Your Bedding Choices

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user 45739

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Oct 12, 2014
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I'm just interested in hearing what and why for everyone's stall bedding choices. What's your stall flooring/substrate, what do you use to bed with, and what are your reasons?

We're still in "seeing what works best here" mode, and I enjoy hearing what works best for others, both those who have similar barns to me, and those who are in very different set-ups.

Some backstory for the question:

I've never known a horse quite like Kestrel. And I find myself saying that many times every day. ::grin::

My barn is a pole barn that was used for storage until I found myself the mom of two Minis who needed a new home. Then, wonderful friends descended, and within a couple weeks we had a whole section of the barn cleaned out, stalls built, a paddock up, and ... well, horses!

The footing of the barn was originally fill. It had been laid down over twenty years ago, and purchased as "clean fill" which, for the most part, it is. However it's a dirt/rock (mostly slate and shale, I guess) mix, and the rocks vary from pebbles to foot-large chunks of stone. So, when we built the stalls, we topped that off with about six inches of stone dust. You'd think that would be a nice, reliable cushion, drains well, yada yada, right? The friend who runs the rescue which helped these horses uses just stone dust in his stalls, and has never had a problem with that. No bedding on top, the horses do fine on it, though of course they have a lot of pasture and outdoor time, so aren't in the stalls for lots of hours.

Then we added Kestrel to the mix. :) See first line of the backstory.

Star's stall was fine, though I did note that neither girl, once it started to get colder, wanted to lie down as often. Kes, however, well.... I think she might have been a cat in a past life. The typical scenario is:

She poops. She immediately starts to dig and paw at it, breaking it up, and spreading it into the substrate. And then she digs just for the sake of digging, pretty much all night long from the look of her stall in the mornings.It's interesting that outside, she poops like a normal horse. She only does the digging thing inside.

Cleaning Starling's stall was fine, It's just a stall. LOL Kestrel's, on the other hand, took me ages as I would sift and hunt for manure and try my best to get it clean. (In the stone dust's defense, though, it does drain really well. :) The stalls are never wet.)

So, we tried stall mats in part of the stalls, both to try to dissuade Kes's digging, and because I wanted mats down under their hay racks so they weren't picking up any stone when they would pull the hay to the floor. They helped some, though the horses seemed even less inclined to lie down.

We decided to try shavings on top of the stone. I thought that if she was more comfortable (and the first night, she was, sort of ... at least she happily rolled in it and laid down to rest) she'd be less likely to dig. Once again, it's working out okay with Star. Within a day, Kes's stall was a lovely mixture of blended stone dust and shavings, in mounds and piles, and even more impossible to clean.

Next step (or experiment, anyway): straw. I know some people will think I'm nuts, but I used to work at a Thoroughbred race horse breeding farm, and we bedded with straw there. I got very good at mucking a straw stall faster than I've ever been able to do shavings. There's a method to banking clean straw, sifting out manure, etc, that once the muscle memory kicks back in, I know I'll be fine with. I'm hoping that there will be less "little stuff" to mix the manure into, the little Mini poops will sift fairly easily through the hay fork as I shake out and toss the straw, and then I can just clean the dirty stuff out before spreading the fresh straw back to the center. With the stone dust below (though it might take a while before it's mostly stone again and the shavings Kes has mixed into it are gone), drainage won't be a problem, and the straw will keep them warmer in the winter, too.

Or, at least that is the hope. <G> It remains to be seen what reality will bring!

So ... how do you bed, what do you use, and why? I look forward to hearing everyone's thoughts!
My horses don't spend much time in their stalls, pretty much just stalled for "grain" meals, then out for the rest of the time. The only horse that spends much time in his stall is my senior stallion; I bed his stall with wood pellets and shavings, I fill his pee spots with wood pellets, then add shavings over the top of that. He doesn't dig or make much of a mess, so he's pretty easy to clean up after.
The bedding in my stalls depends on the barn. My pole barns have dirt floors, so the stalls are filled with sand then topped with sawdust. In my new barn, which was formerly a calf barn with cement floors, the stalls are matted and bedded with sawdust. All around the outside of my big metal barn I have stalls built under the overhang roof that are filled with sand and sawdust. My run ins are either filled with mason sand or stone dust or woodchips. My calf stalls are all bedded with shavings as the sawdust gets too wet tlo fast under bucket calves. My small wooden stallion stalls are matted with parlor mats ( with drainage holes) then bedded with shredded straw or hay chaff. I really prefer sawdust as its cheap and real easy to muck out. Shavings are ungodly expensive and take too long to sift through when mucking out. Straw and hay dont absorb urine well and pack down too hard if not chopped first but I use it in rough boarder stalls b/c they dont pay for bedding and I just rake it out of my hay barn for free. I put long straw down in my foaling stalls but rake it all out once baby is up so im not digging it out all summer. I have boarders who pay for their shavings because they prefer them to sawdust but I charge more for them because they're so pricy and take longer to clean plus I think I waste a lot of shavings when picking up mini manure because it all falls through the tines. I prefer sand and sawdust, but sawdust works great on rubber matts too.
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Thanks, Chanda and AmySue! AmySue, you have quite the farm operation!
We've always had rubber mats...For bedding we've preferred Pine shavings, just a light coating with some extra

