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I have perused the forum and understand that pine is the bedding of choice. I wasn't surprised; I have long used pine shavings as well as pine pellets for my horse's bedding and have no complaints regarding the absorption, ease of handling, maintenance of hoof quality, etc. However, I have become increasingly concerned with the environmental impact of pine shavings and feel that individuals in the horse industry, as well as individuals everywhere, are responsible for the stewardship of the Earth as well as their horses.
To this end, my concern with pine shavings is that with the use of fossil fuels they are processed from a slow growing tree. Then, they are bagged in non-biodegradable plastic bags (though for awhile I was able to purchase shavings bagged in paper). Pine pellets undergo even more processing dependent on fossil fuels before being placed in the bag. Are there bedding options that minimize these environmental impacts and are still safe and effective? It seems that straw would be more environmentally friendly in the sense that it is a by-product of the wheat industry; it is a grass that renews itself annually. Sawdust (a popular choice in my youth) could also be obtained as a by-product, though there are some safety concerns. One of your posts mentioned corn. I am unfamiliar with this as a bedding. Are there any other annual or perennial plants that can be used for bedding or fast growing trees, like bamboo (although a quick search of the internet suggests that horses and bamboo might not mix) that might be alternative bedding options for people wishing to bring sustainability into their horse keeping? Any insight is greatly appreciated.
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Thank-you for this thoughtful post Megan. I understand your concern. I do try to avoid using this forum as a method of promoting our company, but on this topic, I will use our philosophy to demonstrate that we share your concern and as a way to better understand my response.
In general, any harvested/processed product carries a carbon footprint so you have to dig into each process (which will be different for each company) to know if you are choosing the bedding with the least amount of impact. While "living" in general demands the use of fossil fuels and the earth's resources, we can certainly make the most educated decision to use a product that fits our budget yet minimizes the impact as much as possible. We chose pine as our substrate because we had a process that was as close to zero waste manufacturing as possible and, utilized a renewable resource. Our pine timber is sourced through sustainable forestry practices so reforestation and healthy forest management is primary to our process. Our manufacturing process uses as much abundant domestic natural resource as possible, for example - our wood driers are fueled by the sawdust that we screen off of our shavings ( to make them low dust). While the pellets do indeed go through an additional manufacturing process - we utilize electricity and steam. Since pellets and our fine flake shavings are designed to be more absorbent - we'll use less and dispose of less using these products in the barn. The manure pile becomes a quality balance of carbon and nitrogen so it makes a superior compost / fertilizer. The problem with using grain or grass based substrates is that taking these products out of the food chain raises the cost of feeding animals and people. I wish I had a good answer on the bags. The bag industry has not developed an environmentally satisfactory bag for absorbent materials as of yet and we hope that they continue to work on this. Additionally, there are not enough recycling centers in the country to recover poly bags - which don't have much of a useful market domestically - but they do as an export. Again, something that continues to be developed but definitely not fast enough for us. In the end, if the environmental impact is as important to the consumer as it is to us, it becomes the consumer's responsibility to know the company they are doing business with to be sure that their practices are as environmentally responsible as possible. Like most industries, there are always folks out to make a fast buck but there are animal bedding and litter companies like ours that take the sustainability and environmental side serious enough to invest in the process that protects it. Thanks again for the post, Claire