Last updated: July 24, 2023
Stall bedding is essential for horses that spend time in a barn. My son recently suggested we research stall bedding to ensure we are using the best available products for our horses. So, I decided to work on the project, and here is what I learned.
Horse owners rarely change the type of bedding they use, but more effective and less expensive alternatives are likely available. Let’s explore stall bedding to find the best choice for your horses.
Characteristics of Good Horse Stall Bedding.
It’s essential to have good bedding in your horse stalls. Although horses are known to sleep standing, they also lie down for a few hours a day to get a deep sleep.
And as horse owners, we want the best for our animals but often stay with the material we’re familiar with, which is not always the right choice. When choosing bedding for stalls, we need to consider a few essential things.
- Absorbency: The material’s ability to soak up moisture is necessary to keep horses healthy and comfortable. Standing in moisture causes thrush.
- Ease of cleaning: It’s necessary to muck out stalls regularly, so you ease of cleaning is an essential factor to consider.
- Expense: Most horse owners go through large amounts of stall bedding, so the price is a factor.
- Storage: If you have limited space or live in a rural area, storage is a factor to consider when choosing stall bedding.
- Dusty: Horses standing in their stalls should not be exposed to excessive airborne particles. Horses can develop heaves from breathing dirty air.
- Cushion: How well the bedding provides cushioning for your horse’s legs is critical to the health of your horse’s legs.
- Palatability: Will your horse attempt to eat the bedding? A stabled horse often gets bored and chews or eats its bedding.
With the above factors in mind, let’s look at the most common bedding material available today.
Common Horse Bedding Material.
We currently use wood shavings for our horse stalls and have been for as long as I remember. For our horse stalls at the training center, shavings are bought by truckload. We share the cost with others who also have horses stabled in the same barn.
It’s the easiest and cheapest way to buy large amounts of bedding. And for our personal barn, we buy bagged wood shavings. Near us, we have a local lumber yard and a plant that sells wood shavings, so the prices may be more reasonable than in many other areas.
Typical costs for eight cubic yards of pine shavings run six dollars. Expect to use between three and five bags of shavings for a 12 by 12 stall. The amount varies depending on the stall floor surface and the thickness of the bedding.
A good grade of shavings are very absorbent and provide excellent cushion, but quality varies, just like most products. Some are light and fluffy, and others are hard. Pine shavings are easy to muck out and dispose of.
Over time, they can be piled up and converted for other uses, such as fertilizer for flower beds. If shavings are purchased in bags, they are easy to store because they can be stacked and kept outdoors.
However, if you buy in bulk by truckloads, you need a bin to store them. We used an empty stall to keep our shavings. Bagged shavings typically are less dusty than bulk-purchased shavings but neither produce much airborne dust.
And finally, I never had a horse eat its shavings. Overall, pine shavings are an excellent choice for horse stall bedding.
No, I’m talking about lining your stalls with newspaper, but rather a product specifically designed for use as bedding. This product is manufactured from recycled paper and processed into small pieces.
It’s has a low dust threshold and typically comes in 30 lbs heat shrunk bags, which are easy to store and handle. The paper-based bedding material absorbs well, eliminates odors, and is easy to clean.
It’s biodegradable and can be used to fertilize gardens. The downside is that the material’s highly flammable and doesn’t provide ample cushioning unless you pack it deep in the stall, and the ink may rub off on lighter-colored horses.
I have no first-hand experience with using paper products in our horse stalls. I intend to update this article after I use it in one of our stalls. I’m intrigued because there are not a lot of negative comments about the product.
Prices are variable based on your location and availability. R&R sells both bales and bags. Two five-dollar bags should provide enough material to cover a 12 by 12 horse stall. You can visit their site here to read more about paper bedding products and confirm pricing.
Wood pellet stall bedding is made from kiln-dried softwood fibers. They are sold in large bags and are relatively easy to store, which is important for small barns with limited space. The standard size is 40 lbs shrink-wrapped in plastic that you can keep outdoors.
