While farriers aren’t often asked by clients what to recommend for stall bedding, that doesn’t mean the impact that these materials have on hooves isn’t of great concern.
Like many issues in the horseshoeing world, there’s plenty of disagreement on the best choice for bedding materials.
Four Key Considerations
Jim and Nancy McCall maintain availability, cost, ease of cleaning and esthetic appeal are major considerations when choosing bedding materials.
While most people simply want a bedding material that is dry and absorbent, these equine educators and horse owners from Mt. Holly, Ark., recommend that owners know how bedding materials affect the amount of moisture found in the feet of horses. For instance, they believe bedding materials should not be used that absorb moisture from excrement or pull considerable moisture from the hoof which allows it to dry out.
They maintain the hoof wall needs at least 30 percent moisture for optimum health. Bedding materials which lower hoof moisture to less than 30 percent can cause a hoof to become hard and brittle which increases the possibility for cracks.
Keep It Clean
Potlatch, Idaho, farrier Trevor Thompson doesn’t recommend any specific type of bedding to clients. “I prefer they regularly clean their stalls to keep horses from getting thrush,” he says.
Where David Gordon has seen a spongy appearance in the hoof horn, the Belleville, Ill., shoer speculates this may be due to too much confinement or a lack of proper stall bedding maintenance.
Hamilton, Ohio, farrier Bob Peacock prefers to look at the larger issue of stall management. He sees a link between equine fungal infection and the condition of the stable.
“Traditional stall maintenance still stands the test of time,” Peacock says. “Airing out the stall without bedding for 24 hours, dusting it with hydrogenated lime or other disinfectants and piling it with clean, dry bedding is a good beginning.”
Results from the recently completed federal government’s National Equine Health Monitoring Survey indicate that only one-third of horse owners clean their stalls at least once per day. About half the owners clean stalls weekly or less often.
Picking up droppings and covering wet spots three or four times a day will guarantee a clean environment for your client’s horses. Daily grooming, which includes picking the feet, is part of good stable care, Peacock maintains.
“Horses need daily exercise,” he says. “Even a few hours a day in a large paddock will help stimulate blood circulation and hoof growth.”
Farriers and vets agree that using good bedding materials on a proper stall floor surface can help prevent excessive jarring of feet, legs and joints.
Here’s a quick rundown on eight bedding materials and their potential impact on hoof care.
1 WOOD SHAVINGS
2 BLACK WALNUT SHAVINGS
3 WOOD CHIPS
Tom Rupnow, of Monroe, Wis., had one client whose horse’s feet were getting too dry. He recommended switching from wood shavings to straw.
“I occasionally suggest clients use more bedding material than they’re currently using,” Rupnow says. “But the issue of what to actually use doesn’t come up very often.”
Because of its ability to control the production of ammonia in urinesoiled stalls, straw is best, maintains Colin Reeves of EPC, the distributor of Keratex hoof products in Great Britain. Dense, absorbent materials provide a good environment for microorganisms that produce ammonia from urine, he says.
Tracy Turner, an equine vet in the University of Minnesota’s School of Veterinary Medicine, says straw is the most common bedding material he sees, probably due to low cost and high accessibility.
Over the years, Kirsch has found straw tends to get wet too quickly and has to be changed practically every day. William Correll of Millville, Pa., has seen thrush concerns develop where straw has been used as bedding.
When straw is not cleaned out of stalls on a regular basis, Hunt says excess moisture in the bedding can lead to an oversaturation of hoof moisture.
6 SHREDDED PAPER
“Bedding made of shredded paper is good at absorbing moisture,” Turner says. “It reduces dust in the stall. But it’s high cost, so a lot of horse owners don’t consider it feasible.”
Conversely, Perit believes using shredded newspapers as bedding tends to lead to wet, soft and thrushy feet.
Baker says shredded paper is not an easy bedding material to maintain. Once it becomes wet, it binds together, becomes heavy and is awkward to move. In Great Britain, horse owners tend to let it become deep, dirty and lumpy.
“When the horse can’t stand evenly, this creates muscle problems and trauma in the animal’s feet,” says Baker. “The most common problem is thrush in the lateral clefts of the frog, leading to atrophying of the frog structure and a resulting loss of support.”
7 COMMERCIAL BEDDING PRODUCTS
Some commercially available bedding materials, like Dry Stall from the Kat Company in San Clemente, Calif., claim benefits such as absorbing moisture and ammonia, less dust and a reduction in hoof thrush.
While it’s more expensive per square foot, manufacturers say increased absorption properties mean less frequent replacement and therefore reduced overall cost.
8 WASHED SAND
Texas A&M University equine veterinarian David Hood is the driving force behind The Hoof Project, an ongoing study of horses’ hooves. While none of his studies address stall bedding directly, Hood uses washed sand and concrete as the standing surface to create a solid and dry environment for chronically foundered horses. To eliminate foot sores, Hood uses wood shavings as stall bedding until healing takes place.
While there are certainly no easy answers, more farriers should be sharing bedding material management ideas with clients. If a change in stall management leads to less hoof problems, then everyone wins.