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Wood Shavings for Horse Stalls: Essential Bedding Tips

Published on: July 24, 2023

By: Miles HenryFact Checked

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I love watching my horses roll around in a stall full of fresh bedding. It’s a sight that gives me a sense of contentment. The choice of that bedding – wood shavings – isn’t made lightly. But why do I use this particular type? Let’s dive into the specifics.

Horse bedding serves multiple purposes: absorbing moisture, minimizing odor, and offering comfort to our equine friends. Wood shavings, in particular, have gained popularity due to their wide availability, cost-effectiveness, and ability to provide a supportive yet soft bedding environment for horses.

But how can you be certain you’re making the most appropriate choice for your horse when it comes to wood shavings? Which types should you opt for, and which ones should you avoid? As a long-time horse owner and wood shavings user, I’ll share my insights on selecting and managing wood shavings for horse bedding.

Picture of fresh wood shavings in a horse stall.
Fresh pine shavings in a horse stall.

Understanding Wood Shavings

When you picture wood shavings, what comes to mind? Tiny fragments of wood, curling and crisp, often a byproduct of woodwork. But in the equestrian world, these seemingly insignificant scraps play a major role. They’re the star of our show: the primary bedding material for horses.

What Are Wood Shavings?

Wood shavings are small, thin strips or chips of wood. They’re commonly produced when wood is processed in sawmills, planed for carpentry, or chiseled by hand. For horse bedding, these shavings are typically sourced from softwood trees because they’re softer and more comfortable for horses to lie on.

Types of Wood Shavings

There are several types of wood shavings available, each with its own pros and cons. The three most commonly used are Pine, Aspen, and Cedar. Let’s delve into each one.

1. Pine Shavings

Pine shavings are a favorite among many horse owners and the type I use. They offer a pleasant scent that can help mask stable odors, and they’re excellent at absorbing moisture. Pine is readily available in most regions, making it a cost-effective option. However, it’s essential to ensure that the shavings are free from dust, which can cause respiratory issues in horses.

2. Aspen Shavings

Aspen shavings are a good alternative to pine. They’re hypoallergenic, which means they’re less likely to cause allergic reactions in horses. While they don’t have the pleasant aroma of pine, aspen shavings are highly absorbent and tend to be very low in dust. However, they can sometimes be more expensive than pine shavings.

3. Cedar Shavings

Cedar shavings might seem appealing due to their rich scent and insect-repelling properties. However, they are generally not recommended for horse bedding. The strong aroma can irritate a horse’s respiratory system, and the oils in cedar can potentially cause skin irritations. So, while they might be a good fit for your hamster or gerbil, it’s best to steer clear of cedar shavings for horses.

In conclusion, the type of wood shavings you choose can significantly impact your horse’s comfort and health. By understanding the differences, you can make an informed decision that’s best for your horse.

Here is a YouTube video that covers information you need to know about horse stall bedding.

YouTube video

How to Choose the Right Type of Wood Shavings

Selecting the right type of wood shavings isn’t as straightforward as grabbing the first bag you see in the store. Several factors come into play. Let’s explore some key points to consider when deciding on the best bedding for your horse.

Considerations for Choosing Wood Shavings

  1. Horse’s Health: Some horses are more prone to respiratory issues or allergies than others. If this is the case, choose hypoallergenic options like aspen which are also low in dust.
  2. Comfort: A comfortable horse is a happy horse. Softwood shavings like pine and aspen tend to provide better cushioning for lying down.
  3. Cost: While we’d all like to provide the best for our horses, budget can be a deciding factor. Pine shavings are generally a cost-effective choice.
  4. Availability: Depending on your location, some types of wood shavings may be more readily available than others.
  5. Absorbency: Good absorbency is crucial for reducing moisture and ammonia levels in the stall, keeping it clean and fresh-smelling. Both pine and aspen excel in this aspect.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Different Types

Having explored the general considerations, it’s valuable to understand the specific pros and cons of different wood shaving types.

Pine Shavings: They’re readily available, cost-effective, and have a pleasant scent. However, quality varies greatly, and lower-quality pine shavings may be dusty, posing a risk to horses with respiratory problems.

