FAQ Horse Care Tips

Putting the Horse Straw vs. Shavings Debate to Bed

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Written by Natalie Gasper

Selecting Horse Stall Bedding

If cleaning stalls is part of your routine, too, you might be wondering if you’re using quality bedding. Most owners are torn between two types: wood shavings and straw—and I was one of them. I want my horse to be super comfortable and happy, so I researched the pros and cons of each.

Shavings are highly absorbent, can reduce urine odors, and are easy to clean. Straw is dust-free, warm, comfy, and ideal for those who compost manure. There are several factors to consider when choosing bedding, including price, availability, ease of cleaning, and dust. The best bedding comes down to you and your horse’s preference.

horse standing in stall

Source: Canva

Stall Bedding Basics

Bedding not only helps keep your horse comfortable, it can keep nasty urine and manure odors at bay.

Shavings are highly absorbent and easy to clean, whereas straw is cheaper and dust-free.

Shavings Summary

With the increase of wood byproducts (i.e., shavings), owners have turned to wood shavings. Learn more about the pros and cons of shavings below, or review our article about how much shavings to use in a stall.

Advantages:

  • Highly absorbent
  • Easy to clean
  • Easy to store
  • Dirty shavings take up less room in the muck bin

Disadvantages:

  • Dusty
  • Quality/size of shavings can be inconsistent
wood shavings

Source: Canva

Straw Summary

Straw is the leading choice for many uses and is the only bedding used for foaling. You’ll see a lot of equestrians in the UK using straw, whereas shavings are a popular choice in the US.

Advantages:

  • Cheap
  • Widely available
  • Warm
  • Soft
  • Dust free

Disadvantages:

  • Prone to mold
  • Not absorbent
  • Horses may try to eat it
straw close up

Source: Canva

Shavings vs. Straw

Let’s break down the main differences between shavings and straw.

Price

Straw is typically cheaper, and some farmers will even purchase used straw from you. Shavings are also affordable, but prices can vary.

Availability

This depends entirely on your location. If straw or shavings are more readily available, that option will make keeping it in stock easier.

Absorbability

Shavings have high absorbability (and can minimize the smell of ammonia). Straw is pretty terrible at absorbing moisture.

Ease of Cleaning

The jury is out on this one. It depends mostly on your experience and how frequently you can clean your stalls.

Ease of Disposal

If you have your manure hauled away, shavings may be easier as they take up less space. If you compost, straw works better (you have to minimize the amount of materials in a compost pile).

Dust

Shavings can come with a lot of dust, which isn’t ideal if you or your horse has allergies or respiratory issues. Straw, however, is dust-free.

Warmth

Straw takes the cake for warmth and is a popular choice among horse owners in chilly northern climates. Shavings are good, too, because they provide a layer of insulation from the cold ground.

Best Bedding for Horses

You guessed it: there’s one-size-fits-all winner in the bedding war.

Both shavings and straw can get the job done. It’s more about what your horse needs and what you prefer.

Have limited time to clean stalls and no allergies? Shavings can make cleaning quicker. Able to frequently pick stalls or have a dust problem? Straw is the way to go.

Stall with Shavings

Source: Canva

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What’s cheaper shavings or straw?

Generally, straw is the cheaper bedding choice.

Q: What is the best bedding for horses in the winter?

Straw is the warmer choice, but it can be a nightmare if your horse is messy. If your horse will be inside more, shavings will make keeping his stall clean much easier.

Q: What is the best bedding for horses?

This depends on both your preference and your horse’s needs. If your horse has a dust issue, straw is the way to go. If your horse pees like crazy, shavings will make cleaning quicker.

Q: What is the best bedding for rubber mats?

Stall mats add a basic layer of comfort, so many owners pair shavings with stall mats.

Horse in stall

Source: Canva

Parting Thoughts

Finding the right bedding can involve some trial and error. At the end of the day, the best bedding is the one you can afford, keep in stock, and the one that keeps your horse happy.

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About the author

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Nancy loves retraining off the track Thoroughbreds and working with her dogs!