Summary Comparison ofHorse Bedding Types

The following table provides a summary comparison of different types of bedding material (except for the last 2 items - deep bedding and double bedding - which are bedding techniques). For detailed information, click on any of the blue links below. Further information is provided in general bedding information.

Type Urine Absorption Ammonia, Odour & Fly Control Coat Feces Waste Labour Cost Physical Health Mental Comfort
Cardboard Good Good Some Medium Medium Low Average Average
Flax Excellent Excellent Yes Low Low High Average Average
Hemp Excellent Excellent Yes Low Low High Average Average
Shredded Paper Good Average Some Medium Medium Low Average Average
Sand Poor Poor No Low Low Low Poor Poor
Sawdust Excellent Excellent Yes Low Low Low Poor Poor
Straw Average Average No High High Medium Good Good
Straw Pellets Excellent Excellent Some Low Low High Average Average
Wood Pellets Excellent Excellent Some Low Low High Average Average
Wood Shavings Good Good Yes Low Low Medium Average Average
Deep Bedding Average Average No Low Low Low Average Good
Double Bedding Excellent Excellent Limited Medium Low Medium Good Good

 Explanatory notes on the above table:

  • Urine Absorption. A rating of 'excellent' indicates that a small amount of bedding absorbs a large quantity of urine (thereby reducing material and labour costs) and that the bedding absorbs the urine rapidly (thereby restricing the soiled bedding to a small area and improving ammonia control, as described below).  The amount of urine absorbed depends on the bedding type, for example:
    • Hardwood sawdust - 1 kilogram absorbs 1.5 kilograms urine (or 1 pound absorbs 1.5 pounds urine)
    • Pine shavings - 1 kilogram absorbs 2.0 kilograms urine (or 1 pound absorbs 2.0 pounds urine)
    • Pine sawdust - 1 kilogram absorbs 2.5 kilograms urine (or 1 pound absorbs 2.5 pounds urine)
    • Wood pellets - 1 kilogram absorbs 3.0kilograms urine (or 1 pound absorbs 3.0 pounds urine
    • Peat Moss - 1 kilogram absorbs 3.5 kilograms urine (or 1 pound absorbs 3.5 pounds urine
  • Ammonia and Odour Control. Horse urine itself does not have a strong smell (except for the first few minutes after urination). The main smell is the result of bacteria which break down the urine. These bacteria also produce ammonia gas, which smells bad and can also be a health risk to horses (expecially their respiratory system) in inadequately ventilated stalls. Bedding which quickly and completely absorbs the urine largely prevents these bacteria activities, reducing ammonia and odour. As house flies are attracted by odour, stalls with house fly problems can often benefit from changing to a more absorpent bedding type.
  • Coat Feces. Some beddings types will form a layer over the coat feces (horse shit). This is desireable as it means that if a horse lies down on top of them, little or none of the feces will be rubbed into its coat.
  • Waste. A value of 'low' is preferable as it indicates that a small amount of bedding is typically soiled and requires removal. This is preferable as it means less work for removing the bedding, less storage area for soiled bedding, less storage area for replacement bedding.
  • Labour. A value of 'low' is preferable as it means that the labour required to clean and replace this type of bedding is less than average.
  • Cost. This is the daily cost of the bedding itself, based on typical consumption rates. It is calculated based on the amount of bedding typically used per horse multiplied by the cost of bedding. It does not include 'labour costs' (see Labour above) or 'storage costs' (see Waste above).
  • Physical Health. This is a measure of how healthy the bedding type is overall. Note that no bedding type has an 'excellent' rating as all bedding types can have health implications depending on the specific horse. Read the detailed bedding evaluations for a description of specific health risks.
  • Mental Comfort. Certain bedding types are mentally healthier than others. For example, straw provides a complex bedding  which horses can root around in (e.g. looking for fallen seeds or food) and somewhat mimics their natural habitat (grassland). As the amount of time a horse spends in its stall increases, so does the importance of bedding which provides mental stimulation and comfort.

As the above table illustrates, each type of bedding has good points and bad points. In particular, the bedding types which have high performance (e.g. good urine absorption, low waste and low labour requirements) tend to be expensive, while the inexpensive bedding types have poor performance. In addition, the relative importance of the various factors depend on individual circumstances;

  • Ammonia and odour control is much more important in poorly ventilated stalls than in well ventilated stalls.
  • Having low waste is more important if you have limited storage space for soiled bedding or replacment fresh bedding.
  • For some people (e.g. retired, with only one horse) minimising labour is not that important. For others (e.g. in large professional stables) it is a critical factor. Likewise, the cost of the bedding will be more important to some than to others.
  • Horses that spend a long time in a stall will be more in need of bedding that provides maximum physical and mental health benefits.
  • The characteristics of the horse also affects bedding performance. For example, horses with specific health issues may have problems with certain bedding types.

Due to these differences in terms of individual circumstances, some owners will find one bedding type better while others another. For further information, please read the detailed evaluations for the bedding types of interest.

Related articles include General Issues and  Mucking Out Tools and Horse Stall Mats.