Aspen Shavings: These shavings are hypoallergenic and have great absorbency, making them a safe choice for sensitive horses. But they tend to be pricier and less fragrant compared to pine.

Cedar Shavings: While cedar’s insect-repelling properties and robust scent may seem appealing, they’re not generally recommended due to potential respiratory irritation and skin reactions in horses.

Comparing the Most Common Types

Type of Wood ShavingProsCons
Pine1. Highly absorbent
2. Natural insect repellent
3. Widely available
1. Can be dusty
2. Quality varies
Aspen1. Dust-free
2. Hypoallergenic
3. Good for sensitive horses
1. Less absorbent
2. Can be more expensive
Cedar1. Natural insect repellent
2. Pleasant aroma
1. Potential respiratory irritant
2. Can be expensive

If we’re to compare pine and aspen shavings (since cedar is less favored), the choice mainly hinges on your horse’s needs and your budget. If your horse has no specific allergies or respiratory issues, pine can be an excellent choice due to its availability, cost-effectiveness, and pleasing aroma.

On the other hand, if your horse is sensitive or prone to allergies, it might be worth investing in aspen shavings despite the higher cost. While they lack the natural fragrance of pine, they’re less likely to trigger allergies or cause respiratory problems.

Remember, each horse is unique, and what works for one might not work for another. It’s always best to closely monitor your horse’s response to a new type of bedding and be prepared to adjust as needed for their comfort and well-being.

Picture of a horse laying down in a stall with fresh wood shavings.
My horse lying in pine shavings.

Wood Shavings to Avoid

While wood shavings are a popular choice for horse bedding, it’s essential to be aware that not all types of wood shavings are safe. Some can pose serious health risks to your equine companions. Let’s delve into which ones should be avoided and why.

Black Walnut Shavings

Black Walnut is a type of wood shaving that should never be used for horse bedding. If a horse stands on Black Walnut shavings, even for a short period, it can develop a serious condition known as laminitis. Laminitis is a painful disorder that affects the horse’s feet and can lead to permanent lameness or even require euthanasia in severe cases.

The toxic substance in Black Walnut that causes laminitis isn’t entirely understood, but its effects are rapid and detrimental. Symptoms can appear within a few hours of exposure, including signs of discomfort, increased digital pulses in the feet, and difficulty walking.

Other Harmful Wood Shavings

In addition to Black Walnut, you should also avoid using wood shavings made from other trees like Cherry and Red Maple. Similar to Black Walnut, these woods contain substances that can be toxic to horses if they are ingested or come into contact with the horse’s skin.

Cherry wood shavings, when they become damp and start to break down, can release cyanide gas. If inhaled by the horse, it can cause respiratory distress or even sudden death.

Red Maple shavings pose a risk when ingested. They contain a toxin that can cause damage to a horse’s red blood cells, leading to a condition known as hemolytic anemia, which can be fatal.

In conclusion, while wood shavings are a common and often excellent choice for horse bedding, it’s crucial to ensure you’re using a safe type. Avoid Black Walnut, Cherry, and Red Maple to keep your horse healthy and comfortable. Always source your bedding from a reputable supplier and, when in doubt, ask for a guarantee that these harmful woods are not included in the mix.

Quantity of Shavings Needed for a Stall

Once you’ve settled on the type of wood shavings to use, the next question is how much you’ll need. Several factors come into play here, including the size of the stall, the number of horses, and the horses’ habits. Here’s what you need to know.

Factors Influencing Quantity of Shavings

When determining how much bedding you’ll need for a stall, there are a few key factors you should consider. Each situation is unique, as is each horse, so you may find yourself needing to adjust the amount of bedding over time.

Stall Size

Naturally, the larger the stall, the more bedding you will need. The goal is to have enough shavings to comfortably cover the entire floor of the stall, providing a soft surface for your horse and ample material to absorb waste. Standard horse stalls are 12′ X 12′; however, some barns have larger or smaller stalls based on their needs.

Number of Horses

While it’s unusual to have more than one horse in a stall, there are exceptions. For instance, a mare and her foal might share a stall, requiring more bedding to deal with the increased amount of waste. More often, though, you’ll be dealing with just one horse per stall, so your bedding needs will primarily be based on the size of the stall and the habits of the individual horse.

