I have a confession to make. This winter I am trying something different. I have switched all of my horses to straw bedding. This came about by chance. My mom had a couple of bales of straw at her place and had bed two of her spare stalls with them. When my horses moved in they were in the straw stalls. I found them easier to clean, and of course straw is known to be much warmer in the winter. I was enjoying my new discovery of straw bedding. I decided I would try something new and give straw a try.
I found a local selling large squares (about 600lbs) on Kijiji for $32 a bale. I had a few e-mails offering small squares at $2.50 a bale. I weighed my choices and thought I would be better off with a big square. I picked it up about a week ago and so far I am enjoying the change.
So, what are the benefits of using straw bedding?
First, let me explain what straw is. From Wikipedia; "Straw is an agricultural by-product, the dry stalks of cereal plants, after the grain and chaff have been removed. Straw makes up about half of the yield of cereal crops such as barley, oats, rice, rye andwheat. It has many uses, including fuel, livestock bedding and fodder, thatching and basket-making. It is usually gathered and stored in a straw bale, which is a bundle of straw tightly bound with twine or wire. Bales may be square, rectangular, or round, depending on the type of baler used."
Affordability - Straw is very cheap in North America. I can't comment on prices in the UK or Europe but I imagine it is much the same. Since straw is a by-product, it is cheap to produce and usually in abundance. I posted an ad online and within an hour I had about 6 people within 20 minutes of me who had lots of straw available. Compared to shavings at average $5.25 a bag, and pellets about $5.50 a bag. With my guys I use about a bag a week per horse. I deep bed my shavings and pick them out twice daily, I waste very little. Cost for shavings approximately $100 a month for my guys, estimating on the cheap side. So far with my $32 large square bale, I am bedding 6 stalls (3 at my moms and 3 st home). I have used under a quarter of bale in a week. If I use a bale a month I am saving approximately $70 a month. Score.
Mobility - Straw is extremely light. Even when packed tight, it is about a third of the weight of a bag of shavings or a bag of pellets. I can easily carry a bale or a large flake. Easy peasy - no back pain. Your wheelbarrow will also be easier to take to the manure pile.
Warmth - Straw is known for it's warmth in the winter. It conducts heat extremely well. When a horse (or any other furry creature) curls up in a bed of straw their body heat carries through the straw to form a type of insulation. Since straw puffs up and there is an abundance of it, you can easily bank the stalls and create a nice little nest for your horses.
Manure removal - I know it's not something most people think about, but it can be difficult to find someone to remove your manure pile. Most farmers who want to use your manure for fertilizing, want manure that is mixed with straw only, as it acts as a great insulator and protector to the crops. Mushroom and strawberry farmers especially want manure mixed with straw, and will often take your manure pile for free. It's a win win.
Ease of cleaning - This may just be my opinion, but I have found straw easier to clean. It has cut my stall cleaning time down by about 15 minutes, which is a lot when you are on a schedule and have to still work all day after morning chores. There can be more waste than shavings, but there is still a large cost savings.
Dust free - Assuming you have purchased quality straw, there is less dust and airborne particles from straw then there are from shavings and pellets. This can be especially helpful if you have a horse that has breathing issues or has heaves.
Like anything, there are pros and cons. The down side to bedding with straw is the poor absorption rate compared to shavings or pellets. This is why I still use a base layer of shavings under my straw. I may use a bag a week, if that.
To properly bed a stall with straw, I start with a base of shavings. This was easy for me since my stalls were already bed with shavings. Use half to a whole small bale or one or two flakes off a large square bale for an average size stall. Loosen the straw with a pitch fork or apple picker by shaking it and separating any tight bundles. Bank the walls about 2' from the base of the stall, along the back, and side walls. Spread the remaining straw evenly to lay flat in the centre of the stall.
To clean the stall, remove the poop piles first. Push the clean straw back to the wall and remove any wet spots in the shavings. Bring the straw back of the wall and continue to bed the stall normally.
There you have it, my take on bedding with straw. I know straw bedding is not very common these days, but it's a good option for those who are looking for something different or perhaps something more affordable.
Thanks for stopping by Farm Girl Friday!