Considerations for Selecting Horse Bedding Materials

Stall bedding materials range from woodchips to manufactured pellets to traditional straw, as well as many other regional options. Choosing one that’s right for your horses depends several factors. When selecting a bedding, consider whether it’s:

  • Safe for horses Your bedding should contain no toxins or foreign objects such as metal or glass. Avoid toxic hardwood shavings such as black walnut and locust; standing on and ingesting them, respectively, can be fatal for horses. Some horses are allergic to the tannins in cedar shavings.
  • Absorbent Bedding’s primary purpose (particularly when used with stall mats) is to absorb urine and moisture. The more absorbent a bedding, the lower the ammonia levels in your barn. A very absorbent bedding will allow you to reduce the amount of bedding you use and, therefore, save money. You can test a potential bedding product’s absorbency by placing similar amounts of different beddings in separate paper cups and adding equal amounts of water. See how much water each product soaks up. Pelleted bedding tends to be the most absorbent.
  • Easy to compost If you plan to use the final product on your property, you’ll want to consider how well it composts. Even if you plan to give it away, what’s in your stall waste might either deter or encourage folks from using it. The smaller the pieces of bedding are, the quicker they will break down and compost. Researchers have shown pelleted bedding breaks down and composts faster than shavings. Shredded newspaper or other paper products might compost even quicker.
  • Availability Is the bedding supplier’s product readily available in your area?
  • Easy to store How will you store it—bagged, loose, baled? Do you need dedicated storage space and, if so, how much and where? Inside or outside? Do you need to build a space to specific dimensions to accommodate delivery? Many beddings come bagged. With the simple addition of a tarp or other similar material, you can store them outside as a space-saving bonus.
  • Low-dust Breathing in dust or other fine particles is unhealthy for both horses and humans. If you, a family member, or your horse has a respiratory issue, this should be a major consideration when you’re making a selection.
  • Chore-efficient Is bedding stalls with and picking manure from the material easy? Even if you pay others to clean your stalls, the time it takes for performing this task can affect your bottom line.
  • Cost Evaluate whether the product is cost-effective.