Can horses cope with sudden cold weather?
Horses can survive and even thrive in what we consider to be very inhospitable conditions, but they do need plenty of feed to fuel them and keep them warm.
We all used to use straw for bedding. It was cheap, locally available, rots to make good compost and looks bright and comfortable. But we all became very concerned about issues of allergies and wind problems and have deserted straw in favour of woodchips, hemp stalks and other chopped by products of crop production. But these alternatives are getting more expensive and now cost around 10 times the price of straw. There may well be a case for returning to straw bedding in some cases.
Straw is prone to moulds and the spores from the moulds can make many horses cough and maybe even show other signs of allergy. Carefully managing straw as a bedding material can in many cases avoid the problems traditionally associated with straw.
• Always use clean, bright straw that is as far as possible free from dust and fungal spores. Dull, grey-looking straw should be avoided.
• Wheat straw is considered least likely to be eaten by the horse, then barley straw and most likely to be eaten is oat straw.
• If you have access to organically grown straw, you can be confident it has fewer chemical residues but it is more likely to be infected with moulds.
How you use your straw bedding is also important.
• Do not deep litter as this encourages mould to grow.
• Muck out fully each day WITH THE HORSE OUT OF THE STABLE
• If the stable is big enough, bed only half to two thirds of the floor area, so you have room to turn the whole bed over each day.
• Do not have thick banks round the edge as these will grow moulds and thus spores. Banks are traditionally used to stop draughts, but are rarely put across the doorway, which is where the most air gets in! Banks are also used to help prevent horses getting cast; this is probably a myth.
• Only chuck out the really dirty straw – slightly soiled straw makes a good and non slip under layer.
• Shake new straw out well using a long handled fork and leave the door open.
• Keep the bed fairly small and even a foot or so in from the edges. The horse cannot lie on the very edges anyway and it will also help avoid his getting cast as it will encourage him to lie in the middle of the stable.
• Muck out at least once a day and remove droppings at every opportunity.
Straw can be a very good and economical bedding and managed correctly will not cause many of the problems often associated with it. However, horses that are actually allergic to straw or eat unhealthy amounts of their bedding in spite of having good supplies of hay or haylage, may not be best served with straw bedding and will need to have an alternative.
Whatever bedding you use, you make it go further at no extra cost:
• Lay newspapers or opened out cardboard boxes on the floor under the bedding where your horse likes to stale. This will absorb the urine and keep the bedding fresh.
• Make your bedding go further with shredded paper, either from the office, your home shredder or even by tearing newspapers into strips.
• Make sure your horse is out of the stable as much as possible.
• It is possible to train a horse to urinate in a bucket – this saves considerable amounts of bedding.
• Before putting your horse in the stable, take him to the muck heap – the smell of muck can encourage him to “go” there!
• When fetching in from the field, walk the horse through the rough area where they dung – this will encourage him to offload before coming in!
It seems a waste to spend a lot of money on bedding that at best will only be compost in the end, so we can all save money on bedding.