Hemp A Hit In Ontario

Proponents say that hemp can be used for everything  from making clothing, to rope, to paper…even automotive parts. Now, a Delaware, Ontario-based company called Hempline Inc. has added bedding for horses to that extensive list. They claim their HempChips bedding, manufactured from the core of the hemp stalk, has excellent absorbency (superior to both straw and shavings), is virtually dust-free, absorbs ammonia fumes (thus reducing stable odor), is easy to work with, and doesn’t appeal to equine taste buds. On top of this, hemp bedding decomposes rapidly, turning your manure pile into quality compost.

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Hemp was a leading North American cash crop in the early 20th century, and it is making a comeback in time for the new millenium.

Hemp is a crop with a checkered history; it was one of the first cash crops grown in North America, but it has suffered through its kinship with another plant, cannabis (marijuana). Physically, the two plant species are very similar, but there’s an important difference—hemp contains almost no THC, the psychoactive ingredient that gives cannabis smokers a chemical high. Hempline president Geofrey Kime likens the situation to two entirely different breeds of horse—to an outsider they might look the same, but to a horse person, they are worlds apart.

Nonetheless, the growing of commercial hemp has been outlawed for more than 60 years in Canada, through a sort of "guilt by association." That unfortunate circumstance was overturned in March of 1998, when former tobacco growers in Ontario successfully lobbied to make hemp a legal option for their livelihood. Growing hemp now is government-regulated. Farmers have to obtain a license, and they only are allowed to grow certain approved varieties, but hemp is already well on its way to re-establishing itself as a useful cash crop.

Kime notes that some enterprising individuals have tried to scavenge hemp leaves from local fields for (um) recreational purposes, but they never do it more than once. "You can’t get high smoking it; you just get sick!" he says.

Hempline Inc. was one step ahead of the law when it established itself, by virtue of a special research permit, in 1994. When the regulatory change came through, it was ready. The company now manufactures the raw materials used for hemp textiles and clothing from the stringy threads on the outside of the stalks. The idea to use the stalk cores for bedding wasn’t theirs; hemp has been used as bedding throughout Europe for some 25 years, according to Kime, and it even is found in the Royal Mews of Queen Elizabeth II.

"Once the regulations were in place," he says, "it was just a matter of getting the product to a useful particle size for horses and packaging it in a format easy for horse people to handle."

The bedding now is available in plastic bags weighing approximately 32 pounds. Kime estimates that it takes approximately four bags, retailing at about $10.95 (Canadian) each, to bed down an average box stall. The big advantage, he says, is that horse owners will have to replace far less bedding from day to day because of the product’s superior absorbency. On average, he said, an owner will add about one bag of HempChips per week to a stall, making its cost comparable to wood shavings. Slightly moistening the new bedding with water seems to activate its absorbent properties; otherwise, the wood-like chips are handled just like shavings or sawdust.

"The general reaction we hear is that people really like how clean it is, and how easy it is to work with," says Kime. "Stalls bedded with HempChips are a little more fresh and a lot less dusty; they’re also less work-intensive to maintain. The crop is grown without the use of pesticides, so it’s very natural. It’s a premium horse bedding."

Early interest in HempChips, which had its product launch in November 1998 at Toronto’s Royal Agricultural Winter Fair, has been keen. Kime hopes to improve his distribution network beyond the province of Ontario in the near future. Current regulations still prohibit the growing of hemp in the United States, but there’s no ban against using packaged hemp bedding, so distribution of HempChips in the states also is a possibility for the future.

About the Author

Karen Briggs

Karen Briggs is the author of six books, including the recently updated Understanding Equine Nutrition as well as Understanding The Pony, both published by Eclipse Press. She's written a few thousand articles on subjects ranging from guttural pouch infections to how to compost your manure. She is also a Canadian certified riding coach, an equine nutritionist, and works in media relations for the harness racing industry. She lives with her band of off-the-track Thoroughbreds on a farm near Guelph, Ontario, and dabbles in eventing.

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