banked against the walls. We also depend on PDZ or the equivalent to spread on wet areas...
I don't know if our barn is pole-built or stick-built or whatever (not too sure of the difference.) Our barn looks like our house with cedar plank siding; the tack room in which we store hay and also the aisle has concrete as the floor. (We store the hay on pallets to keep it off the concrete.) The stalls have 5/8 inch crush gravel (not sure how deep) over which we have stall mats. (Plus, after Nicky's eye injury, we put stall mats up on the walls.)

I think choice of bedding depends on the horse. ... a nice bonus is to have horses that don't "go" in the stalls. Because our three are allowed to go outside 24/7, it allows me to have fewer stall cleaning chores... Shrek said, "Better out than in."

Cleaning up behind NIcky is a dream; it would have to be Armageddon before he'd "go" in his stall. So he gets shavings with ample straw piled on top. I quit putting any pellets under his bedding, because it's been several years since he's peed in his stall.

Our two girls used to be pretty good, but then we had to keep Baby stall-bound when she had laminitis, which is when she seems to have learned that shavings/bedding are the place to "go." It was turning into a lot of work cleaning up behind that. Plus it was turning into a disposal problem. I reluctantly quite putting much bedding on their stall mats. Occasionally, Baby does still pee in the stall; occasionally Baby also poops in the stall. The best thing I learned here on the forum was pea gravel for the area outside the girls' stall. Also, I do keep an eye on upcoming weather; and if the weather is going to be bad, I open up an adjoining stall so the girls can go in there too. So they get stall pellets with some shavings on top, but in really limited quantities. more straw; well, except now and them because they just love rolling in fresh straw. Picking horse apples out of straw is not fun, in my opinion.

The PDZ mentioned by MiniV does seem to help odor absorption. It's a bit pricey, but I use it right outside their door on the pea gravel to absorb urine odor. (I don't like the PDZ that is like talcum powder--too dusty; I like the granular form.)
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I put pine pellets in the pee holes, I do not add water to them, I just throw in the pellets, and then I put pine shavings on top. Since I started doing this my horses no longer get the pee soaked hips from laying in the stable. They stay clean. I pick the poos often and once every week or 10 days I take the whole thing down and start over. I found when I disturbed the bed base I made with the pellets in the stall daily that it actually smelled and was not as effective.
I have wooden floors with rubber stall mats. I like the pine shavings for my horses. I find the stall pellets to be dusty. During the winter the barn isn't as "Open" as it is the other 3 seasons so the dust from the pellets can be a factor. If you have a horse that's pees a lot the pellets work well.


Victory Pass Stable

The digging is normally a sign of boardum or stress. Maybe a toy in the stall would help.

I have always used shavings. Cause I only have 5 girls. When I foalout next year I will probably switch to straw. Its not as likely to get into baby eyes. But I also have a fear that my girls would eat it.since my girls never grew up with straw they probably would want to eat it.

Also I don't have the storage room for straw as my primary bedding. If I did I would probably switch to it. Since it is cheaper. But I am happy with the shavings, break down quick,smells fresh.

I have wood and rubber floors. They work well but I want to do lime next summer:) hope this helped a little
Just thought I would mention that if you get wheat or rye straw your horses probably wont eat it as it tastes bitter but oat or barley straw is palatable and often added to feed rations as a filler. Lots of people around here chop and feed straw to heifers and dry cows. I have read about people feeding it to over weight ponies as a filler too. Plus, barley straw is awesome for keeping scum out of ponds if you let it decompose at the bank of the water. I got my husband to plant some barley this year so i could try the straw. The good thing about straw is you can stack it outside on a pallet and just cover it with a tarp as you do not need it to keep like feed hay. At first i was disappointed when shavings started coming in plastic as i liked the paper bags for fire starters in the wood stoves, but the upside to plastic is that i can store them outside and they wont get ruined like the paper ones.

Also, my insurance carrier just informed me that they have added a policy about using fuel pellets in place of bedding pellets. I guess a lot of people are doing this because wood stove pellets are cheaper. In the event of a fire, if fuel pellets were used for bedding they won't pay for damages. Just thought it was worth mentioning. I like the pine pellets for wet spots and I have one boarder who uses them because her horse has heaves and they are the only bedding that do not induce flare ups in her horse.
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Wow, nice discussion, everyone. Thanks for sharing your methods and choices, and the reasons you like the bedding you use.

