Journal of the NACAA
Volume 4, Issue 1 - June, 2011
Short Paper Fiber Bedding for Equines
- Coffin, D. R., Extension Professor, University of Maine Cooperative Extension
The paper industry generates a number of by-products that could be useful to farmers for their crops or livestock. This project investigates two short paper fiber products as potential equine bedding materials (Short Paper Fiber – SPF and FiberBed™. Twelve horses were bedded one week on each product and sawdust as a control. Weight and volume of bedding used, time to bed and clean out stalls, daily physicals of the horses, nutrient analysis and visual observations were made.
Using either alternative bedding material did not affect the volume of the manure compared to sawdust bedded stalls. The initial bulk density of both alternative bedding materials was 30% to 40% heavier than the sawdust. Nutrient analysis of manure from the dried SPF and FiberBed™shows great promise as a crop nutrient source, especially for Calcium. Physical characteristics make these less desirable equine bedding material.
Next to feed the most expensive part of basic horse care is bedding. Bedding materials such as sawdust, shavings or wood pellets are becoming more expensive and harder to find. Part of the reason is the recent interest in pellet wood stoves for heat. This has caused increased interest in finding alternative bedding materials that equine owners can use to safely bed their animals.
A company funded this project to evaluate the feasibility of using two of their short paper fiber (SPF) recycled products as alternative bedding materials for horses. The first product is dried SPF. SPF directly from the mill where it is generated is typically 65% moisture; too wet to be used as animal bedding. To achieve a product that is more appropriate for animal bedding, the company dried the SPF to a moisture content of about 40% for this study. The second product utilized in this trial was FiberBed™, a blend of SPF (undried), wood ash, and sawdust. Both the dried SPF and the FiberBed™ were also studied for use as bedding for dairy cows with generally positive results.
This project was designed to determine if the short paper fiber bedding materials are suitable for horses and estimate the affect on manure and bedding weight and volume that can result from their use during winter. Also, a nutrient analysis to determine variation in manure produced with the different bedding materials.
Twelve horses were assigned to one of three groups in this project: horses in stalls bedded with the control bedding material used on the farm (fresh sawdust); horses in stalls bedded with dried short paper fiber (SPF); and horses in stalls bedded with FiberBed™. Three students were assigned to the same four horses throughout the trial. A forth student was available to assist the other three students. The demonstration period was three weeks, during which the horse’s regular turnout schedule for exercise was maintained (12 hours per day turnout in pasture). Stalls were bedded with the same volume of bedding, using 20 gallon muck buckets as a measure.
Prior to the study, and at the start of each day during the study, horses were given a physical (body temperature, pulse, respirations, coronary band, disposition, stance, bodily functions, mucous membranes and discharges) to note any changes to their wellbeing while on the alternative bedding material.
Each day the soiled bedding and manure was removed and measured by volume and weight. Also, the time to do this routine task was noted. After one week the stalls were stripped completely cleaned, bedding and manure measured by volume and weight. Horses were photographed to document any affect of the bedding on their coat condition. The second week the three groups were rotated to a different bedding material. In the third and final week of the study, horses were rotated to the third bedding material.
Grab samples of the bedding materials, (soiled bedding and manure and "clean" material remaining in the stalls) were taken for moisture and manure nutrient analysis.
Amount of Bedding Material Used
Stalls were initially bedded at the start of each week. After stalls were cleaned a determination was made based on visual inspection on whether additional bedding would be required.
Table 1 shows that the weight of dried SPF and FiberBed™ that was added to the stalls was essentially the same while the weight of sawdust used was about half that weight. On the other hand, the volume used of all three bedding types was approximately the same.
Amount of Manure and Soiled Bedding Removed From Stalls:
Manure and soiled bedding was removed from the stalls, weighed, and measured on each of the six days of the study. The volume and weight of bedding stripped from the stall at the end of the week was also recorded. Table 2 shows the amount of manure and soiled bedding that was removed from stalls on a daily basis and combined with the amount stripped from the stalls at the end of the week. It was found that while the weight of the bedding material removed varied a great deal between the sawdust and either the dried SPF or the FiberBed™, the volume of material removed was essentially the same for all three bedding types. When looking at the range of materials removed from the stalls it was noted that there was a great range in amount of materials removed from each stall. This varied between horses and between students cleaning the stalls.
Changes in Nutrients and Moisture:
Grab samples of manure were taken daily and combined for the week for each horse for each bedding material. Table 3, Table 4 and Table 5 show the results of the manure analyses on these samples.
Table 3 compares the initial nutrient content of the bedding materials with manure from these materials and common nutrient levels found in horse manure. The two alternative bedding materials contain more Calcium, Nitrogen, Iron and Magnesium than sawdust and the FiberBed™contained more Potash, Manganese and Phosphorous than sawdust. When compared with the book values of manures the control manure from sawdust had a higher moisture content and lower total Nitrogen than would be expected.
Significance shown by letters in column
Table 4 indicates no significant difference in the moisture content or the Total N in the three manures. There was significantly more CaCO3eq found in the Dried SPF-based manure compared with the FiberBedTM-based manure and significantly more CaCO3eq in the FiberBedTM -based manure compared to the Sawdust-based manure. The Dried SPF-based manure contained over 27 times as much CaCO3 as the Sawdust-based manure and the FiberBedTM-based manure contained over 19 times as much CaCO3 as the Sawdust-based manure.
