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Claire Brant
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The Evolution of Bagged Horse Bedding.

In the beginning there were paper bags.  They were unwieldy 3.5 cubic foot compressed paper bags that were sealed with large (and very scary) staples.  We often found those staples (we so carefully put in our pockets so they wouldn’t poke through the sole of a hoof) in the washing machine on laundry day.   We all unloaded truckloads of the bags that were as long as our wing span and suffered the aches and pains.

 

The paper bags had to be stored inside to avoid spoiling and at 3.5 cubic feet per bag, they took up allot of space in the barn.

 

I used to call them our Christmas gifts.  Sometimes they were heavy, sometimes they were light but you could always be guaranteed that the shavings would be different than the last time you bought them. What did we know about shavings? They were a waste product of the sawmill industry and you took what you could get.

 

As time passed, the era of the plastic package was upon us.  For the most part, these bags solved only one problem – exposure to external moisture/weather.  The shavings manufacturers / baggers didn’t consider that the shavings they put in the bag may be high in moisture content and sealing them in plastic gave us the next chapter: 

Mold 101

It was green, white and it was nasty!  Sometimes we could see it, sometimes we couldn’t.  If we thought we had problems with the original packaged shavings that were dusty and pretty much the pick of the day at the sawmill, throw in some mold, moisture and toxins and it is a recipe for disaster.

 

Still at 3.5 cubic feet, these jumbo tombs of wet, moldy wood fiber called horse bedding were often accepted as normal and producers got away with it for a long time.  

 

Fast Forward to the millennium.  After years of struggling with horse health issues directly related to the pine shavings we were using it was clear that the industry needed to come out of the sawmill closet and into the lab.  A large percentage of the nation’s horses spend 90% of their time in a stall and exposed to their bedding.  We now know that the quality of the barn environment is critical to the overall health and performance of the horse. 

Horse bedding is one of the top 5 costs associated with maintaining a horse farm.   It is understandable that the farm owner looks to reduce their bedding costs.  There are many factors to consider in this calculation, however.

If you use a bulk bedding that comes in to your facility at 40% moisture content it will do little to absorb urine or control odor.  It will enhance the growth of mold, toxins and risk respiratory, hoof and skin health.   We try to mitigate the risk associated with daily horse life – but high ammonia levels in a stall may be one of the greatest risks for our horses and the people that care for them.  There is an unintended additional cost of using a low cost bedding as it relates to veterinary care or reduction in athletic performance.

 

If high moisture bedding requires 4 times the volume to absorb the same amount of urine, is it really saving money?

 

There are other factors to consider.  As the sawmill industry has suffered the economic times of the past 4 – 5 years we see more and more “shavings” bags that contain all or are cut with recycled demolition wood. The risk of toxins, contaminants, deadly woods and metals is great.  As a raw material, R&D waste costs about 30% less than clean pine.    You have to ask yourself “why is this bag so inexpensive?”  The answer will likely be about quality.

 

Eight years ago, we developed a compressed bag size that was slightly smaller (2.25 – 2.5 cubic feet) but packaged on newer – high densification equipment so we could pack more volume into the smaller finished bag.

 

This smaller bag offered:

1.     Ease of handling

2.     Reduction of storage space

3.     Lower price per bag delivered to the store or farm ( more bags on a truck)   

 

Retailers were concerned that the consumer would consider the smaller finished bag a lower value. We fought this perception for many years.  Side by side at a glance a small bag doesn't appear to have the same value as a large bag even though it may contain 25% more product.  Today, most bagging equipment for shavings is made to package the smaller bag as the standard size.  The industry is evolving and the consumer is starting to evolve with it.  

 

The true value of a horse bedding bag is no longer measured by the physical size of the package but rather by the quality of the material contained in the bag.   Like every industry, there are quality producers and questionable producers.  It is up to the consumer to recognize and understand the difference but it isn’t always easy.   In the end, it is all about the horse isn’tit?

 

We are thankful to Stable Management for their attention to such an important subject in our daily lives.  I hope you’ll join our forum and provide your feedback and questions.  

 

Claire Brant

 

 

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