Alternative Horse Bedding

Research has shown that Kenaf, a fairly new plant to North America that is a relative of cotton and okra, could be a viable product for horse bedding. Michael Yoder, MS, extension associate in the department of animal science at North Carolina State University, compared Kenaf to traditional bedding at the Equine Science Society Symposium held May 31-June 3 in Tucson, Ariz.

"Kenaf has a hard, fibrous exterior, but a soft core fiber that can be used for horse bedding," explained Yoder. The core fiber is spongy, absorbent, and in bedding form its texture resembles compressed popcorn.

Kenaf was compared to pine shavings, wood pellets, and wheat straw for ease of handling, dustiness, ability to control ammonia odor, and composting ability. Eight horses were bedded on each of the four bedding products over four 14-day trials. Caretakers rated the dust levels and ease of handling factors daily. Results showed that Kenaf was the easiest to handle, least dusty, required the least product replacement, and had the lowest monitored ammonia levels. Kenaf ammonia levels measured at 38 ppm--the lowest in the group.

However, Kenaf didn't perform as well when composted. "All of the compost products had high pH and soluble salt levels, indicating that each product should be blended with materials that are low in soluble salts before (using the compost)," he said.

"The palatability of Kenaf is apparently such that some horses will ingest the product," noted Yoder. Two horses in the study ate both the wheat straw and Kenaf when bedded on them.

Yoder computed the cost of the bedding over two weeks at $7.25 per bag (24 pounds, or 2.8 cubic feet). He found that the Kenaf was less expensive than pine shavings, but more expensive than straw and wood pellets. The bedding lasted a long time in the stall, as none of it had to be replaced over a two-week period, said Yoder. He also mentioned that the Kenaf product texture allows it to be washed, dried, and reused.

Kenaf prices vary depending on the unit size purchased and any shipping costs involved. The bedding can be purchased at www.greenenaturalfibers.com/bedding.asp.

About the Author

Marcella M. Reca Zipp, MS

Marcella Reca Zipp, M.S., is a former staff writer for The Horse. She is completing her doctorate in Environmental Education and researching adolescent relationships with horses and nature. She lives with her family, senior horse, and flock of chickens on an island in the Chain O'Lakes.

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