It’s no secret that clean, dry bedding is a must for ensuring the health and happiness of the horses in your care. But in today’s marketplace, determining how to make sure that bedding is the most comfortable while doing the job of absorbing urine and the moisture in manure is tricky given all the options available. Bedding products ranging from straw to cardboard are jostling for a piece of the pie, but making the choice often goes beyond price to questions of availability, a horse’s sensitivity to some products and their labor-saving attributes.
When shopping around for stall bedding, there are a number of things to consider:
- Absorbency. The more absorbent a material, the less is needed to do the job and the longer it’ll last.
- Availability. Some bedding, like certain types of shavings and sawdust, is becoming increasingly difficult to find in certain regions, helping determine its price.
- Cost. This one’s obvious, but a material’s ability to save on labor might justify its initial higher cost.
- Disposal. Certain materials compost better than others while others take up less space and volume and take longer to fill the manure shed.
- Dust. The level of dust changes from product to product, making it a key consideration, especially for horses with respiratory ailments.
- Ease of use. How well it mucks out and how easily it is changed depends on the material and the stall floor.
Other concerns should also be taken into account on a horse-by-horse basis. They include questions of whether any horses in the barn routinely eat their bedding. If so, palatable types of bedding, like straw, would not be good choices. And, experiments at the Farriers National Research Center in Lafayette, Ga., show that vermiculite, peat moss and sand provide good skeletal support to laminitic and foundered horses. There are cosmetic concerns as well for show horses. Some people find that straw and shavings are more difficult to clean out of manes and tails than pelleted bedding products.
There are advantages and disadvantages to each type of bedding currently available and use largely depends on a barn manager’s philosophy toward stall management. Bedding products should be carefully researched to determine what will work best for the individual barn.
And while the experts have their favorite beddings for a wide variety of reasons, many say rubber mats should be used as a base over dirt, cement and even wood floors. Though the value of the lining’s cushioning properties is being debated, virtually every person—from veterinarian to barn manager—seems to agree the mats are at the very least beneficial because they can be easily sanitized.
The old standby, straw is bulky and can be dusty, though good-quality straw can contain less dust than some wood- and paper-based products. High-quality straw is the bedding of choice for many breeding farms because of the low-dust factor and because it is less likely to stick to a foal’s body and airways than finer materials. Many farms also choose it because it looks good and is considered to have a high comfort quotient. Its cost is usually low compared to other materials, it is readily available and it has good absorbency, especially when chopped.