PROS: widely avail­able, aes­thet­i­cally pleas­ing CONS: can be prone to mold if har­vested or stored im­prop­erly; horses may try to eat it; not very ab­sorbent

EQUUS - - Tack& Gear -

Straw is the plant stalk left be­hind af­ter ce­real grains are har­vested. The hol­low stalks are cut, dried and baled. To pro­duce hay, on the other hand, an en­tire grass or legume plant, in­clud­ing leaves and seed heads, is cut, dried and baled. The type of straw de­pends on the plant the stalk was sup­port­ing---usu­ally wheat, oats or bar­ley.

In ad­di­tion to look­ing at­trac­tive, straw can make a very soft bed­ding, par­tic­u­larly if it’s chopped a sec­ond time af­ter har­vest. This soft­ness can en­cour­age horses to lie down and get more rest. Straw is also the bed­ding of choice for foal­ing, as op­posed to wood shav­ings.

“If you are foal­ing on shav­ings or saw­dust, the new wet baby gets com­pletely cov­ered with this ma­te­rial and the mare has a harder time lick­ing the foal,” Nielsen ex­plains. “This is not an is­sue with straw.”

Straw is, gen­er­ally speak­ing, less dusty than wood prod­ucts, but only if it’s har­vested and stored cor­rectly. A bale of straw needs to be checked as closely as a bale of hay for signs of mois­ture and mold. Straw can also be dusty if the grain was har­vested with a com­bine that chopped the stalks into short lengths that are prone to shat­ter­ing. One worry is the fact that, while straw is less palat­able than hay, many horses will still eat it. Eat­ing straw can lead to prob­lems such as im­paction colic or mouth ir­ri­ta­tion from barbed seed heads that were left on the plant.

“Where I grew up, we used straw,” says Cole­man. “It’s tried and true, and most peo­ple know how to deal with it. We were for­tu­nate be­cause we could get wheat straw, which is fairly ab­sorbent and horses rarely eat it. We didn’t want to use bar­ley straw be­cause some of the heads at that time had sharp awns that could punc­ture or get stuck in the mouth. You might be able to find em­bed­ded seeds near the in­cisors, but ab­scesses back by the cheek teeth would be dif­fi­cult to find, and re­quire ma­jor den­tal care to clean up.”

Nielsen adds that the ab­sorp­tion ca­pac­ity of straw isn’t great. “If you’ve cleaned stalls that were bed­ded with straw, you’ll of­ten no­tice that urine goes down through and pools un­der­neath it,” he says.

In ar­eas where ce­real straw is avail­able, an­other con­cern is what kind of bales you can get. Many farm­ers are no longer mak­ing small bales; it’s more cost-ef­fec­tive to put up big square bales---and these are hard to han­dle in a barn. “If you are get­ting big bales of straw, do you have a way to han­dle them when they come off the truck? Some barns are us­ing big bales and they’ve had to re­think their day-to-day man­age­ment. It takes a big tractor to move them, so you need a plan,” Cole­man says.

Straw is the plant stalk left be­hind af­ter ce­real grains are har­vested. The hol­low stalks are cut, dried and baled.

re­s­pi­ra­tory prob­lems. And cer­tain woods can also be down­right harm­ful to horses. “You have to be care­ful with some wood prod­ucts be­cause horses may re­act neg­a­tively to them,” says Cole­man. “Some of the cedars have a lot of oil and these can cause al­ler­gic re­ac­tions or be too dry­ing--pulling mois­ture from hoof horn when horses are stand­ing in these shav­ings,” he says. “You need to try some of these in small amounts first to see if they will work or not for a cer­tain horse.”

One wood that is dan­ger­ous for ev­ery horse is black wal­nut, which can trig­ger lamini­tis in a horse who stands on it for even a short pe­riod of time. “You need to be aware of the source [of wood prod­ucts] and be care­ful that there’s no black wal­nut in the ma­te­rial. Some peo­ple want to know how much black wal­nut would be safe, and the an­swer is zero,” says Cole­man.

While saw­dust and shav­ings are the most pop­u­lar wood bed­ding prod­ucts, pel­lets are also an op­tion says Jenifer Nadeau, PhD, an equine ex­ten­sion spe­cial­ist at the Univer­sity of Con­necti­cut, who states that for a while in her area, some horse own­ers were us­ing wood pel­lets and liked them be­cause they are very ab­sorbent, “but now they are much more ex­pen­sive---since they have be­come pop­u­lar for heat­ing homes in pel­let stoves.”

Cole­man agrees that pel­leted wood prod­ucts, when avail­able, can make good bed­ding. “Horse own­ers like pel­lets be­cause you can get away with less ma­te­rial. Af­ter they get moist and start to ex­pand, you end up with more vol­ume. A shov­el­ful of pel­lets might turn into two and a half shov­el­fuls of ex­panded pel­lets. Some peo­ple put down a few pel­lets and sprin­kle them with a lit­tle wa­ter so they’ll ex­pand. They don’t get the pel­lets very wet, so they will still ab­sorb mois­ture from urine and ma­nure in the stall.”

There may be dif­fer­ences in var­i­ous pel­lets, in terms of hard­wood or soft­woods. “Some of the pel­lets used in heat­ing stoves may be hard­wood whereas most of the bed­ding pel­lets tend to be a soft­wood, but for bed­ding you can use ei­ther,” Cole­man ex­plains. “It is im­por­tant, how­ever, to know the source, and the kind of wood, to make sure you never end up with any black wal­nut wood.”

How much wood prod­uct bed­dings cost de­pends on many fac­tors, in­clud­ing wider eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity in your area. “When there is a lot of con­struc­tion/build­ing go­ing on, there are more wood prod­ucts avail­able and prices are lower be­cause they are pro­duced in higher quan­ti­ties. When con­struc­tion is down they be­come higher priced and harder to find,” says Nadeau.

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