What bedding you select plays a big role in the comfort and health of any stall-bound horse.
We like to keep our horses as naturally as possible, but it’s sometimes necessary for them to spend some time inside a stable. When setting up your barn, take your stall flooring into consideration, as well as the type of bedding you’re going to use. That way, you can help promote your horse’s health and comfort while he’s indoors. There are also a number of all natural, environmentally-friendly product options available, and more are coming on the market!
From the Groud Up
Let’s start with your stall flooring. As with anything, a good base is very important. Comfort, drainage and maintenance should be taken into consideration when selecting what will work best for you and your farm.
Wood plank floors were once a popular option, though they have become less so over the years due to their tendency to hold moisture and rot. They can also be slippery when wet. However, some people still like the look and sound of this type of flooring; if you are looking at incorporating it into your farm, ensure you place the planks over a good drainage base, and space the planks appropriately to allow drainage.
Cement floors tend to be maintenance-free, long-lasting and easy to clean, but they can also be cold and slippery, and hard for horses to stand on for long periods if extra bedding is not used. Additional bedding is also necessary because cement floors do not have any drainage. My first farm had stalls with sand floors in the stalls. While it drained well, it required a lot of maintenance to keep the floors level, and the sand needed to be changed/refreshed regularly. Sand floors can also increase the risk of sand colic.
The most popular option nowadays for stall flooring tends to be limestone dust. Over a good base, this flooring allows adequate drainage. It isn’t quite as hard as cement, and doesn’t shift around like sand. With any of these types of flooring/bases, you can add rubber mats on top for extra cushioning, ease of cleaning, and to lengthen the floor’s lifespan. There are many different types of stall mats on the market to suit every type of facility.
Bedding and Beyond
Now that you have your stalls constructed, you’ll need to decide what type of bedding you would like to use. This is a personal decision, based on what kind of facility you have, the bedding’s cost, availability and storage, the number of horses you have and if any have special needs or health concerns, how you’re going to dispose of used bedding, and so on.
Straw: When most people think of bedding for horses, they think of straw – this used to be very common and is still used in many facilities today, particularly breeding facilities and racetracks. While a relatively inexpensive option that composts well, straw has some downsides in that it requires a fair amount of storage, isn’t terribly absorbent (you need to use more), can be dusty, and some horses will try to eat it.
Shavings: Shavings are easily the most popular bedding type. Few things look and smell better to a horse person than a clean barn with stalls bedded deep in pine shavings. Shavings can be purchased in bags, making them a little easier and cleaner to store, or can be purchased in bulk for a more cost-effective option. One drawback to shavings is that they have the potential to be dusty.
Compressed pellets: Pelleted bedding is becoming increasingly popular. These compressed wood pellets expand when exposed to moisture. They typically come in bags, making them easy to store and handle, and while initially more costly, each bag will last you longer than a bag of uncompressed bedding. Another bonus is that this type of bedding is very low on dust. Downsides are that some horses will try to eat this bedding (the unexpanded pellets can look like grain), and it takes some time to figure out how to bed a stall and muck it out with pellets.
Peat moss: While not common, this is a favorite with those who use it. It is soft, composts well, and is very absorbent. Some people don’t like the look of the dark bedding, however, and it can take some practice to get the mucking out right.
Paper products: Shredded newspaper and cardboard are a less common but environmentally-friendly option. This bedding composts well and is virtually dust-free. It can, however, blow around in the wind, making manure pile placement a challenge.
Alternative bedding options include rice hulls, Kenaf and hemp. These tend to have limited availability. Rice hulls are light, fluffy and dustless. Hemp and Kenaf are also low in dust, compost well, and are very absorbent. Peanut hulls are also available but contain aflatoxins, which can be harmful to horses.
In the end, selecting a “bed” for your horse is no different than picking one for yourself. It is an individual decision – and an important one, given how much time your horse will spend on it. What works for one farm or horse won’t work for everyone – this is why there are so many different options out there. By doing your research, visiting some different facilities, and doing a few trial runs with different products, you will be able to decide what the perfect solution for your own farm will be!