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How to Choose the Ideal Animal Bedding


January 19, 2023

Man holding animal bed shavings

As an animal caretaker, you know that the comfort and well-being of your animals is a top priority. Choosing the right bedding material is an important decision that can have a big impact on their health and happiness.

Whether you have a barn full of cows, a coop of chickens, or any other farm animals, selecting the right bedding material will keep them warm and comfortable. Here, we’ll help you choose the best type of bedding for your needs.

Factors to Consider

Species

Baby pigs laying in animal shavings

Different species have different needs and preferences when it comes to bedding. Different species may need varying levels of comfort, absorbency, and odor control, which can change depending on their stage of growth.

You’ll also want to consider the size of your animal. A bedding material that is comfortable for a small hamster may not be suitable for a large horse. Additionally, some bedding materials may be toxic to certain species, so it’s essential to do your research and choose a safe bedding material for your animal.

Flooring

For example, if the floor is made of wood or other easily scratched surfaces, you’ll want to choose a bedding material that is not too abrasive, as it could scratch or damage the floor.

On the other hand, if the floor is made of concrete or another hard, durable surface, you can use a more abrasive bedding material without any issues.

Additionally, you’ll want to consider the absorbency of the bedding, as you’ll want to choose a material that can absorb moisture and odors to keep the area clean and dry.

Budget

Depending on the type of bedding you choose, costs can vary significantly. For example, wood shavings can be more expensive than sand bedding.

However, it’s important to remember that while a cheaper bedding option may be tempting, it may not always be the best choice for your animal’s health and comfort. In the long run, investing in a higher-quality bedding option may save you money on vet bills and other costs associated with an unhealthy animal.

By taking the time to carefully consider your budget and the long-term costs of different bedding options, you can make an informed decision that is best for both you and your animal.

Maintenance

There are a few key factors to consider when it comes to maintenance when choosing animal bedding.

Consider how frequently the bedding will need to be changed. Some bedding types need to be changed more often than others, which can be a hassle and increase the overall cost of bedding.

Think about the absorbency of the bedding. Highly absorbent bedding is great for animals that tend to make a mess, as it will help to keep their living area clean and dry. However, bedding that is too absorbent may need to be changed more frequently, which can be a drawback.

Comfort

There are a few factors to consider when it comes to comfort: the material of the bedding, the thickness and support it provides, and the overall size and shape of the bedding area.

The material should be soft and cozy, such as straw or shavings, and the bedding should have enough padding to support your animals’ joints.

The size and shape of the bedding area should be appropriate for your animals, as bedding that is too small can be cramped and uncomfortable, while bedding that is too large can feel cold and uninviting.

Particle Size

Particle size is an important factor to consider when choosing animal bedding. Smaller particle sizes can be more comfortable for animals, providing a softer surface to lay on. However, smaller particle sizes may also create more dust, harming animals with respiratory issues.

Larger particle sizes can be more durable and easier to clean but may not provide as much comfort for the animal. It’s important to strike a balance and choose a particle size that meets the needs and comfort of your specific type of animal.

Eco-Friendly

Eco-friendly options, such as recycled paper or sand, can help reduce waste and decrease your carbon footprint. Other factors to consider include the material’s sustainability and whether it is biodegradable or compostable.

Additionally, look for sustainably sourced and produced bedding, as this can further reduce the environmental impact.

Environment

Different types of bedding may be more suitable for specific environments based on factors such as humidity, temperature, and airflow. For example, areas with high humidity can increase the risk of pathogen production. Livestock living in areas with cold winters may require additional and warm bedding options.

Types of Bedding

Straw

Straw is a common animal bedding made from the dry stalks of grains such as wheat, oats, and barley. It is a widely available option used in barns and stables for horses, cows, and other large animals.

One of the main benefits of straw bedding is that it is highly absorbent, which helps to keep the animal’s living area clean and dry. It is also relatively soft and comfortable for the animal to lie on. It’s also biodegradable and can be easily composted.

However, straw bedding does have some drawbacks. It can be more difficult to handle than other types of bedding, and it may not be as effective at keeping animals clean.

Wheat Straw Two-String Bale

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Standlee, Flock Fresh Bedding, 2 cu. ft.

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Hay

Hay is a common animal bedding made from dried grasses, such as alfalfa or timothy. It is a natural choice that many farmers and pet owners prefer.

Hay is soft and comfortable for animals to sleep on and helps absorb moisture and odors, making it easy to keep the animal’s living area clean. However, animals may find hay appetizing and may eat it.

It is important to note that hay can become moldy if it gets wet and produces a bad odor, so it is important to keep the animal’s living area dry to prevent this from happening. Old hay can produce a lot of dust.

