Which Bedding is Best?

Every horseperson has his or her preference when it comes to stall bedding. Some like the smell of sweet cedar shavings, some the traditional look of a deep straw bed, others the absorbency and softness of peat moss. But which bedding really is best for your horse?

In a simple study conducted at the Equine Research Centre in Guelph, Ontario, five different beddings were put to the test. The main criterion was absorbency, because the more absorbent a bedding is, the lower the levels of ammonia in the barn (and thus the better the respiratory health of the horses). Absorbent beddings also tend to be less dusty and easier to muck out because the soiled bedding clumps together, aiding removal and perhaps allowing less bedding to be used overall.

Researcher Susan Raymond compared straw, shavings, peat moss, hemp fibers, and shredded paper in her absorbency test. When water was added to 10 grams of each bedding material, shredded paper came out the clear winner, absorbing 100 milliliters, as compared to hemp (45 ml), shavings (30 ml), and peat moss (30 ml). The most traditional bedding, straw, was the least absorbent of the samples, soaking up only 25 ml of water.

Of course, with maximum absorbency comes a down-side: added weight. Anyone who has mucked out a truly soaked stall can attest that it can become back-breaking labor. In this regard, shredded paper might be a liability, for Raymond’s study demonstrated that at maximum water absorption, it can increase its weight by a staggering 900%. By comparison, hemp (at its maximum absorption level) increases by 400%, peat moss by 300%, shavings by 250%, and straw by 225%. Although these factors might have a bearing on which bedding you choose, you also will have to take into account local availability, cost, type of horses you’re housing, and the practicalities of composting and/or disposal of your manure pile.

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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