Bedding pellets or shavings for horse bedding?

Hi! :)

In the following video I talk about some of the differences between bedding pellets and shavings.

Personally I’m quite a fan of bedding pellets and have come across quite a few people who are not entirely sure on how to use them. So, apart from covering some of the differences between bedding pellets and shavings, I will also show you how I use the bedding pellets.

But before we start, let me give you a quick run down on the environment in my barn because I know I didn’t explain that all too well in the video. I was kind of self conscious … hey, it’s one of my first!

So…

In my barn I have 12×12 foot stalls, each with an attached paddock or run. In the video I refer to them as in/outs. Horses are free to go in and out as they please 24/7. I don’t lock them up. If I do, it’s ever so rare. The stalls have concrete floors and are covered with 3/4 inch rubber mats.

A quick recap

Shavings

  • Require a lot of storage space that is covered and dry
  • Require easy access for large trucks
  • Rodents love the stuff and build tunnels and nests in them
  • If you buy shavings by the bags, it’s expensive
  • Not absorbent
  • Once wet they won’t dry out
  • Difficult to clean which means you add a lot of waste to your manure pile
  • With the excess bedding your manure piles will be too high in carbon throwing off the nutrient balance and increasing the duration of the composting process

Bedding pellets

  • More expensive to buy initially
  • You can save some money per bag if you buy them by the skid load
  • They require minimal storage space
  • You can purchase in small quantities
  • They’re easy to handle and weigh about the same as a bag of grain
  • Very absorbant
  • Not dusty, except for dry summer months in which case I wet them down (something to be aware off if you’re living in a dryer climate)
  • Very easy to clean and much faster
  • Very little waste
  • Much healthier manure piles since there is much less bedding being thrown away. This means
    • much faster composting times
    • better nutrient content and more suitable to be spread over the fields again
    • less flies

What you need

  • a bag of pellets
  • a knife or pair of scissors
  • one full bucket of water like the typical 5 gallon water buckets

Ronaye

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Reader's Comments

26 Responses to “Bedding pellets or shavings for horse bedding?”

  • Pellets win hands down.

  • Be careful with pelletized bedding, my horse ate a small amount, died of colic in a few hours. Too many people are unaware of this possibility.

  • Kim, thank you for the pros and cons of the different types of bedding you mentioned. I did not hear you reference natural fiber bedding like hemp. Although wood shavings, saw dust, and pine pellets are more common, there has been a growing demand for non allergenic and chemical free bedding such as hemp. This bedding biodegrades much faster than saw dust, so equestrians do not have piles of used bedding on their property for extended periods of time, which can also attract pests.

    American or NC owners of horses with allergies or respiratory problems have been looking into hemp horse bedding as an alternative, especially because it is 2x more absorbent and dust free in comparison to the other types of bedding available. The base also lasts approximately 3 months and owners only need to change the bags every 10 days or so.

    • None of the horses I have known to use hemp have been allergic to it, but I retract the words “non allergenic”. It seems to be less allergenic than the other beddings the horses were on.

  • Thanks for the great video! I have a 24 horse facility currently on straw. Do you think it would be practical to use wood pellets for this many horses? It seems like it might be a time consuming process when dealing with a large herd! Also, do these generate a lot of dust? I have an asthmatic pony that I would be concerned about.

  • Thanks for the great video! Will definitely try the pellets. I have my 2 horses at home and have little storage available. Also cutting down my waste manure will be fantastic!!

  • My horses nibbled on the pellets that replaced the shavings. I’m am wondering if this is what caused my colt’s first time collick! I found on numerous occasions , no water in pasture! This is our 4th boarding barn because of lack of care! Unreal! These boarding barns all start out wonderful, then all things crap out! Lack of water, hay, feed ! What is an owner to do? We are trying to buy land , but times are tight. I just want people to watch out for the danger signs. My 2 horses have told on them every time! I have a 20 year old rescue Thorough bred and a 4 year old American Paint! I love them very much . We are at the mercy of these boarding barns!

  • I use both shavings and pellets so that I can build up a bank against the walls of my 12 x12 stall to prevent casting. pellets are great but they don’t bank. shavings against the walls and pellets softend a bit for the center. I’m lucky – my mare toilets in the paddock and not her stall so cleaning nor composting is not an issue.