Horses’ Habits

Horses have different habits that can influence the quantity of shavings needed. Some horses urinate or defecate more frequently, while others might walk around a lot in their stall, spreading their waste around. For instance, my Thoroughbred gelding is quite active in his stall, constantly walking around. This behavior requires me to use more shavings for him compared to my other horses.

Ultimately, assessing the right quantity of wood shavings for your horse’s stall will depend on these factors. Paying attention to the details of your horse’s behavior and the specific circumstances of their stall will help ensure you provide an environment that’s both comfortable and sanitary.

General Guideline for Quantity of Shavings

As a rough estimate, you’ll need about 5 to 6 cubic yards of shavings for a standard 12×12 foot horse stall if you’re starting from scratch and want about a 6-inch base of shavings. This roughly translates to 7-8 standard 2.8 cubic feet bags of shavings.

However, once the stall is in use, you won’t need to fully replace all the shavings each time you clean it. Instead, you’ll just be removing the soiled shavings and replacing them. This typically requires about one new bag of shavings per day, though this can vary depending on your horse’s habits and the initial bedding depth you prefer.

Remember, these are just guidelines. The best indicator is your horse itself. If your horse seems comfortable and the stall stays relatively dry and odor-free between cleanings, then you’re probably using the right amount of shavings. If not, adjust the amount accordingly. Your horse’s comfort is always the priority.

Picture of bulk shavings used for stall bedding.
Shaving trailer.

Frequency of Changing Wood Shavings

Keeping a clean stall is not only essential for your horse’s comfort but also for its health. Dirty bedding can lead to a multitude of problems, including respiratory issues, skin infections, and hoof diseases. As such, regularly changing the wood shavings in your horse’s stall is crucial. But how often should you do this?

The Importance of a Clean Stall

Horses spend a considerable amount of time in their stalls, so maintaining cleanliness is key. A clean stall helps keep away flies and reduces the risk of your horse developing thrush, a common bacterial infection that affects the horse’s hooves. Additionally, ammonia build-up from urine can lead to respiratory problems, so removing soiled bedding promptly is important.

Ideal Frequency for Changing Shavings

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to how often you should change the wood shavings in your horse’s stall, as it largely depends on your horse and its habits. However, as a general rule of thumb, you should remove soiled shavings daily and add fresh ones as needed.

Some horses are “tidier” than others and tend to do their business in one area of the stall, making cleaning easier. On the other hand, some horses move around a lot, spreading their waste all over the stall, which could require a more thorough cleaning more frequently.

In terms of a complete change of all shavings, this should be done every 2-4 weeks, depending on the horse and the conditions. A complete change might be needed more often if the stall isn’t well-ventilated, if your horse spends a lot of time in the stall, or if your horse has health issues that require extra cleanliness.

Factors Influencing Frequency of Changes

Several factors can affect the frequency of changing your horse’s bedding:

  1. Horse’s Health: If your horse has a health condition like respiratory problems or a hoof infection, you’ll need to change the shavings more often to reduce the risk of exacerbating the problem.
  2. Horse’s Habits: As mentioned before, a horse that spreads its waste around the stall will require more frequent changes than one that uses only a specific area.
  3. Time in Stall: If your horse spends most of its time out in the pasture and only comes into the stall to eat or during harsh weather, you won’t need to change the shavings as often as for a horse that spends most of its time in the stall.
  4. Stall Flooring Material: If you have concrete stall floors with rubber mats, you may not need to change the shavings as often as one with clay or dirt floors.

Maintaining a clean stall is a crucial aspect of horse care. Regularly changing wood shavings ensures your horse has a comfortable, hygienic living environment. This, in turn, can help prevent health issues and keep your horse happier and healthier.

Picture of bags of wood shavings.
Wood Shavings

Step-by-Step Guide on Changing Wood Shavings

Whether you’re a new horse owner or need a refresher, here’s a simple, straightforward guide to help you understand the process of properly changing wood shavings in a stall.

Step 1: Gather Your Tools Before you begin, ensure you have all the necessary tools on hand. These include a manure fork or pitchfork, wheelbarrow, and of course, fresh wood shavings.

