There are many types of bedding common to horse farms across North America. At each barn you will see owners that swear by their bedding type, and assert that it is far better than anything else. But, how can you tell which bedding really is best?
When choosing what to use as bedding, there are several factors to consider. These include the material, its availability, cost, ease of cleaning, disposal and the existing flooring. Because every barn is different, every barn owner makes a different decision when it comes to the best bedding.
The most common types of bedding are shavings and straw. Shavings come in every grade from sawdust to large, thick flakes. While sawdust is more absorbent, it is dusty and not as good for the lungs. Large flake shavings are a lot more expensive, but are a healthier alternative. Straw is the leftover stalks of various grains, usually oats, barley or wheat.. Some straw can be coarse or even prickly, while other types are soft and absorbent. Some horses like to eat straw.
Less common bedding choices include peat moss, processed wood and processed newspaper. All three are more expensive, but have some advantages. Peat moss is very heavy, but is super absorbent and hypoallergenic. Processed wood and newspaper is also very absorbent and hypoallergenic, and also don’t tend to stain the coat. They tend to be very easy to clean, and often are quick to compost.
Whether we like it or not, cost is always a factor when selecting bedding. It can be hard to justify spending a lot of money just to toss it out the next day. Sawdust is generally the least expensive, usually delivered in bulk. Straw is next on the list, but can be a bit harder to work with. Bagged shavings are fairly expensive, but are a popular choice as they tend to be easy to manage and are nice and fluffy. Peat moss and processed wood or paper are the most expensive, but you also use a lot less of them. Set up costs are high, but long-term they can save money.
Ease of Cleaning
A lot of this is personal preference. There are people who swear by shavings, while others swear by straw. Shavings are generally lighter to handle, and it is easy to remove wet spots and droppings from them. Straw tends to be heavier and can get very soggy. Straw also tends to harbor more odor than shavings. Peat moss is very hard to clean, is heavy, weighing a ton when wet, and tends to pack. Processed wood and paper are very easy to clean, but can be more work to replenish. Often they need to be soaked in water for several hours before spreading, adding to the time required for rebedding stalls.
Straw is the easiest bedding to dispose of, especially if you are in an area where you do not have a lot of property. Often mushroom producers will send out a truck to pick up your straw bedding, thus removing it from your farm and taking care of the problem. Straw decomposes well, and can be used or sold as garden manure. Shavings are usually more difficult. Some types of shavings are fairly acidic, and may take a while to decompose. Most mushroom men do not like to use shavings for their produce. Peat moss decomposes quickly, as does processed wood and paper.
While the flooring you have may not affect the type of bedding you use, it does affect how much of that bedding you will need. Concrete and asphalt floors are very hard and require deep bedding. Dirt floors are better, and require a bit less bedding, but you still should bed deeply. Rubber mats are a wonderful flooring choice, and greatly reduce the amount of bedding you require. There are even some types of mats that are thick enough to require virtually no bedding at all.
Whatever bedding you choose, it is essential to clean your stalls daily, removing all urine and manure. Keeping your barn clean helps keep your horses healthy, and keeps the odor under control.