Rebecca, I agree about the stall toys, and planned on shopping around to see if I can find a variety. Maybe if I try a few different kinds that I can rotate, it will keep Kestrel's interest.

AmySue, thank you for the reminder about rye versus oat straw, etc. We never had a problem with the Thoroughbreds eating oat straw, but I'm learning that Minis are a whole different experience! :)
I couldn't remember the name of it before, but likits are great. They lick and chew on them like a salt block. My girls luv em. And there are different flavors and toys to put them in.
Also, my insurance carrier just informed me that they have added a policy about using fuel pellets in place of bedding pellets. I guess a lot of people are doing this because wood stove pellets are cheaper. In the event of a fire, if fuel pellets were used for bedding they won't pay for damages. Just thought it was worth mentioning. I like the pine pellets for wet spots and I have one boarder who uses them because her horse has heaves and they are the only bedding that do not induce flare ups in her horse.
Wow, the pellet issue seems sort of odd. I guess it must be due to you being in another part of the country.

I guess you must have a commercial operation whereby you have insurance for stalls/bedding.

I actually spent some time researching stall pellets vice stove pellets. I can't find my notes right now, and it's been a couple years. It's kind of a moot point, because around here stall and stove pellets cost pretty much the same. One thing I did learn is the brand we use (made in OR) are the same darn thing. I called the company and checked; samey-samey.

How would an insurance company know what you were using? ...baffling.
Put a soccer ball in her stall- she will dig at that and have a whale of a time!! I have always used straw but after moving to woodchip I would not use anything else now. I cover the woodchip with hay for foaling- I make my own hay so it costs me nothing, but straw is now as expensive as hay as it is used to fuel power stations over here, consequently it is all bought up before it is even baled! The woodchip I use is small and soft and comes from farmed trees so is sustainable, which is a bonus. I use a sieve not a shavings fork- gloves and a sieve, and I can clear a stall with no waste in five minutes, possibly less, an get a half bucket of straight poop, which burns well btw, on an enclosed fire, once a month I take out the wet- I tried clearing a little wet each day but found it was better to take it in one go once a month. The stall stays dry and clean until then but by the end of the month they wet patch is WET. I find this encourages them to go in one place only. The wet stuff is spread on what I laughingly call my "dry lot" (which is covered in grass which is why I laugh!) It leeches the urine into the soil underneath and the top stays clean and helps with the entrance to the stalls (as the horses come and go in winter , as they please. ) It takes three bales of chip to bed down a 6 x 8 stall to start and I add one bale a month, mostly over the wet patch and always have a nice bed. My biggest mistake was having concrete put down in the stalls I use in winter (My stalls are all subdivided BH stalls in a shed row) the stalls I use in summer are dirt floored and are WONDERFUL, no mess at all and never get wet, I use half the clean chip on the dirt floored stalls, than on the concrete.

Like you I have always found straw to be the best, and I never had any problem clearing it either- it took no longer to clean out and I loved the depth of bed I could give, BUT getting rid of it became a big problem (I will not spread manure form horses on horse paddocks) burning it is legal, but I have neighbours and one has emphysema so that was no longer an option, also, using wheat straw is dangerous- I don't know how you harvest over there but here the drivers of the combines appear to be auditioning for Nascar and grain comes through into the straw because of the speed at which they combine, and wheat is poisonous to horses, and can and does cause, that is out! I only used barley straw, which as you rightly say, they like eating. This is not a good idea if you are producing show horses- straw is harder to digest than hay and thus causes a large gut. Not a good look!!

I really do think a ball or to or even a grain sack (proper one, if you have it, made of hessian) or an old coat, something she can dig at harmlessly. might distract Kestrel. Whatever else, you certainly have horses with character.!

Oh, and I think you need a big "thank you" for taking all this care and trouble over your "rescues", so,,,,

If hooves are packed w/ snow, you pick out the snow and they are "clean". If they are packed w/ mud, you pick them out, brush them off good (no need to use water which would then freeze into ice in their hooves) and in either case they are ready for their "lube".

Loved snow!! Horses hooves so clean it was amazing. We kept a tub of lard in our barns in CO & MT to use on hooves during the winter, and on coronet bands in the summer. Had great hooves on all of our riding horses and the two ponies we had then.

Hate this sand/clay crap that is so mucky when we get lots of rain here in NC. The last 3 years we've had nothing but problems ranging from thrush (never knew a horse could get thrush standing in/on dry sand!!) to overly dry w/ lots of sand cracks and "peeling" hooves. Lately, we seem to be removing the "whole" front of the NSH's hooves - to keep sand from working up into the cracks and causing problems in the soft tissue. We aren't taking the fronts down to the sensitive areas, but it sure looks funny!! The ponies are having almost as many problems with this as the big horses. Also have lots of thrush in hind hooves - never had that before either. Try treating 20 head w/ thrush in 1 - 3 hooves each - gets old in a hurry!

