Different types of bedding materials are used in stables to satisfy the needs of both the horse and the carer. The significant impact that poor quality bedding can have on the health and welfare of the horse, even those stabled for only very short periods of time, should not be underestimated. With an ever increasing choice of different materials now available, consideration must be given to a number of factors.
Fresh, clean air is essential for the health of the horse and its carer. It is therefore extremely important that bedding materials are of a high quality so that dust is absent or only present at very low levels. Mould spores and dust, which are present in very poor quality bedding materials, are unacceptable and can result in a number of respiratory problems. We strongly recommend the use of dust and mould-free bedding for horses.
Bedding materials should allow easy, efficient removal of droppings, which should be done at frequent intervals. Urine should be allowed to drain freely to the base of the bed where it is absorbed and can be removed. Stable design is also important and will determine how efficient a bedding material is in terms of drainage and absorption. Some stables have drainage channels, which will also assist with the effective removal of urine.
Bedding in the stable must provide support for the horse’s hooves while standing and for the whole body when lying down. This is essential to prevent stable injuries such as capped hocks or elbows and to allow the horse to lie down and get up safely without slipping. Good, high banks and thick bedding will also help to alleviate injury if a horse becomes cast. Injuries are more likely to occur if the stable size is too small for the horse and if the surface of the floor does not offer adequate grip. Thick bedding with high banks may also help to block out draughts.
No matter what type of bedding material is used, it is essential that the stable is big enough for the horse to turn around and lie down comfortably without making contact with the walls.
To avoid horses standing on bare concrete or uneven stone floors, bedding should cover the whole stable floor, particularly near the door. Many horses spend long periods standing here which can place added strain on the limbs and joints.
Regardless of the type of bedding chosen, it is essential that the material is of a good quality, is not toxic if eaten, and is not an irritant to the skin. Regular mucking out and cleaning of the whole stable environment is fundamental to the ongoing good health and welfare of the horse. There are a variety of mucking out systems available to choose from, each with their own advantages and disadvantages:
- Full muck-out – we strongly recommend that the stable is fully mucked out on a daily basis. This ensures that all fresh droppings and urine are removed from the stable. A full muck-out may take longer to complete but will provide the best environment for the horse’s health. It is important to remember to rotate banks to prevent them becoming mouldy and gathering dust.
- Part muck-out – this system is usually adopted when time is limited. For example, the droppings are removed daily during the week and then the stable is fully mucked out at weekends. It is important to add extra bedding as required throughout the week.
- Deep litter – this system is often used on yards with a large number of horses. Droppings are removed from the stable and fresh bedding added on top. It is important that beds do not become too deep and the stable should periodically be completely emptied and thoroughly cleaned. Although this system is the most economical time and cost wise, it is the least suitable for the horse’s respiratory health and can cause other health problems too.
Research has confirmed a link between ammonia and respiratory problems in horses. Decomposing urine and faeces cause ammonia to be produced and therefore it is present in the stable. Ammonia can cause respiratory health problems for the horse, highlighting the importance of good stable management. Horses kept on deep litter systems will be exposed to higher levels of ammonia compared with a horse that is fully mucked out daily.
The stabled horse’s hooves should be picked out every day, but ideally twice a day as a matter of good practice. Dry, clean bedding also helps to eliminate the risk of thrush in the hoof. Thrush is a foul smelling bacterial infection which can be caused by horses standing in wet, dirty bedding. Again, good stable management will go a long way to prevent the infection.
Dusty or dirty bedding is a significant health risk and the advantages of dust free bedding cannot be overstated. Expecting staff to work with dusty or mouldy bedding materials is unacceptable as there is a potential health risk to humans too
There has never been a greater choice of bedding materials on the market and although there are similarities between many of them, they all have their advantages and disadvantages. Many of the new products benefit from superior research and technology.
There are a number of factors that should be considered for both the horse and the carer when choosing the bedding.
When choosing the most suitable bedding material for horse and carer, storage needs to be taken into consideration. Products with a robust, waterproof packaging can often be stored outside, or in a sheltered area. Unpackaged bedding, such as straw, needs to be stored in a cool, dry place such as a weatherproof barn, to prevent it from becoming mouldy, dusty and unusable. Consideration should also be given to storage security to help prevent the theft of bedding materials.
The availability of certain types of bedding materials may be affected by the time of the year, the success of a harvest or the presence of suppliers in your area. This should be taken into account when choosing bedding material, as costs can increase when supplies are limited
The majority of bedding materials are biodegradable; the only difference being the timescale in which each rots down. The method of waste removal may influence the choice of bedding material. For example, an increasing number of yards have to pay for the removal of muck heaps, which makes the amount of waste important. There can be significant differences in the amount of waste produced from each product when mucking out. Horse manure is not suitable for spreading on equine pasture due to the risk of contamination with parasites, and it would also make the grass unpalatable. Further information on the storage and disposal of muckheaps is available from the Environment Agency, Defra and the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency.