Help your horse get a good night’s sleep with the right bedding.
By Sarah E Coleman
As the weather turns colder, horses in many parts of Kentucky will be spending more time inside. It’s in a farm and horse owner’s best interest to be sure that the type of bedding they are using in the stalls is absorbent, affordable, accessible and comfortable for the horse.
A byproduct of wheat and oat grain production, straw is commonly used on large breeding farms and racetracks, and in areas of the country where grains are produced, driving down cost. While this bedding composts well, it can be dusty and moldy, and it does not absorb urine well, which can lead to a strong ammonia smell in barns that use it. Additionally, some horses will eat this bedding, which can be a problem if weight is an issue. Storage can also be problematic as stalls tend to be bedded deeply and require multiple bales of straw per week.
Usually made of pine, shavings are traditionally available in compressed, bagged bedding. While shavings smell terrific and lighten stalls with their bright color, they can coat the walls, horses and items in the aisle way with a fine coating of dust.
Traditionally available in bulk for either pickup or delivery, sawdust is a byproduct of lumber mills and is widely available (though mills will shut down during times of extreme cold). The fine particles do have a tendency to be dusty and can cause allergies in horses bedded on it. It’s imperative to ensure that no black walnut was milled at the same time as the load of sawdust equine owners buy as even minute amounts of black walnut can cause laminitis in horses.
Less dusty than shavings, pelleted bedding is sold in bags and is made of compressed, kiln-dried wood and sawdust. Typically made of fir, alder or pine, the super-absorbent bedding expands when exposed to moisture. Pelleted bedding works best in stalls with mats, and it can initially take quite a few bags to obtain the depth of bedding desired. After that is achieved, however, very little bedding is taken out as stalls are cleaned, though cleaning a stall bedded in pellets can be a learning curve. While manure is removed, most wet bedding (except those areas that are particularly saturated) are simply spread back into the dry bedding and allowed to dry. The soiled bedding is readily composted as it is so fine.
While most of us like to bed our horses deeply on some format of fluffy bedding, they really don’t need extremely deep bedding unless they have a medical reason (like Cushing’s disease or arthritis); flax bedding requires 70 percent less material than straw or shavings. Relatively new on the market in the United States, flax bedding is not dusty and non-allergenic.
Shipped on pallets in brown bags (similar to feed bags), flax is absorbent, affordable and can be spread on fields as soon as the stalls are picked (it is pH neutral), eliminating the need for a compost area. Additionally, when picked consistently, minimal bedding is removed from the stall, so it’s very cost effective.
Though not as common as other bedding types, peat moss is extremely absorbent and soft, though it can be expensive to obtain. Peat moss is also dark in color, so it can look dirty, but it’s a wonderful addition to compost piles and pastures.
In some areas of the country, bedding on hay is common (in Kentucky, it’s commonly called Bluegrass bedding). There are no side effects to equines eating their bedding, but cleaning can be difficult and continual use can get expensive as hay prices rise.
Though not widely available, shredded newspaper is an excellent source of bedding for horses with allergies. Torn into strips to improve absorbency, there are no sharp edges to cut horses bedded on it. Economical to purchase, users should be aware that the soy-based ink may transfer onto lighter-coated horses. Additionally, learning to clean a stall bedded in newspaper can take some getting used to.