  • Hi :)

    Those pellets look brilliant!!I’v only one problem….I cant seem to find them anywhere! I cant use the stove ones as my pony coughs whenever dust is around! I live i Ireland, do you know any where I can buy them?
    looking foward to hearing from you
    Thanks,
    Cliona

  • Hi Ronaye,
    We use pellets in the same fashion as you. We find that with some horses we have to add a bag at least every other day because they move around more in their stalls and urinate a bit more than the others. Have you ever found that it is more cost effective to actually use more pellets at once? I’m wondering if we had more pellets in the stall it would absorb better and less would actually be soiled each day? I’m not explaining this very well. I also wondered if it would be better to leave some of the pellets more in their original form instead of completely “fluffed” up. Thanks in advance for your help. The video you posted was very helpful.

    • Hi Cindy,

      I remember my foals and their moms … oh my what a mess they made of their stalls. There were times where I was stripping the stalls every second day. I can relate to you. I also had an old girl with cushings who urinated lots.

      It’s a bit of trial and error and you just have to try things out. Every horse is so different, and ultimately you can’t defy the maximum absorption of the pellets. But I know with the old girl I only gave her enough bedding to absorb the urine. If I gave her more I just ended up taking more bedding out and it got expensive. Leaving some of the pellets in their original form did help a little. She didn’t lie down much so it was okay and she was always outside during the day.

      What ultimately really extended the life of my bedding pellets was a stall shifter, but that’s not a solution that’s financially practical for everyone. With a stall shifter I was able to extend the life of my bedding by more than 50% for my mares and their foals, and for the other horses even more.

      I hope that helps :)
      Ronaye

  • Hi Ronaye,
    Thanks for such an informative video and site. My only question is what is the brand of pellets you are using? I can only seem to find Guardina Pellets and the ones you used in the video seem so much finer and fluffier. Thanks you….

    • Hi Cindy,

      I’m glad you enjoyed the video and that it was helpful!

      The bedding pellets I use are called Stallion Equine Bedding Pellets. You can find more information at http://www.okanaganpellets.com/pellets.php

      Let me know if you can get them in your area :)

      ttys!
      Ronaye

  • Pellets, I just started using these a month ago and love them. Much less waste than shavings.

    I mix a small amount of cold water in with one bag of shavings in my wheel barrow, toss with a shovel, wait 5 min. and put in the stall, and repeat if needed, by night time and the horse walking around in it, they all fluff up.
    Its so easy to pick the stall clean, it smells great, and I believe its much more cost effective.

    Just a problem when the barn water supply freezes :)

  • Hi Ronaye,

    I have just purchased wood pellets for my horses bedding. My concern is the stalls are in an unheated small barn with open access to the outside. If I pour water into the bag to fluff up the pellets is it going to freeze? Also, does the subsequent “sawdust” come out wet. I hate to think of my horses standing in wet sawdust overnight.

    They are only in their stalls at night.

    Looking forward to hearing from you.

    Lynn
    Magnetawan, Ontario

    • Hi Lynn :)

      I think if you were to use warm (or luke warm) water you should be fine. I never use hot water. The pellets will turn in to sawdust in about 20 minutes. That should be fast enough before the freezing temperatures have their way with it. That’s just my hunch … the temperatures here on the coast are much milder than in Ontario but even in -10 I haven’t had an issue with it freezing up on me. In all honesty, I’ve never even been concerned about it and add new bedding whenever I need it regardless of what it’s doing outside. My barn is unheated as well and always open. The stalls are connected to paddocks and the doors are never closed. So it sounds like a very similar environment.

      The sawdust that comes out of the bag is mildly damp. When you spread it out it dries very quickly and often there are still pellets that haven’t expanded and will absorb any excess. The pellets are incredibly absorbent, even after they’ve expanded, so it’s not something I’d be concerned about. But I know what you mean though, because when I first started using them, I felt the same.

      Best thing to do is try it out. Let me know how it goes :)
      ttys!
      Ronaye

  • Thanks, Woody. It wasn’t clear from your website whether you manufacture wood pellets sold under labels for horse bedding. Regardless, I do appreciate your explanation of the process as you know it. Learn something new every day :-).

