Using less bedding for your horse stall in your barn will save you time and money. Less horse bedding use means cleaning horse stalls will be easier and quicker (since you won't have to hunt around for manure in mounds of shavings). It also means you will end up with less stall waste to deal with. If you compost, you'll end up with a nicer compost product that will be more useful for your horse pastures. And it means you'll have less carbon in your compost, so the material will compost better and faster. So reduced horse bedding use is a smart management idea-for any size horse property.
A crucial point is that we don't want to reduce bedding use at the expense of horse health. But it is important to note that most of us horse owners like to bed our stalls the way we like our own beds: nice and deep and fluffy. Horses by nature don't need a soft, fluffy bed, and your horse management situation may not require this.
The key to reducing bedding use is to start with rubber stall mats. Stall mats are excellent for horse health as they provide a level surface for a horse to stand on, much healthier for hooves than holes, rocks, or wet spots. Stall mats also have a good amount of cushion, which is important for joints and soft tissue. Talk with your farrier or veterinarian for their recommendations, as most are staunch advocates of stall mats.
Using rubber stall mats makes chore time much simpler. A stall mat offers a firm, level surface that allows you to easily scoop up manure and soiled bedding and leave clean bedding behind. By using stall mats, you can reduce the amount of bedding you currently use in the stall or bed only in "potty spots," minimizing bedding use and the amount of stall waste you are left with to dispose.
Stall mats should fit snugly in a stall, from wall to wall, to avoid urine seepage underneath. Horses tend to urinate in areas where it won't splash, as urine is mildly caustic to the skin. Keep this idea in mind if you want to "potty train" your horse to urinate in a specific portion of the stall or the paddock instead.
Next, look at whether it's possible to reduce the amount of bedding you use for your stalls. The primary purpose of bedding should be to absorb urine and moisture. Examine your situation. Do your horses have 24-hour access to a paddock? Is their stall primarily for feeding and protection from severe weather? If so, they may not need as much bedding. You may be able to reduce bedding to just the "potty spots," or just use a slight layer, like a litter, across the whole area. Or better yet, you may be able to eliminate bedding completely, especially in dryer summer months. Horses confined in a stall will still require bedding to absorb urine and moisture.
Alternative Bedding Options
Look at alternative beddings options to help further with reducing bedding use on your horse place. Research shows that alternative beddings such as wood pellets, peat moss, or shredded newspaper are more absorbent and contain less dust, mold, or foreign objects than traditional shavings. These beddings also compost better, faster, and more completely, so if you plan to compost, you'll wind up with a nicer finished product. Reducing bedding also lessens our impact on the environment by cutting down on the amount of wood (or other) products consumed.
Look for readily available sources for alternative bedding that are cost-effective, absorbent, and compost well. Be very careful to choose a product that is healthy for your horses-you may need to consult your veterinarian if it is a non-traditional product. There are many interesting products on the market, including shredded newspaper (which has been proven to be an excellent bedding), shredded cardboard, shredded phone books, rice hulls, and wheat byproducts.
An additional benefit to some alternative beddings may be in space savings. Pelleted beddings generally come bagged, but you can also purchase them in bulk. With the addition of a waterproof tarp or cover, you may be able to store them outside in a very small area. Horse health benefits with some of these beddings may include that they are very low in dust, which may be a concern if either you or your horse have respiratory issues.
So the advantage to you as a horse owner is big; reducing bedding means less stall waste by volume, less hassle for dealing with the stall waste, less cost for you on bedding, less storage area needed for bedding, less time spent on stall cleaning chores, and improved horse health.