Sunday, December 26, 2010

Clean a stall *and* conserve bedding!

There was a time when horses enjoyed deep, soft bedding. Only 5-7 years ago Harv stood in bedding that came almost to the middle of his cannon bone. Oh, those were the days! But now with the cost of shavings/bedding you can put your horse in a newly bedded stall and still see most of the hoof. Yep, it's slim pickins --pardon the barnworker pun. As a barn worker who also boards, I often think about trying to balance costs to the barn and comfort/health of the horse. 

So how do you maintain a stall on minimal bedding? I will share with you my method. I've met other workers who have come up with the same solution, so I guess it may not be an original idea, but here goes...

Stalls by Stacey

Step 1: The environmental scan. Survey the stall. Identify concentrated areas of pure waste product whether liquid or solid.

Step 2. Bring Mohammed to the Mountain.  Mohammed is the wheelbarrow. Please, please, pull the wheelbarrow at least part-way inside the stall. Why? Well this limits the amount of crap that gets tossed a) into the aisle b) onto passing boarders and c) onto equipment and/or tack boxes stored on the opposite wall. Finding shavings and poop on my tack box is a big pet peeve of mine.

Step 3. The surgical strike.  Target concentrated areas of waste products. Lift with the pitchfork, shake out shavings, and deposit in the wheelbarrow. When finished, the wheelbarrow should contain 85% waste and saturated bedding, 15% marginal bedding (dark/damp), and 0% dry shavings/ bedding.

Step 4. Picky picky picky. This is the most time consuming part -- pick and sift, pick and sift, and when you think you're done, turn the sifted stuff over again and pick some more. During this process, all bedding is sifted and the floor exposed.  This is also where you make the judgement call on the marginal bedding, e.g., it's dark, but not that bad. Pile dry shavings into one small area of the stall. Dust mat with lime or stall freshener if you've got it.
Hint: For marginal bedding, I usually keep or toss by the weight of the bedding. If it feels mch heavier than a dry forkful of the same stuff, out it goes. 
You should now have dry, poop-free bedding, and the wheelbarrow should have less than 10% dry bedding in it.  If you look in the wheelbarrow and see a lot of  dry bedding, you need to work on your technique.

Step 5. The distribution of wealth.  Working from the lovely pile of dry bedding, pick up forkful by forkful and scatter the savings toward/across the middle of the stall,. Pick out the stray waste balls you will inevitably find. Spread/fluff the bedding into the middle of the stall. Add shavings or pellets as needed -- usually 1/3 bag shavings or 1/2 bag pellets ($3ish/day).

Step 6. Giving the brushoff.  This is a controversial point, at least at some barns. Take a broom, or a rake, and pull any shavings about a foot or two away from the wall, so that bedding is a smaller square within the square of the stall. Oh, no! you might say. They'll get cast!

Well, guess what? With the pelleted bedding, and even shavings these days, there just ain't enuf bedding in the stall to create much of an uneven surface, plus horses start kicking the bedding out to the edges the minute they get into the stall. The bedding does the horse the most good when it is in the middle of the stall (which is where they stand most of the time). Leave a bedding free area for hay, and pull any shavings out from under the water bucket. Level out the bedding in the middle.

In these days of $6/bag shavings and $7/bag Streufex, the goal is to put the bedding where the horse spends most of his/her time.  It drives me bananas when workers evenly distribute the shavings all the way across the stall, including where the hay is thrown and under the water bucket(s). When the heck does the horse stand under the water bucket? Why the heck does the hay need to rest on 1/8 bag of bedding? What good does it do there?

In this new world of "thin is in" bedding, how do you all cope???


  1. I use your method, but I'm not really a sifter. I like to toss the bedding into the walls as I work, so the "puckies" roll away from the clean bedding. Back in the day, I use to sweep the entrance to each stall and under the feed and water buckets so that less bedding was kicked out by the horse or wasted under buckets.

    My current barn uses Woody Pet pine pellets, although my horse is out 24/7 so he is only stalled for meals and bad weather. Woody Pet is super absorbent and expands a lot. The barn owners seem to find it worth the cost.

