What's the best bedding for my horse?
There are many types of bedding to use - rice hulls, shavings, straw, pellets..... Deciding what to use is a combo of many factors:
- Cost - what is readily available in your area, and how much are you going to be using? For example, shavings in are often trucked from the East coast or Canada. However, you may be able to find rice hulls locally and more cost effectively.
- How tidy is your horse? Stallions that only use one corner of the stall vs. mares that are like a tornado. What is easist to clean for your type of horse? I like shavings for the predictable pooper, but rice for the horse that urinates a lot inside his stall.
Large flake wood shavings - not much dust.
- How can you dispose of it? If you compost, you may want to check with a local nursery about the best beddings to compost in your area. (Some shavings can take nitrogen from the soil, making your compost not so ideal.) Do you prefer to use straw that can be re-purposed around the farm?
- Does your horse have special needs? Low dust beddings (straw, rice hulls) are ideal for the horse with heaves, older horses, and horses/people with allergies. Pellets are awesome here, too, as they are virtually dust free.
- Is ammonia an issue in your barn? Some horse's stalls, over time, have a dangerous ammonia smell. Combat this with Sweet PDZ and experiment with bedding to eliminate ammonia.
A few bedding choices to explore:
- Sawdust. Some horsey folks get their sawdust direct from the mill! While cheap and handy and convenient for some, I find SOME sawdust to be, well, dusty. This depends on the tree. There are also some trees that are toxic and dangerous for horses - make sure your sawdust is NOT black walnut or maple. Be aware that because of the fine nature of sawdust, your horse may ingest and inhale a lot of it. FInding ways to keep your horse's hay separate is a good idea.
Sawdust can be "chunkier" - it's not always super fine and dusty.
- Wood flake shavings. Pick pine, oak, cedar, or cypress. Pine is readily available, oak and cypress are regional. Cypress shavings sometimes cause skin and leg irritations. Cedar is great, but oily and some horses have lung irritations from it. You can pick the size of wood flakes that works best for you - from the ultra fine (and dusty-ish) mini flakes to the giant flake varieties and even everything in between.
Smaller flake wood shavings.
- Rice Hulls. These are the outsides of rice (logically). This is a fairly regional type of bedding. It's nice because the urine will almost clump at the bottom of the stall for removal every few days. Manure is very easy to pick out, so you won't be wasting a lot of bedding.
- Straw. I get the feeling that you either love or hate straw - there's no in between. Straw can be eaten, and for some horses this is not a good thing! It's also quasi absorbent - so you may need to use a ton to soak up everything that you need to soak up. One last thing - stray is harvested, and is therefore susceptible to mold and dust - not so great for horses with respiratory issues. It's best over a dirt floor to help with urine absorption, and in some areas of the country it can be inexpensive and readily available.
- Peat moss. This is an indoor bedding option in some parts of the country. You can find it at gardening centers - as it's actually partially decomposed moss. It's expensive, dark, and can stain some horses. But, it's great for horses with respiratory issues and is super to compost so you will never have a problem finding a home for it when the horses are done with it.
- Paper products. I have used paper products for cats and other small animals, but now there are horse versions, too! Paper beddings are super absorbant, and can be great for horses with bedding sensitivites. I have a feeling it's hard to find in some areas, but that may change soon. Paper beddings can also mold, so be on the look out.
These are wood pellets after a little bit of water has been added. They will fluff up more with a bit more water.
- Wood pellets. These are the tiny pellets of wood, usually pine, that expand when they come into contact with moisture. Generally speaking, they are best used by spreading out the pellets, then wetting with a small amount of water so they begin to expand. Weather and urine will expand them even further, but they can dry out and last quite a while.
The bottom line is that bedding should be low dust for lung health and mold free.