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Bedding and Mucking Out


Bedding and Mucking Out
When keeping a horse in a stable it is necessary to use some form of bedding for the following reasons:
• Prevents injury
• Encourages the horse to lie down
• Prevents draughts
• Provides warmth
• Encourages horse to stale (urinate)
• Provides comfort for the horse
• Prevents jarring to the feet and legs
• Cleanliness

Whatever type of bedding used it should be:
• Of good quality
• Safe, in case the horse eats it
• Absorbent
• Dry and soft
• Readily available
• Easy to dispose of

There are a wide variety of materials that can be used for bedding. The most important factor to consider when choosing which type to use is maintaining the good health of the horse. Continually damp or wet bedding can create a bacterial breeding ground, which can adversely affect the health of a horse’s feet. Dusty or moldy bedding can cause respiratory problems for both the horse and anyone working in the environment on a regular basis. Bedding that does not absorb urine well enough will cause more ammonia to be released in the stable environment and again, will subsequently adversely affect the horses respiratory system.

As well as health and hygiene reasons, horse owners need to consider cost, availability and ease of disposal of soiled bedding when they are deciding which particular type to use.

Whatever bedding is used, thorough and regular ‘mucking out’ of the horses stable will help to reduce any adverse health effects as well as excessive waste of the bedding materials.

Common Bedding Materials
Traditionally, straw is the most commonly used type of bedding due to it being widely available and relatively inexpensive. Old straw should be used in preference to new as it is more elastic, durable and drier. Wheat straw is probably the best type to use as the horse finds it unpalatable, it is light and easy to work with and lasts relatively well. Oat and barley straw are best avoided as they can be palatable to the horse and large amounts of the bed may get eaten. Straw is not appropriate bedding for any horse that suffers from respiratory problems; it can often be dusty.

Wood Shavings
Wood shavings are more absorbent than straw, reducing the amount of ammonia in the stable environment and reducing the risk of damage to the horse’s lungs. Urine and waste tends to be absorbed locally, which makes it quicker and easier to keep clean than a straw bed is. Once a firm base is established less bedding needs to be removed, which makes it more cost effective and labour saving, than for example, straw. Shavings are generally pre-packaged in plastic bales and are easy to store and handle.  Generally wood shavings are sold as ‘dust-free’ bedding so are more suited to a horse that has existing respiratory problems.

Wood Pellets
Wood pellets were originally designed as a bio-fuel but they are now being made and marketed as horse bedding.  Wood pellets are totally dust-free and have a very high absorption rate. They are more effective at absorbing wetness than wood shavings. Pellets come in easy to handle plastic sacks and are spread out in the stable, misted with water and left to break up, making a very soft and deep bed. Once a wood pellet bed has been established, very little extra bedding needs to be added on a daily basis, which makes it very economical and labour saving.

Rubber Matting
Rubber matting is a popular form of bedding. It is generally expensive to purchase initially but over time, the money saved in actual bedding material balances out the initial investment.
A small amount of bedding material is often laid down on top of the matting (usually straw or shavings) to help absorb the horse's urine and also to encourage horse to lie down. Matting provides excellent cushioning for the horse and is very comfortable for the horse to lie down on.

It is also very quick and easy to muck out, therefore labour saving. Mats should be completely removed from the stable on a regular basis to wash them down completely and allow them to dry out, before replacing in the stable with some fresh bedding.

Paper & Cardboard
Shredded or chopped paper and cardboard can be a relatively inexpensive type of bedding. It is dust free and in general horses find it unpalatable so they will not eat it. Although initially comfortable to lie on, it can sometimes compress and become flat and consequently will provide limited cushioning for the horse. The ink from the paper can also sometimes leach out and stain the horse’s coat. Paper can be very heavy to work with and can sometimes pose a problem when disposing of it when it is soiled.  It does not rot down or burn particularly well.

Bedding Management
Bedding can be managed in one of two ways: a ‘deep litter’ system can be followed or the bed can be fully ‘mucked out’ on a daily basis.

A deep litter system greatly reduces both the amount of bedding used and time needed to complete the task.  All droppings and soiled patches are removed on a daily basis but the base of the bed is never lifted. Small amounts of fresh bedding are added daily and scattered on the top. Initially a good deep bed should be put down and not be disturbed too much. The bed will gradually build up and will require complete removal once or twice a year.

• Warm, deep and comfortable
• The horse will usually lie down more frequently
• Economical
• Labour saving
• Horse is less likely to be injured by scraping up bedding and getting through to bare concrete

• Will become very dirty if all the droppings are not thoroughly removed each day
• May cause foot health and respiratory problems if not appropriately managed
• Very hard work to remove the bed when necessary
• The bed may grow too deep and may consequently reduce the horse’s headroom

Mucking Out
Mucking Out should is carried out on a daily basis and is usually done first thing in the morning.
Equipment needed:
1) Wheelbarrow
2) Strong broom; natural bristle are more effective on uneven floors
3) Four-pronged pitchfork
4) Shovel
5) Shavings fork if using shavings/pellets etc
6) Gloves to protect hands

To Completely Muck Out a Straw Bed
• Remove the horse from the stable if possible and tie up in a safe location
• If the horse cannot be removed, tie up away from the stable doorway if possible
• Remove any feed or water buckets
• Remove any droppings and soiled/wet bedding
• The used but clean bedding is forked into a heap on one side of the stable one day and on the other side the following day. This allows the entire floor to air and dry out over a period of two days
• The floor should be thoroughly swept
• If the horse is going out to graze in the day, the bed may be left piled up to allow the floor to dry and be bedded down again before the horse returns from the field
• If the horse is to be left in the stable during the day then some of the clean bedding may be re-laid as a thinner ‘day bed’. Droppings should be removed at regular intervals throughout the day
• To bed down, the old clean straw is shaken up to put down evenly over the floor with the sides banked up higher against the walls. New straw should then be shaken up and put on top of the banks and the middle of the bed. The depth of the bed should be sufficient to prevent the prongs of the fork reaching through and touching the concrete floor
• After mucking out, wash out water buckets, refill and replace in box

Mucking Out Other Types of Bedding
When dealing with wood-shavings, pellets etc.
• Remove droppings and wet soiled patches with a shavings fork
• Fork and rake daily, taking dry bedding  from the sides of the box to the centre to give an even depth over the floor
• Top up with new bedding as necessary
• The bed should be as deep as a straw bed, approximately 30-35 cms
• Remove droppings and wet soiled patches with fork
• Throw all bedding up around the sides, work through with a fork and droppings will fall out to the bottom and can be effectively removed
• Make sure the corners of the bed are dug out at least once a week
• This allows the floor to dry before putting the bed down and topping up as necessary

When dealing with rubber matting:
• Remove all piles of droppings and wet bedding.
• Push clean bedding to one side
• Sweep floor where horse has urinated
• Replace existing bedding and add more if necessary
• Periodically remove the mats from the stable and hose them off to give a thorough clean.
• In the warmer months you can also use this opportunity to disinfect the stable


This is an extract from the ebook, Horse Care, by staff of our school
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