Wood shavings and straw are usually easy to find and economical stall-bedding choices. But they're not necessarily the easiest materials to manage and clean. And, when not managed well, their particles can cause respiratory problems in your horse.
Here are four stall-bedding materials that might be a good fit for your horse, as well as your barn-management and budget concerns.
Bedding #1: Wood Pellets
Description: Wood pellets are fine wood shavings compressed into pellet form.
Pros: Because the pellets are compressed, they rapidly expand to absorb urine. They also make it easy to sort out manure, minimizing bedding waste. With proper management and by wetting it down, pellets have minimal dust, so is a good choice for horses with respiratory problems.
Cons: By weight, wood pellets are more expensive than traditional bedding, but ease of cleaning cuts down labor. Less waste means less material to haul away or otherwise manage.
Available from: Equi-Litter, www.equi-litter.com.
Bedding #2: Peat Moss
Peat moss is a genus of moss (sphagnum) that grows in peat bogs and mires.
Pros: Peat moss is readily available in lawn and garden centers. Horses with respiratory problems benefit from it, as its dust particles are large and can't easily enter a horse's airways. Peat moss is also highly absorbent, so can help combat ammonia odor in barns.
Cons: Large dust particles can collect on window ledges, buckets, and other surfaces. Since the moss is dark, it can be hard to tell what needs to be cleaned and what doesn't. The moss can leave a stain on haircoats.
Available from: Lawn and garden centers.
Bedding #3: Shredded Paper
Description: Shredded paper is made from recycled newspaper and other recycled paper products.
Pros: Shredded paper is highly absorbent and can eliminate ammonia odor. Using recycled materials is a "green" choice.
Cons: Shredded paper tends to cling to the bottoms of boots and hooves, then travel throughout your barn and surrounding areas. You must find paper that was stored properly, so there's no mold. Any dye used on the paper must be vegetable-based. Also, the paper needs to be free of other substances, such as heavy metals (used in glossy paper), and glue (used in book binding).
Available from: Your own recycled/shredded paper bin; recycling centers; local trade shows/equine expos.
Bedding #4: Hemp
Description: Hemp is a stalk plant harvested for several industries, including construction, gardening, and animal bedding. The inside of the stalk is processed for use as stall bedding.
Pros: Hemp is low in dust, so is ideal for horses with respiratory problems.
Cons: It's illegal to grow hemp isn't grown in the United States (as it's related to marijuana), which means it must be imported from Canada, adding to the cost. However, it's easier to manage than shavings and straw, so it's use cuts down on waste and labor.
Available from: Stemergy, www.hempline.com/stemergy/.
We thank the following for contributing to this article: Brian Lamb, national distributor for Equi-Litter; Ashley Smith, barn manager for Mandts Equestrian Center, Oregon, Wisconsin; Patty Blocker-DeHoogh; Susan Raymond, PhD, communications and programs officer for Equine Guelph at the University of Guelph, Ontario; Ann Swinker, PhD, associate professor of equine science at Pennsylvania State University; and Barb Allen, executive assistant with Hempline, now operating Stemergy in North America, Delaware, Ontario.
Katie Navarra is an avid rider, and freelance book, magazine, and newspaper writer with more than 250 bylines to her credit.