortunately, there are some unfavorable aspects to using wood by-products as horse bedding. There can be a wide variation in the quality of these products, even when purchasing the same type of prepackaged bedding. Some brands of shavings, for instance, contain a larger portion of finer material resulting in bedding that is dustier. Wood by-products also vary in how much they adhere to the horse's mane and tail as well as horse blankets and human clothing. Pellets tend to be least sticky, while flakes are the most problematic.
Overall, disposal of stall waste can be the biggest problem when using wood by-products. Even with the addition of manure and urine, the carbon to nitrogen ratio is in the 400:1 range. This makes stall waste, containing wood by-products, nitrogen deficient. When spread on pastures or cropland, it robs the plants of the nitrogen they need for growth. This imbalance also slows down the rate of decomposition when composting stall waste. These issues can be significant for stable managers who must meet certain manure management criteria.
Safety can also be an issue when purchasing wood by-products. Landscaper's mulch, wood pellets that are marketed as fuel, and sawdust or shavings from the local sawmill or lumberyard may contain undesirable elements. These can include harmful types of wood such as treated lumber and black walnut, poisonous plants like yew or red maple leaves, and the occasional nail or piece of debris.
Many horse breeders still prefer straw over wood by-products as the former is less likely to be inhaled by a newborn foal. Straw also has an excellent insulating value, in part due to the way it absorbs moisture. Since straw is a plant stem, the center is hollow. Moisture is drawn into this hollow core, leaving the outer surface of the straw drier. This quality not only prevents the straw from sticking to the wet newborn foal, but actually aids in the drying process.