Tuesday, December 14, 2010

adventures in stall bedding - straw!

Well, actually straw on top of pine pellets.

With the frigid weather we're having, I was not really happy with the pine pellets alone - the stalls felt very unsnuggly and although the horses and donkeys aren't really IN the stalls all that much, I wanted them to have someplace soft and warm to lie down during the times they ARE in.

I've wanted to try straw bedding for years, but have never quite managed to convince myself to go for it. Yesterday, with several cold nights in front of us, high winds that would mean the horses would in fact have access to stalls all night (and in the case of Salina and her donkey boys, would not be turned out to the bigger fields at all), I decided it was a good time to try.

Our hay supplier usually has wheat straw but didn't have extra this year to sell. He gave me a name of someone else. He just sold the last of this year's crop. He gave me the name of someone who had oat straw. An internet search said oat straw was more likely to be eaten by the horses than wheat, so I called the feed store. Bingo - they had wheat straw.

I headed over and got a baker's dozen wheat straw bales. Just as the sun was setting, my daughter and I unloaded them and began to bed the stalls, while impatient equines watched over the stall doors and one in particular began to bang loudly to be let in.

The straw made all the difference. We used 2 bales per stall and banked it up high in the corners and along the edges. It was so cozy I wanted to lie down on it myself!

Everyone except Cody and the pony took a few bites. This morning it was fun to see what each equine did with their stalls during the night. Salina and the donkeys kept their straw fairly clean. They used one area in each of their stalls (and the barn aisle) to deposit the manure.

Keil Bay obviously slept more than usual in his stall - there were many flattened manure balls and he uncharacteristically deposited most of his manure in the edges, along the wall. Those balls were frozen hard, while the ones he laid on were still soft.

My daughter mucked Cody and the pony so I'm not sure what they did. It was interesting to learn a new mucking technique this morning. I used the pitchfork to heap all the straw, which was 98% dry, only a little bit was wet with urine, high into the corners so I could muck pee spots and get the manure that was "in the open." Then as I forked the straw back out, discovered that there is a completely different technique to getting the manure out from under the straw. Instead of pushing forward with the rake, as you do with the pellets. what works best with the straw is to insert the rake just under the manure and then pull back, shaking the rake gently as you do so. Once I got the hang of it, it was easy.

I don't know that we'll use straw year round, and it might be drastically different if we stalled the horses many hours a day, but for our purposes, it worked really well. The barn felt warmer this morning, and the horses were in good spirits after a very cold and windy night.

I'd love to hear if anyone uses straw full-time - any special tips, etc.


Máire said...

My experience of straw is from when Mali was in livery. They used straw bedding, which had to be (and unfortunately was not) mucked out rigorously to prevent it becoming sodden. It was very cosy in the winter, but Mali always ate loads.

ponymaid said...

Billie, we actually had straw here one year and the Woman decided to try it out as bedding for us. I must say, even though it was wheat straw, it was most tasty. Herself had a terrible time learning how to clean our stalls without throwing it all out and she eventually gave up. We have very nice shavings right now, except for the clumps that have frozen solid. She puts those aside for the day when the temps will rise above freezing. July is my best guess.

billie said...

Maire, I suspect if mine were in longer hours we might experience that issue - although I think the pine pellets underneath certainly helps.

Grey Horse Matters said...

I like it, we tried it a few years ago for Nate because of his respiratory problems. He liked it very much and J. did all the mucking if I remember, so I don't know too much about it. We're currently only using it in the large run-in shed and they seem to have no problem laying down and being cozy and warm. It does look inviting.

billie said...

Sheaffer, it takes longer to muck this way, at least it did for me today, and it's true w/o doubt that it is a much different technique than shavings or pellets.

I actually read online that if you have dirt floors that drain well, one straw technique is to bed the stall 12 inches deep and just keep adding clean straw on top until the spring, when you use a front loader to scoop what is left out and then start anew the next fall. Supposedly the manure and urine sort of composts underneath and generates warmth.

It made me think about reading the Little House books and the winters they had, where they tied a line from cabin to barn so they could find the way w/o getting lost in the blizzards! No taking loads of manure, etc. out in that kind of weather!

billie said...

Arlene, j likely has tips on mucking straw bedding - if she doesn't stop by I'll email her and ask!

Dougie Donk said...

Like the Big Bay, my lot seemed to think all the literature about horses not nesting was COMPLETELY untrue - Dennis was most reluctant to come out of his box in the mornings!

I found the trick to mucking out was to dispense with my nice small-tined shavings fork & invest in an old-fashioned three-pronged fork.

I used that to lift & separate the wet bits of straw, letting all the manure fall to the floor in the process. It was then a 5-minute job to sweep out all the waste & put the bed back down. Worked fine on my then concrete-floored stables.

I'd love to go back to straw beds, but don't have enough storage room countenance it. Rubber matting & pine pellets will have to do!

billie said...

D, I noticed a couple of years ago that if allowed into the barnyard near the round bale, where there was inevitably lots of loose hay, and in the fall, loose hay on top of fallen leaves, these spots became favorite sleeping places for the equines.

That was when I started wondering if they would enjoy a similar "cushion" of bedding in the stalls. It certainly seems like they do, and yours too!

The storage is a factor - obviously the most economical way to utilize straw for bedding is to buy in bulk directly from the farmer when the straw is harvested and baled - and then store for the year. We don't have space for that.

Thank you for the tip on the 3-prong fork. It was obvious yesterday I needed something other than the regular rake to lift the straw - the right tools make everything easier!