  • Nanette – I can’t speak for all manufacturers of wood pellets but our pellets are 100% natural wood fibre with no chemicals,additives,bark or”binders”of any kind-just pure kiln dried whitewood (mainly Ponderosa and Lodgepole Pine) fibre- compressed and held together by their natural resins that probably would speed up the composting process-if anything.I would say that most of the premium manufacturers would be in the same situation but always wise to check just to be sure. Most brands have their own website.Good luck. Woody

  • I was reading this post and I have to say that I prefer to use straw for bedding. I switched over from shavings to straw and the horses love it! They are happier when they are in their stalls because they always have something to keep them busy. I considered going back to bedding but I don’t want to take the pleasure away from them in munching on the straw!

    • I’d just like to say that I’m 13 years old and even I know that letting your horses eat straw can lead to bad coughs and sometimes even colic, so just be careful. I know that my old pony used to and I couldn’t ride him because he would cough too much, then I switched him to shavings and he was absolutely fine.

  • Ronaye,

    Thanks again for sharing knowledge and for your thoughtful comments.

    Good point on the run-ins that I hadn’t considered. I’m in the US NE and we’re still in winter, so haven’t had much of an issue with water yet. These do stay pretty dry (the horses don’t use them much, they’re on a hill, and I clean them at least daily), but I certainly don’t want to create a situation where horses may be standing in muck.

    I haven’t been able to get answers on the pellets from the feed stores selling them relative to composting, but will try the manufacturer. Again, I appreciate your taking the time to be so helpful.

  • Ronaye,

    Thanks so much for sharing this. I started using bedding pellets recently (not in the stalls, but for run-in sheds to try them out at the urging of some on LinkedIn). Honestly, I had no idea they could be turned into a different product with a bucket of water added. Now you have me thinking about switching the whole barn over. This was a great tutorial for the novice to this product.

    Do you know if this product presents any concerns with composting for use with edible crops? I grow organic vegetables (not certified) and am a bit concerned about possible chemicals leaching into the compost pile. Have you found anything that speaks to this? Thanks.

    • Hi Nanette,

      Thanks for your comment! And I’m glad the tutorial helped out :)

      A quick aside, I don’t know where you are located, but I do know that in my environment I would never use bedding pellets in a run-in shelter. Here we get a lot of rain and the bedding pellets are too absorbent, decompose too quickly and would simply turn to mud.

      In my area I have good access to cedar hog fuel which is what I use in the shelters. The horses love it, plus it keeps bugs away and has a good life span. You could also use sand or gravel, though those two options are pretty hard for the horses to lie in.

      Back to your original question “would these products be of concern when composting for edible products?”

      Personally, I have no idea, and in all honesty, I’ve never thought about it either.

      I’m sure the composition of the bedding pellets vary from brand to brand. So, if it was of real concern for me, I would make a list of the different brands of bedding pellets offered in my area and rate them from favorite to least favorite. Then I’d be on the phone with the manufacturers and ask them for a list of “ingredients”. If they aren’t prepared to give me that information, I would move onto the next one in the list.

      One thing to keep in mind … a manufacturer may not want to give you this information simply because the “ingredients” may change at a moments notice and they have no control over it. So the information you receive is really only valid for that moment.

      Another thought that just came to mind is that when a manure pile is composting, there is a lot of heat created. There is a good possibility that any bi-products may well be “killed” in the process. However, I can’t be sure of this and it’s probably something I would ask the manufacturer when talking to them.

      I hope this helps :)
      Ronaye

  • Great video Ronaye! Lots of valuable information about the use of bedding pellets. Where is the best place to buy them?

    • Hi Marie :)

      The type of stores where I have found them is either the local hardware store (stove pellets), the feed stores and sometimes pet stores like Bosleys. However, prices vary quite significantly with the pet store being the most expensive.

      To get the best deal you have to shop around and ask for the price per individual bag and then see whether they will do the large quantities and whether they will offer a quantity discount.

      I have found that in order to get the quantity discount I have to buy by the skid. The number of bags on the skid run between 40 and 70. Sometimes the bags only weight 35 lbs, though standard seems more like 40 lbs.

  • Thanks for the video Ronaye! I’ve just bought my first bags of pellets and after watching your video, I feel much better prepared to changeover my stalls from shavings.

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