    I am very nostalgic about cleaning stalls. This is how I funded much of my riding as a college student.

  2. My tip is for whatever reason this works I have not figured it out. If I have poop covered in good shavings as sometimes it happens I pick up the whole mess and toss it against a wall. The good shavings fall to the bottom and the poops roll off top. It really does work. Also for messy bedded horses when I have to budget in barns for say 1/2 a bag a day of shavings I push the "good" shavings under the buckets because some horses will pee through a foot of shavings and not have to have the owner pay for extra shavings because the horse would waste lots.
    I love the pelleted bedding. Some of them you wet so they puff up others not. I like being able to scoop out pee spots where they land and not over a 10 foot radius.
    Properly matted/floored stalls are also soooo important. I've only been in a few barns where the mats were being properly utilized. Urine will pool under them and even thrush! This one gelding came to my one barn with a bad case of thrush. They also brought mats (just one or two not the whole stall) they couldn't get rid of it and they were picking his feet twice a day. Long story short we moved him stalls and left the mat in there. Within a week the horrible thrush was gone. Two months later I went to remove the mats out of the old stall and found they were still wet underneath! The farrier said that the bacteria can harbor under the soaking wet mats even if the top seems dry.

  3. I have mats in the stalls. They do get wet underneath, but it's a dirt floor and eventually soaks in.

    I too pile the bedding in the middle and let the Boys mix it up. Haven't tried the pelleted bedding yet, but have thought about it.

    I have an ergonomic handled shavings fork which has a really nice angle in the hand. I think it helps a lot.

  4. We have rubber mats and use pelleted wood bedding - it's very easy to clean as you just lift out any parts that are completely soaked (fluffing up any damp areas) and remove the poo piles - very little shaking required. We've also found it easier to store and less dusty if properly used. I don't miss cleaning stalls with shavings - much more difficult.

  5. I'm a straw user myself, except for one infuriating horse that eats everything but shavings. I don't get the "toss against the wall" method; every time I try it the balls break apart and I have a bigger mess.

  6. It's no longer the norm.... but good old fashioned straw is often more economical than bagged shavings, depending on your location. It's less dusty than shavings and more environmentally friendly. There's no plastic waste and it's great for your garden! My business partner is from Holland, and she grew up riding at stables where they used nothing but straw...

  7. Yes, bedding with (cheap) local straw costs me 20% of what bedding with shavings does. I can clean a straw bedded stall faster than one bedded in shavings, too, but I think this is partly due to my having more practice with straw and partly due to the mixmaster tendencies of my shavings horse.

  8. Great summary! My personal tip for sifting is to use to use a front-to-back shimmy with the fork rather than an up-and-down shake. The dry all sifts down without bouncing the turds off your fork. ;)

    I am a big proponent of minimal bedding, and not only for cost. I just find the "messy" guys easier to clean up after, the less they have to work with.

  9. We get a large load of wood shavings hauled in. It's much cheaper than the bagged stuff, and WAY better quality.

    I'm OCD about stalls. I clear away the middle of the stall, and start sifting my guts out. Shavings are expensive, and so I keep as much as possible, while still making sure the stall is actually clean.
    I always scrape the shavings back from the doorway/ from under feed bucket, and I make sure most the the shavings are evenly spread in the middle. Why put shavings up against the wall, if they aren't doing there job there anyway?

    We have rubber mats, but shavings tend to get under there. That's another thing I'm OCD about, making sure the mats lie even!

  10. At home we have what are called stall mattresses. They're made from chopped rubber encased in fibrous material and stitched into tubes to hold it in place. It has lots of give and is about 3" thick. It's topped with rubber mats. It only needs enough bedding to absorb moisture, as there is lots of cushion for the horses.
    We use truck loads of saw dust if we can get it as it is easier to work with and it isn't too dusty. Failing that, we use bagged peat moss (very absorbent) or shavings.
    I've used straw in the past and would use it again, but it's impossible to get it. We tried pellets but they didn't work well for us - just a sodden mess. Maybe there's a better brand.
    Thanks for a very practical and interesting post.

