Which Horse Bedding Is Best?
There’s no shortage of bedding choices for your horse, so which type is the best? According to Swiss researchers, there are no perfect bedding for all situations, and each has its benefits and drawbacks.

“Absorbency, feeding behavior, resting behavior, manure quantity, price, and labor costs all have to be taken into consideration when selecting the right bedding for you and your horse,” said Chiara Augsburger, BSc, Agr FH, Specialization in Equine Sciences, of the HAFL School of Agricultural, Forest, and Food Sciences, in Zollikofen, Switzerland, and of Agroscope, the Swiss National Agricultural Research Center, in Avenches.

Augsburger and her fellow researchers recently identified three bedding types’ effects on these economic, time, and welfare factors. They studied five horses housed on loose straw, straw cubes, and wood shavings for one week after allowing the horses a week to adjust to the bedding. The scientists presented their results at the 2017 Swiss Equine Research Day, held earlier this year in Avenches.

They found that loose straw produces significantly more manure compared to the cubes and shavings, Augsburger said. Stall cleaning was fastest with straw cubes, taking only 12 minutes for all five stalls on average compared to 17 minutes for loose straw and 23 minutes for shavings. However, the person cleaning the stall was used to cleaning out straw-bedded stalls and might have been faster with straw due to acquired experience, Augsburger added.

Overall, straw cubes and shavings cost about three times as much as to purchase as loose straw. But because straw cubes require less intensive labor costs, it could be the most economical solution for many barns. Still, if the loose straw comes from the farm’s own production, it might be the least expensive option, she said.

As far as feeding and resting behaviors were concerned, the researchers found no significant differences among bedding types. “We didn’t see the horses consuming the bedding in any way that might be alarming,” Augsburger said. “And although there were individual differences from horse to horse, the type of bedding didn’t seem to affect the amount of time they spent lying down.”

Laboratory analyses showed that straw and straw cubes were far more absorbent than wood chips, said Augsburger, citing a previous study by Franziska Kägi, BSc, Agr FH, Specialization in Equine Sciences, also of the HAFL School. “Absorbency is important because it gives a dryer bed for horses to stand and lie down in, which is better for their welfare,” she said.

While these factors can help in the decision-making process for selecting the optimum bedding, owners should also consider factors such as dust and ammonia production and bacteria-harboring abilities, Augsburger said.