Stable Bedding Tools

Choosing the correct tools for mucking out your horse stalls (cleaning out the bedding) can save a lot of time and effort. Following is a guide.

Choosing a Fork

The best fork for cleaning out a horse stall depends on the type of bedding you have.

For straw, a hay or straw fork with 5 or 6 tines (teeth) is the best choice for cleaning out straw bedding. With less than 5 tines, the straw and feces tend to fall off or between the tines. With more than 6 tines, the tines tend to catch in the straw.  Below left is a 6-tine fork, on the right is a more specialised version where the inner tines are curved inwards and the outer tines are are straight, forming a simple basket to better hold horse droppings.

Stable Fork image   

For bedding made up of small pellets (e.g. wood pellets, straw pellets) or other small items (e.g. wood shavings), a straw fork will not work as the pellets will simply fall between the teeth. One needs a shovel with a large number of teeth. Furthermore, to prevent the shovel from becoming too heavy, these teeth need to be light-weight (made out of plastic or wire). Specialist horse bedding and horse equipment shops provide forks such as the following.

  

A variation on this is a basket fork, where the tines are bent to form a basket rather than a flat fork, such as in the following photo:

  

With both the basket fork above and the simplier pellet fork above it, it is often possible to buy the fork attachment separate from the handle. Since the fork itself is of light-weight construction, it tends to wear out or break over time, so one can save money by buying one handle with multiple attachments and replace the attachments over time.

The points on a metal fork will eventually become dull and blunted due to use. This will make it more difficult for the fork to penetrate hale bales or compacted bedding, making work slower and harder. Consequently, one may wish to periodically sharpen the points. Although this means the fork will wear down faster (need to be replaced sooner), the saving in labour should more than offset this.

Other Forks

For moving small bales of hay and straw, a 3-tine fork is the best. Anything more than 3 tines tends to make the fork stick in the bale, making it harder to stick the fork into the bale and harder to remove it from the bale. Following is an example.

When we first switched from straw to pellet bedding, we realised that we need a fork with a large number of tines but could not find a local supplier of a pellet shovel. Consequently, we ended up with a 'potato fork', which is similiar in that it has many tines which are close together, but different in that it has a much heavier and sturdier build. It did the job fine, but because it was so heavy, one could not work as fast (and my lady assistant refused to use it because it was too heavy for her). When we managed to purchase a proper pellet-fork, I was ready to throw out the potato fork. However, I found that it was good for remove horse droppings from the field, as it had enough strength to lift the droppings even when grass had grown into the droppings, making them difficult to remove. It is the only thing I've found the fork good for (I don't grow potatoes) but since it is the best tool for this one particular task, I include a photo of it here (note the rounded tips, which help the fork slide over the top of the pasture rather than sticking into it):

Shovel

A fork is the main cleaning instrument for cleaning out a horse stall. However, some people find a shovel comes in handy as well. For example, if one is completely cleaning out the stall, one can use a shovel afterwards to scrape up all the bits that  are too small for the fork. Although one can use any type of shovel, a light-weight and extra-large aluminum shovel allows one to work quickly and with minimum effort. Possible sources are horse equipment stores and building materials stores. Alternatively, look for a 'snow shovel' of the shape and size shown in the following photo:

Wheelbarrow

You will use a wheelbarrow to transport the soiled bedding to the muck pile. Most wheelbarrows are made of sheet metal, although one can also find them in plastic. If you are using the wheelbarrow for a variety of purposes (e.g. general work around the house, in addition to use for mucking out), a standard metal wheelbarrow is more suitable for general use as the metal is stronger and more rigid than plastic. However, if you are using the wheelbarrow only for mucking out, a plastic wheelbarrow has sufficient strength (straw isn't that heavy !) and has the advantage of being lighter. The lower weight of plastic wheelbarrows is especially important if you are using a large-size wheelbarrow.

One can get wheelbarrows in a variety of sizes. The size that is most suitable for you depends on:

  • Type of bedding. If you are using a low-absorbency bedding (see bedding comparison), then you will need to remove a lot of bedding each day, so you will want a larger wheelbarrow in order to reduce the number of trips between the horse stalls and the muck pile. Likewise, if you have a 'dirty' horse (see horse issues), you will want a large wheelbarrow to reduce the amount of trips.
  • Number of horses. If you have only one horse, then a small wheelbarrow is perhaps sufficient. However, if you have several horses, the amount of time you can save each day by using a larger wheelbarrow will quickly justify the investment.
  • Distance to muck pile. If the muck pile is beside the stalls, then a small wheelbarrow has the advantage of being lighter and more manouverable. If the muck pile is located some distance away, a large wheelbarrow has the advantage of saving transport trips/time.
  • Weight and construction. Large wheelbarrows are heavier, both in terms of the wheelbarrow and in terms of the additional content. You need to balance the advantages of the large wheelbarrow in terms of fewer trips against the disadvantage of being heavier. The maximum size will depend on your strength, the wheelbarrow material (e.g. metal or plastic), number of wheels (1-wheel needs more strength than 2-wheels in front due to need to balance, although 1-wheel is easier to manouver), wheelbarrow ergonomics (how well designed the wheelbarrow is, how well positioned the centre of gravity when loaded), length of handles (longer handles allow easier transport but less manouverable in tight stables).
  • Stall and Paddock layout. If the path between the stalls and the muck pile is flat and even, then one can use a larger wheelbarrow than if it has a slope or ruts. If your stalls are large and have large corridors, it is also easier to manouver larger wheelbarrows.

Following is an example of an extra-large plastic wheelbarrow designed for cleaning stalls, and another wheelbarrow which has the tipping feature:

   

If you go to a large horse exhibition, there will often be horse equipement for sale, including speciality wheelbarrows. This is a good opportunity to try out the 'feel' of different models. Of course, one will have to allow for the fact that the wheelbarrows are empty; if the exhibitor allows you to put a child in the wheelbarrow while you roll it back in forth, this will give you a better feel.

Boots

A pair of rubber boots is suitable footwear for mucking out stables. One often sees stable masters walking around in riding boots, but this is only sensible if you have a pair of old riding boots which are no longer suitable for riding. It is inadviseable to use new riding boots as the finish can be damaged and the stitching rotted by long term exposure to urine.

Additional References

Stall Cleaning Machine

Comparison Bedding Types