Step 2: Remove the Horse from the Stall. For safety and convenience, it’s best to remove the horse from the stall while you’re cleaning. This also gives you a chance to inspect the entire stall thoroughly. I often put our horses on a walking wheel during this time.

Step 3: Scoop Out Soiled Shavings Start at one corner of the stall and work your way across. Using your manure fork, scoop out the soiled shavings – these will be the ones that are discolored and damp. Be sure to check carefully for manure hidden in the bedding.

Step 4: Transfer Soiled Shavings to the Wheelbarrow Transfer the soiled shavings to your wheelbarrow. When the wheelbarrow is full, dump it in a designated manure pile or disposal area.

Step 5: Inspect the Stall Floor. With the soiled shavings removed, inspect the stall floor for any damage, pooled urine, or remaining waste. If the stall has a dirt or clay floor, you may need to fill in any holes your horse has dug.

Step 6: Add Fresh Shavings Now, it’s time to add fresh wood shavings. Spread them evenly over the stall floor until you’ve reached the desired bedding depth, usually about 5 to 6 inches, for comfort and absorption. I typically dump them in the center and work to the walls.

Step 7: Allow the Stall to Air Out. If possible, let the stall air out for a bit before bringing your horse back in. This helps dissipate any remaining dust or odors.

Step 8: Return Your Horse to the Stall Finally, when the stall is clean, fresh, and dry, it’s time to bring your horse back in.

Remember, regular stall cleaning and bedding changes are not only crucial for your horse’s comfort and health but also provide a great opportunity to check on the general state of the stall and repair any damage. This maintenance is a crucial part of ensuring your horse has a safe, comfortable place to rest and relax.

Tips for Effective Use of Wood Shavings

Maximizing the benefits of wood shavings for your horse’s bedding goes beyond just choosing the right type and changing them regularly. Here are some additional tips that can help you get the most out of your wood shavings.

Proper Storage

How you store your wood shavings can significantly impact their quality. Ideally, shavings should be stored in a dry, well-ventilated area. This helps prevent the growth of mold and bacteria that can be harmful to your horse’s health. If you buy shavings in bulk, try to use the oldest ones first to ensure none go to waste.

Regular Inspection for Mold

Despite your best efforts, sometimes mold can still develop in wood shavings, especially if they get damp. Regularly inspect your stored shavings and those in the stall for signs of mold, which could look like discolored patches or have a musty smell. If you spot any, remove the affected shavings immediately.

Avoid Overfilling the Stall

While it might seem like more bedding equals more comfort for your horse, overfilling the stall with shavings can actually have the opposite effect. Too much bedding can lead to increased dust, which can irritate your horse’s respiratory system. It can also be wasteful if your horse is one that tends to spread their waste around.

Spot Cleaning

To extend the life of your bedding and make full changes less frequent, practice spot cleaning. This involves removing only the soiled shavings each day and adding fresh ones as needed. Over time, this can save you both time and money, as well as reduce the amount of bedding waste you produce.

Seek Out Quality Shavings

Lastly, not all wood shavings are created equal. Seek out high-quality shavings from a reputable supplier. Good quality shavings will be more absorbent, last longer, and be less likely to cause dust or irritation.

By following these tips, you can maximize the benefits of using wood shavings as bedding in your horse’s stall, ensuring a comfortable, hygienic environment for your equine friend.

Conclusion

To sum up, using wood shavings as bedding in your horse’s stall requires careful consideration. From understanding the different types of wood shavings and their pros and cons to knowing which types to avoid, the choice of bedding plays a critical role in ensuring your horse’s comfort and health.

Remember, the quantity of shavings you’ll need depends on various factors such as stall size and your horse’s habits, and cleanliness is key. Regularly changing the wood shavings not only guarantees your horse a clean environment but also helps prevent health problems like respiratory issues and hoof infections.

With the step-by-step guide to changing wood shavings and tips for maximizing their use, we hope this blog post equips you with the knowledge you need to provide the best care for your horse.

We would love to hear from you. Do you have any experiences or tips on using wood shavings that you would like to share? How have these tips helped you in maintaining your horse’s stall? Please leave your comments below, and let’s continue the conversation.

In the end, the comfort and well-being of your horse is the ultimate goal. Here’s to happy and healthy horses!