Bedding should be provided for the stabled horse for a number of reasons:
1. It prevents the horse from slipping on the floor.
2. It encourages the horse to lie down.
3. It acts as a draught excluder and it helps to provide warmth and comfort to the horse.
4. It encourages the horse to urinate as they dislike doing this on a hard, bare floor.
You should always try and use good quality bedding that is easy to obtain, easy to dispose of, is dust free, non-irritating, dry, soft, harmless if eaten, is absorbent and/or draining and has a clean, bright appearance.
Types of Bedding
Wood shavings are desirable as a form of bedding as they have a clean, bright appearance, they are free from dust, they cannot be eaten by the horse and they can be stored outside as they are packed in polythene. The disadvantages of shavings are they are more expensive than straw, they are difficult to dispose of, foreign bodies such as nails may be present in poor quality shavings and they may dry out the horses hooves if they are stabled all the time.
Sawdust has a clean, bright appearance, it cannot be eaten by the horse and it can be stored outside as it is packed in polythene. The disadvantages of using sawdust as bedding are that it is dusty, it becomes hot and soggy very easily and it is not easily available.
Shredded Paper is light, easy to handle, warm and dust free. It can be stored outside as it comes packed in polythene and it cannot be eaten by your horse. The disadvantages of paper are that it has a tendency to blow around the yard, it can become soggy and fungal growth may occur if it isn't managed properly, and it can be difficult to dispose of as it cannot be used in agriculture for soil improvement and disposal by fire could be dangerous as large lumps of burning paper may be carried by the wind.
Cardboard as bedding is easy to use, warm, dust free and highly absorbent. It is easy to store, not too costly and it doesn't blow around the yard. The most effective way of disposing of it is to burn it, but it can also be used as a mulch to deter weeds.
Straw is a drainage bedding and wheat straw is preferable over barley straw. Horses are not likely to eat wheat straw, it rots down to make garden manure therefore it is easily disposed of and it is usually cheap and easy to obtain. The disadvantages of straw as bedding are it must be stored under cover, it has a tendency to be dusty and it could be in short supply if there is a bad harvest.
The use of Peat Moss as a type of bedding has declined as it can be difficult to obtain and quite costly. It isn't very pleasing to the eye as it is dark in colour and the dark colour also makes mucking out more difficult as it can be hard to spot the wet patches. It is also heavy, hard to manage and can be difficult to store. However, Peat Moss is soft, warm, dust free and it is easy to dispose of as it rots down quickly.
Aubiose is derived from the soft centre of the hemp plant and it is like a natural sponge. It can absorb up to 12 times more water than straw and 4 times more than shavings, thus the bed remains dry and warm. It is easy to handle, lasts longer and requires less maintenance than other fibre bedding and it is free from dust. It is also a highly fertile organic fertilizer therefore it is easy to dispose of. The only disadvantage to this type of bedding is the initial set up cost of a bed is slightly
Rubber Matting can be used on its own or with the minimum amount of extra bedding. It is expensive to buy and install but it is long lasting and a good long term investment. However, it is cold in winter, it isn't very pleasing to the eye, it does little to prevent the horse from becoming cast and a horse lying in their own droppings will always be dirty.
Mucking Out Equipment
Equipment you will need to effectively manage and maintain a horses bed are:
- these can have either a long or short handle, depending on your preference.
Shavings Fork - if your horse is bedded down on shavings, a shavings fork is very useful.
Shovel - A large, lightweight shovel is usually used for picking up sweepings from the yard.
Brush - A good, stiff bristled broom.
A Wheel Barrow - this should be large enough to muck out into and to carry hay and bedding in. A wide variety are available, select according to price range and the number of horses you have stabled.
A Plastic Skip - Laundry baskets are ideal to be used when skipping out.
Rubber Gloves - Picking up by hand is the most effective way of removing droppings when skipping out.
All mucking out equipment should be stored away safely after use.
There are two methods of mucking out:
Daily removal of droppings and soiled patches - this is where all of the droppings and wet patches are removed each day. After removal the floor should be cleared and swept before the bed is shaken up and relaid. If the horse is to be out of the stable all day you can disinfect the floor and leave the bedding stacked up in the corner. Before the horse returns to the stable, relay the bed.
Deep Litter - This is where the droppings and worst wet patches are removed and the bed is topped with fresh bedding each day. Periodically the whole bed needs to be removed and the stable hosed and disinfected. This method works well as it is labour saving, economical and warm, however, the bed can become soggy and ferment which can lead to foot problems if it is not properly maintained.
Which ever method you employ, ideally you should remove the horse from the stable before you begin mucking out. If this is not possible, always ensure that the horse it tied up and never use the wheelbarrow inside the box when the horse is inside.
Skipping out is where only the droppings are removed from the bed. This can be done using a plastic skip and rubber gloves and should be done throughout the day and always at lunch time and evening stables.
The Muck Heap
It is essential to keep the muck heap square, tidy and well packed to aid with the rotting process. It should be situated away from the stables to prevent flies and odour but it should be conveniently sited for both mucking out and the removal of the muck heap. Ideally it should be sited on a hard surface and away from buildings as it may be a fire risk.
Muck that has rotted down can be sold as manure for gardens but if it is to be burnt, ensure you do it away from the stables (for obvious reasons) and it should be done at certain times of day to ensure neighbours and the horses aren't bothered by the smoke and flames.