Besides easy storage, there is also a couple of other advantages to using pellet bedding. First, they are highly absorbent, which in turn creates less waste.
Wood pellet manufacturers often promote bedding pellets as an environmentally responsible alternative to traditional stall bedding. They claim pellets have less waste and compost efficiently, which reduces the amount of waste in landfills.
I’m not sure I agree with their assessment. Everyone I know composts their pine shavings and never dumps them in a landfill. At the training center, dirty shavings are picked up by commercial and local landscapers.
Wood pellet bedding material quickly absorbs urine and keeps it in one location. When you clean the stall, you only scoop up the wet portion. Second, wood pellet bedding creates little dust and reduces odors.
When horses breathe in foreign airborne debris, it can cause them respiratory problems such as heaves. Thirdly, although wood pellet bedding’s initial costs are expensive, the price comes down over time.
The reason for this is that you remove less bedding material during cleaning. Plus, if you have hourly employees clean stalls, you’ll save money on wages because it’s much quicker to clean a stall with pellet bedding than shavings.
However, it’s not enough savings to offset the overall cost, and annually pellet bedding will still cost more. Compared to wood shavings, the cost of pellet bedding is substantially more.
The University of Maine did an extensive cost analysis and found that wood shaving, even with labor costs factored in, is less expensive than wood pellets. You can click on this link to read their study.
Besides costs, another disadvantage of wood pellets is their quality varies significantly from brand to brand. If you decide to use pellets, talk to a few horse owners, and get some recommendations.
Straw is a popular material used in horse stables. It’s typically piled thick over the stall floors and commonly used in areas where its straw is abundant. I don’t particularly like using straw bedding for several reasons.
Straw doesn’t absorb moisture well, it has to be stored indoors, and horses will eat it. Because straw doesn’t absorb very well, horses are often forced to stand in moisture. Constant wet feet cause thrush in horses, a bacterial infection that can lead to lameness.
But my main concern with straw is the excessive amount of dust it creates. If you’ve ever stacked hay in a barn, you know how much airborne particulate is flying around in the air.
In a stall lined with straw bedding, horses’ movements kick up dust that lingers in the air until it’s drawn into their lungs. Horses exposed to dusty air develop heaves, a severe respiratory condition.
Horses with heaves have reduced respiratory function and athletic performance because of their restricted airway. Their symptoms are similar to a person who has asthma.
Another problem is that you remove most of the straw to clean out manure and urine, which causes you to store large amounts and takes a lot of time to do.
The primary reasons proponents give for using straw are that it’s inexpensive and makes an excellent fertilizer for gardens. Neither has anything to do with the health or well-being of your horses.
At this point, we’re sticking with pine shavings. They are readily available in our area, aren’t dusty, absorb well, and provide an excellent cushion. The other option that has me intrigued is paper bedding products. I intend to use it for one horse stall and update this post after a couple of months.
How big should I build my horse stall?
Horse stalls should be 12 x 12 for a standard horse; giving them enough room to move around comfortably and lie down. I like a removable wall between stalls to open it up and make it into a large stall 12 x 24.
Do you have to have a stall or barn for a horse?
No, horses live fine in a pasture, but it is nice to have a shelter for horses so they can escape the elements. The shelter doesn’t need to be anything fancy.
What’s the best flooring for a horse stall?
I prefer clay for horse stall floors, but there are various suitable materials, and each has positives and negatives. If you keep horses in stalls regularly, the floor must have some give and isn’t too rough on the surface. The best interest of your horse should be your primary consideration.
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Meet Miles Henry
An avid equestrian and seasoned racehorse owner, Miles Henry brings his extensive experience to the equine world, proudly associating with the AQHA, The Jockey Club, and various other equine organizations. Beyond the racetrack, Miles is an accomplished author, having published various books about horses, and is a recognized authority in the field, with his work cited in multiple publications.
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