Horse Bedding: Wood Pellets
Recommendation: A high quality and high performace bedding, but potentially on the expensive side. See Horse Bedding for a comparison to other options.
Wood pellets absorb urine rapidly. In addition, they can absorb and hold a large volume of urine. This greatly slows down the chemical breakdown of urine into Ammonia by bacteria, thereby greatly reducing both the health issues associated with ammonia and the unpleasant smell of ammonia.
The rapid absorption means that all the urine tends to be absorbed where the horse pees, rather than spreading out and soiling bedding over a large area (a problem which often happens with straw). In addition, pellets tend to coat and dry out feces, preventing them from soiling a larger area (or sticking to the horse's coat when it lies down). In combination, this means that daily cleaning of a stall requires removal of only a small amount of bedding and some feces rather than cleaning out all the bedding (which occurs with less absorbent bedding materials such as straw). The associated labour of transporting and storing soiled bedding is accordingly correspondingly reduced, as well as back-filling with clean bedding. Consequently, the labour associated with wood pellet bedding is relatively low and one of its major advantages.
The only disadvantage of wood pellets is that the pellets themselves are relatively expensive, even when allowing for the fact that consumption tends to be low due to their high absorbency. Although the pellets are not cheap, this is partly offset by the associated cost savings (low labour, low fresh bedding stockage, low soiled bedding stockage).
Provided that the wood pellets are lightly sprayed with water to make them soft and fluffy, they provide horses comfortable bedding with no special health hazards, although most horses will prefer the greater physical and mental comfort provided by straw.
Wood pellets were initially produced as fuel, for heating. However, it was found that they also make good stall bedding, so the wood fuel pellet technology has been used to produce wood pellets for bedding. In both cases, the pellets are produced by converting wood into shavings and then compacting the shavings into pellets, with lignin (a component of wood) used to bind the pellets together.
Although the technology is the same, there are some differences between wood pellets for fuel and those for bedding. To begin with, almost any wood is suitable for fuel pellets, whereas bedding pellets are made from softwood (typically white pine) as it is more absorbent than hardwood and less dusty. In addition, bedding pellets specifically avoid woods which are toxic to horses, which is not always true of wood pellets produced for fuel. Consequently, when using wood pellets for bedding, one should ensure that the wood pellets are bedding wood pellets and not fuel wood pellets.
Wood pellets have much the same advantages as wood shavings but are approximately twice as absorbent. Consequently, there are substantial savings in terms of the quantity that needs to be purchased, stored and mucked out. However, they are also more expensive (on a pound or kilogram basis).
Providers of bedding pellets usually provide some instructions on how to best use them. Typically, they advise that when the pellets are added to the stall, that they are lightly sprinkled with water, to make them softer and more fluffy, which is more comfortable for the horse to walk on and lay down on.
When mucking out, one can use a special shovel which allows the clean pellets to fall away while retaining feces and soiled pellets that have clumped together.