  11. I love the "throw it against the wall" suggestion. kinda reminds me of testing to see if spaghetti is done! Sadly, Pippin stirs his stall up too much. He walks in circles even though he has open access to is paddock. He crumbles the poop. Sometimes it makes me think of preparing pie dough; mix until crumbled and pea-sized pieces are all coated in flour. But in is case it is more like nickel sized pieces coated in sawdust!
    I use pelleted bedding which i wet down to turn into sawdust. I loved it last year. This year it seems really dusty. I bank it in one corner and along the edges so i can pull oily fresh bedding when needed. I also sweep it away from the door to the paddock, especially if snow is expected and out from under the water buckets as it turns into concrete.
    I used straw many years ago. We would get a new bale each week. I worked hard at keeping the stall picked out to conserve a nice clean bed since I boarded my horse and they only provided a weekly clean out.

  12. I was taught to throw it against the stall to sort poop from shavings, but I never really got that technique to work. Think you have to flick it just so for it to work well.

  13. hmm, I didn't realize there was any other way to clean a stall then the way you posted.
    Shavings are tremendously expensive but we haven't changed much in the way of cleaning. Shavings that are too deep aren't good footing for the horses so we've always kept just enough but not too much.
    Hate, hate hate straw! We have two horses that are on straw because they have heaves and they are always the filthiest as far as urine stains when they lay down.
    We put a lot of straw in but the urine just pools on the matt below it. Gross! Can't imagine 40 stalls of it.

  14. I share you same technique! At the horse rescue I volunteer with, all new volunteers are taught this way too and we're very picky because, as you say, shavings are expensive. Some volunteers actually STOPPED volunteering because they thought we were absurd about our stall cleaning!!

  15. Ah, horsemom, you should get some straw that was rained on but baled dry. It loses the outer "varnish" and absorbs temendously better. It just doesn't have that bright yellow appearance. My straw guy knows that is what I prefer and it's all he brings me.

  16. I long for those days of low cost bedding. Even then with the number of horses I have conserving was important. Unfortunately I think the issue is only going to get worse so I imagine we'll all be developing more and more cost saving ideas along the way.

  17. The only thing that has helped me save shavings/pellets with one of my stall walking mares is a Fine Tine Stall Fork! The tines are only 5/16" apart so it picks up the tiny bits of poo that she mixes in every inch of her stall. Does really good in foal stalls too. That thing has been worth every penny :)

  18. Ha, I am chuckling because the only "stall" I'm cleaning these days is my guinea pigs' cage, and that's how I do it! Talk about expensive: their bedding is $15 for a bag about 1/8 the size of a bag of horse shavings. I believe it's made out of newspaper pulp or some other kind of paper pulp, which results in highly absorbent grey chunks. For a while I was actually using baled horse shavings for them, and that was super-cheap comparitively, but those got stinky really fast. I think I'll buy another bale, though, and try mixing them with the grey pulp to stretch it a bit. My kids tease me about my "mini-horses." They really are alike: g. pigs and horses both can't barf, have the same dentition (I've had several pigs that needed their teeth floated), and need lots of hay for adequate nutrition. And I've always liked stall-cleaning! :-)

  19. Up here in the frozen north, we use shavings (sawdust when we can get a truckload) in the summer and pellets in the winter. We use stove pellets and they work just as well as "horsey" brands with their higher cost.
    Our horses are out most of the time in the summer so a $4.00 bag lasts quite long. We do pile it in the corners and the poop rolls down, plus we have extra on hand to fill in.
    In the winter, the poo freezes and it's soooo easy to clean with a close-tined fork. Just flip the urine area over and skim the soaked part off. Poo sticks together when it's cold so no pellet waste.
    We clean twice daily if horses are in and always sweep bedding away from the feed/hay/door areas.

  20. Can I just say that shavings are WAY cheaper where you come from! We pay $11 a bag of shavings and about $13 a bag of struflex.


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