As to bedding - most of the time we've had dirt floors. Some have been built up w/ proper "footing" when the barns were built and ground leveled. Others were just erected over the spot w/ no prep. I've had horses that could/did dig in both set ups. Doesn't really matter what you do for bedding. Diggers dug - no matter what bedding was used. Sometimes stall toys helped, sometimes they did not. There are a lot more choices now for stall toys then there used to be. The diggers often never needed their front hooves trimmed as they "trimmed" them themselves w/ their digging.

When we had cement flooring, we used rubber mats and wood shavings(mostly). The bigger the horse, the deeper the bedding - to encourage them to lie down and take the weight off their legs (show horses and 3 day eventers) and also to prevent "bed sores". I loved it when we got some sawdust in! So much easier to clean up, however, it can be very dusty sometimes. Other times it wasn't. Hard to explain. You'd think it would always be "dusty" since it is sawdust.

Our ponies aren't stalled much - however, I sure know which ones will be diggers in a stall. This mare is a digger I wouldn't want to clean a stall up after!! We have 3 others that dig almost as much and several that paw but not anything like this. The mare in this pic paws constantly anytime she's penned/stalled, tied, cross tied or trailered.

Rebecca, how funny, I was looking at the Likits in Agway yesterday when we picked up our four bales of "experiment straw". :) If I'd seen your post before I went over there, I would have tossed some in the cart to try.

The soccer ball is a good idea, too, Jane. I'll give that a try -- I think there is one down in the barn storage area somewhere. I'll start digging around for it.

Paula, you're probably right about the diggers. I doubt I'll be able to deter it completely, but the more content Kestrel is, hopefully, the less she'll dig. Your mare looks like she arranged her feeding area even outside with some nice excavation work. ::smile:: She's a pretty girl, lovely markings.

I bedded with straw for the first time before bringing the girls inside yesterday before dark. They don't seem to be eating the straw (not that I can see, anyway). They nosed around in it a bit, scuffed and investigated, and then went to their hay racks. This morning both were lying down, looking quite cozy, when I went to the barn. Kes stood up when I took her halter off the hook, but Starling said, "No, thanks, I'm good." She didn't bother to get up till I actually went into the stall with her! I guess they approve.

The odd thing was, though, that Agway was the only local place I could even find any straw, and no one at the store had any idea what kind of straw it is. They had barley straw separate, but I know they love to eat that, so wanted to avoid it (plus they only had a few bales in stock). "Do you want barley straw or regular straw?" I asked what the "regular" straw was, and they all looked at me like I had two heads and said, "Straw".

I think it's rye. I've been looking at images of the seed heads of oat compared to rye, and the few seed heads I find in the bales (which are larger than typical hay bales -- they barley straw they had there were more "hay bale sized" bales) look more like the images I find of rye. It's hard to tell for sure, though.

By the way, Jane, thank you so much for your kind words about my care of these girls. :) That made me smile. I love them dearly, and they give so much to me by being in my life. I'm very thankful that fate brought them to me.
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I tried other things like balls, and even jolly balls. But only likits seem to work for my girls. In fact now I have a jolly ball sitting in the middle of the yard lol. And the only time it moves is when I roll it to one of the girls waste of my money
My stallion didnt have a digging issue but he likes his hanging empty milk carton and his hard plastic bucket lid....lmao those are his toys.

Anyway my horses are boarded at my grandmothers. She has 7. I have 4. My cousin has 3. Last year was the first year we used the pellets and I LOVE

them. So easy to clean stalls with. But this year my grandmother changed back to shavings. I have no say in it...but if I did I would be using pellets

I dont hate shavings they just are a pain sometimes. Also in foaling stalls we use shavings with straw over top.
I have one of the big play balls for outside, but after the first day I took it out to play with them, neither girl has shown any interest in it. I thought I might try one of the Jolly Balls with the handle. I'll definitely put the LikIts on their list for Santa, thanks!

I might give the milk carton a try, Danielle. :) Can't hurt, and free toys are always good! :) For me, anyway!

After several nights on straw, I can definitely say that Kes is digging less. In fact, this morning there were no craters or mounds in her stall at all. Both girls have been sleeping while lying down, and I'm not seeing them eating the straw. (Not so far, anyway.) And the muscle memory is returning; I got both stalls mucked and tossed in 15 minutes this morning. I still need to work a bit on minimizing the wasted clean straw, but that'll come. It was better today than yesterday. I think we may have found the right combination.

Fingers still crossed, but so far, so good!
I've put a small rock in the milk jug. The horses seem to like to make it rattle.

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