How to choose the rigth bedding for your horse

ArticleHow to - CareFriday 18 November 2011
By David Bartram

Choosing the right bedding for your horse can be an important decision, financially and for the welfare of your horse. Read this article to find out more about the main types of bedding and their advantages and disadvantages.

It’s crucial for a horse’s health and comfort that they are stabled with the proper bedding. The kind of bedding you use can also affect the long-term cost of keeping a horse. So it’s not a decision to take lightly! This article summarises the main materials used for horse bedding, along with their advantages and disadvantages. Read on to find out more!

Straw is the most commonly used bedding for horses, and has been since horses were first domesticated. It is readily available and affordable – although it is becoming less so. The bio-fuel industry provides an alternative market for straw, and rising fertiliser cost leads many farmers to plough the straw back into the soil to reduce the need for fertiliser. In addition, shorter-stalked grains have been developed, so that much less straw is produced.

Straw is made from the stems of wheat, barley, oat or rye crops. Oat straw is more absorbent than the other types. You should watch out for the occasional bad bale of straw, which may smell mouldy or off and/or be difficult to separate. If this happens, discard it because there may be fungus in the straw which could be dangerous to horses.

Wood Shavings
Once an unwanted by-product from sawmills, as demand has increased companies have started selling wood shavings specifically produced for bedding. Wood shavings are more absorbent, so more of the urine and ammonia is absorbed, which reduces the bad odour and the risk of damage to the horse’s lungs.

Since the urine is absorbed by a smaller amount of shavings, a smaller amount of soiled shavings needs to be discarded compared to straw, which can make for an overall saving. A thin layer of shavings is more comfortable than the same amount of straw, but shavings are not much more comfortable than thick straw.

Buying wood shavings from a sawmill is still possible, but the levels of sawdust can be unhealthy for the horse and if the shavings have been exposed to moisture, it can harbour harmful mould and fungus. In addition, commercial wood shavings for bedding comes in convenient bags which can save time.

Wood pellets are made from compacted shavings bound together with lignin (itself a natural component of wood). You should buy pellets intended for horse bedding, to be sure that they avoid certain woods which are toxic to horses. Wood pellets have similar advantages to wood shavings but are about twice as absorbent. Pellets are more expensive than shavings, but there can be large savings in terms of the volume of bedding which needs to be purchased, stored and mucked out. Straw pellets are also available which share most of the benefits of wood pellets.

Paper and Cardboard
Paper, such as newspapers, is often chosen as a cheap type of bedding. It can be shredded, chopped or pulped. It has no dust and in general horses will not eat it – which can be a problem with other kinds of bedding. Unfortunately, paper compresses flat and provides little cushioning for the horse. Shredded cardboard bedding can provide more cushioning and better comfort for your horse.

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