Sawdust-based manure and dried SPF-based manure had similar amounts of phosphorus while the FiberBed™ -based manure had significantly higher level of phosphorus as seen in Table 5. The dried SPF-based and FiberBed™-based manure had similar amounts of calcium while the sawdust-based manure had significantly less. The level of potassium varied too much to show any significant difference in levels although the FiberBed™-based manure seems to have higher levels of this nutrient. It was noted that several horses left a large amount of hay in their stall that was soiled and removed daily with the manure. This may have contributed to the variability of nutrients in the manure.
Significance shown within columns
Effect on Animal Vital Signs
Significance shown within columns
Significance shown within columns
Table 6 shows the affect of the various bedding materials on the vital signs of the horses. There is a slightly significant difference between the respiration rate while on the dried SPF bedding and sawdust and yet no significance between the two alternative bedding materials nor between the sawdust and FiberBed™.
Time to Clean Stalls
Table 7 shows the amount of time it took to clean and bed stalls for each week of the trial. There was a significant difference in the amount of time it took to clean the stalls bedding with sawdust and stalls bedding with either of the two bedding materials. The SPF bedding material took 33% more time to clean and the FiberBed™ took 22% more time to clean than the sawdust bedding material.
During the trial visual observations of the bedding materials were made to assess the various bedding materials. Photos were taken to show affects of the different bedding materials. Figure 2 http://flic.kr/p/9ny8Gq (photo by Lindsey Walker) shows the side of one mare after lying down on the dried SPF bedding material. This bedding material adhered to the coat of horses that lay down as did the FiberBed™. When these materials were dry both could be brushed off the horse although the dried SPF was more difficult to brush off the horses. Sawdust did not adhere to the coat of horses that lay down.
Figure 3 http://flic.kr/p/9nv6GH (photo by Lindsey Walker) shows how the dried SPF bedding material tended to compact on the bottom of the hoof of the horses. When the horses exited the stall this compacted material tended to fall off in the alleyway when they walked to the pasture.
During the second week of the trial it was noted that the FiberBed™ started to develop a two inch layer of mold on the top of the pile. Figure 4 http://flic.kr/p/9nv6Na (photo by Donna Coffin) shows the white mold growing on the top of the pile.
Subsequently the temperature of all three bedding materials was taken with an 18 inch compost thermometer and found that the temperature of the sawdust pile was 70o F, the FiberBed™ was 108o F and the dried SPF was 124o F.
A sample was tested and found to contain saprophytic fungi and bacteria commonly found on decaying wet paper & wood. It was recommended to stop using the product since many fungi produce spores that may cause allergies with long term exposure. The affected areas of the pile were not used for the rest of the trial. It should be noted that this is the only reported instance of mold growth on this type of material.
Amount of Manure Generated:
Using either alternative bedding material did not affect the volume of manure that was produced by the horses when compared to the manure from the sawdust bedded stalls. But because the initial bulk density of the dried SPF and FiberBed™ was more than the sawdust the resulting manure from these two bedding materials was 30% to 40% heavier. The increased bulk density of the bedding material and the resulting manure make both alternative bedding materials less attractive as alternative bedding for horses. In a 2000 survey of equine owners 84% of respondents indicated that they manually clean stalls. 
Suitability of bedding materials for horses based on nutrient analysis and physical characteristics:
The nutrient analysis of manure from the dried SPF shows great promise as a crop nutrient source especially for calcium,but the added value of crop nutrients is canceled out by the additional labor costs in removing it from the stall. However, the physical characteristics of the dried SPF bedding material make it undesirable as bedding for horses. These characteristics include a tendency to get dusty, pack in the hooves of horses, pack tightly in the stalls, heavy to handle, and adheres to the coat of the horses.
The manure from the FiberBed™ also offers a significant level of several crop nutrients especially calcium, potash, phosphorous and magnesium. While many of the physical characteristics are less troublesome than those with the dried SPF, the FiberBed™ still has a tendency to get dusty, is heavy to handle and it can adhere to the coat of the horses more than sawdust. Another more troubling issue is that the FiberBed™ developed a two inch moldy layer on the pile of bedding. Mold and dust are known to cause major respiratory distress in horses and horse owners go to great lengths to reduce the exposure to mold and dust.
Generally the FiberBed™ was favored over the dried SPF for a horse bedding material but due to issues with dustiness and mold it would not be desirable as a bedding material for horses. An alternative use on the horse farm might be for footing in an arena. Using the FiberBed™ as a base for outdoor arenas then cover with a less dusty material might prove beneficial. More work would need to be done on this use.
An alternative to using these materials for bedding is to spread either of these products directly on pastures or hay fields where they would provide needed nutrients and help increase the productivity of these crops.
 Adams, A., and D. Marcinkowski, Use of Paper Fiber By-products for Bedding Dairy Cattle, University of Maine Cooperative Extension, 2007.
 Johnson, J. & D. Eckert, Best Management Practices: Land Application of animal Manure, AGF- 208- 95, Ohio State University, 1995. http://ohioline.osu.agf-fact/0208.html accessed May 19, 2008. Converted P2O5 *.44 and K2O *.83.
 Lamb, D. C., Maine Equine Survey Results, 2000,