Local Grass Hay Bale Two-String

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Eastern Oregon Alfalfa Hay Bale

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Wood Shavings

Closeup shot of wood shavings

Wood shavings are a popular choice for animal bedding due to their absorbency and ability to control odors. They are typically made from softwoods such as pine or cedar, which have a natural fragrance that can help to neutralize odors in the animal’s enclosure.

Wood shavings are also easy to find. It’s important to note, however, that some animals may be allergic to certain types of wood shavings, so it’s always a good idea to check with your veterinarian before making a decision.

Fine wood byproducts such as sawdust have excellent absorption and are easier to clean up, but can produce more dust due to their powdery texture.

Micro- and min-shavings, or flakes, are the smallest wood shaving option and decompose quicker than regular-sized shavings. The best micro-shaving options are screened several times to remove most of the dust. Medium-sized shavings are preferred because they provide a balance of absorbency, comfort, and no dust. Larger shavings contain the least dust and are more comfortable but not as absorbent.

Nature's Bedding Pine Shavings 10 Cu. Ft.

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Easy-Pick Fir Micro-Shavings 3 cu. Ft.

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Cozy Den, Comfort Pine Premium Shavings, 10 Cu. Ft.

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Wood Chips

Wood chips are an affordable option and don’t require as many layers as other options. However, they are not as absorbent and offer low comfort levels. It also creates a damp environment, increasing the risk of mold growth. Moist wood chips can release a pigment and get on animals’ coats.

Sand

Sand is a popular type of animal bedding with several benefits, including being easy to clean and not promoting bacterial growth. Sand is also relatively inexpensive, widely available, and comfortable for many animals. Note: sand is not a good option for horses due to increased risk of colic. It’s primarily used for dairy cattle and goats.

A large particle size can cause bruising or scraping on animals. However, sand that is too fine has poor drainage and increases the risk of waste build-up.

Sand is less absorbent than other bedding materials and is heavier, making its disposal much more challenging than other bedding options.

Paper

Paper is an affordable and practical option for animal bedding. It is easy to obtain and dispose of, and it absorbs moisture well. It can also be easily incorporated into different manure systems.

However, it can be more slippery for animals to walk on and may not provide as much insulation as other types of bedding.

In addition, the ink used in shredded paper can potentially be harmful if ingested by animals. It is important to keep this in mind and closely monitor your animal’s use of paper-based bedding.

Pellet Bedding

Bags of Natures Bedding animal pellets

Pellet bedding can be made from various materials, including compressed wood fibers, recycled paper, wheat grass, and more. Pellets are very absorbent, biodegradable, and compostable, able to control odors, and easy to clean. However, pellets may be more expensive than other bedding options.

Whole, dry pellets can simply be poured onto the floor of your animal’s home. A 10’x10’ space requires about two to three 40 pound bags for horse or cattle or 1-2 of the same bags for goats, sheep, and pigs. When wet, the bedding pellets expand into a finer, sawdust-like material and begins to clump. Remove the soiled bedding clumps and add the dry pellets as needed.

With moistened, expanded pellets, you’ll cut about six to eight bags of pellets open for a 12’x12’ space for larger animals. This gives them space to expand. Then, you’ll pour about 1 gallon of water into the 40 pound bag with the bedding. Blend the pellets to ensure all of them are evenly wet. This turns the pellets into a soft and shock-absorbent sawdust-like material. Adding water can reduce dust levels and prevent bedding from becoming too dry.

Nature's Bedding Pellets, 40 lb.

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Dry Den Equine Bedding Pellets 40 lb.

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Additives

Zeolite is a natural mineral additive used for animal bedding that can reduce unpleasant odors from ammonia and its negative impact on animal health, increasing your livestock production efficiency and the overall costs of caring for animals. It is commonly used for dairy and beef cattle, sheep, poultry, and swine.

Sweet PDZ Coop Refresher, 10 lb.

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Requirements for Animal Type

Poultry

Rooster in pen on farm

For your brooder, large-particle wood shavings are a good option that won’t produce dust. For mature chickens, there are many options to choose from, including straw, the traditional option, but can increase the risk of spreading pathogens. Stay away from cedar shavings because they can be toxic to chickens.

Sand is one of the most effective bedding options for chickens when using the deep litter method, but is difficult to handle. However, it’s not toxic, easy to clean, reduces the risk of spreading disease, and does not produce a lot of dust.

Horses

Rubber stall mats with additional bedding on top of the mat can provide a cushioned surface to support your horses. Straw is a widely available option used for horse stalls but is not as absorbent as other options and requires regular cleaning to avoid issues with ammonia.

If using straw, a deep bedding system can reduce moisture levels, allowing urine to settle at the bottom. However, straw tends to produce dust, which can affect those with respiratory issues.  It also requires a large storage area. Additionally, horses may try to eat the bedding.

Wood shavings can provide a soft surface for horses and a high absorbency level. Pine or fir shavings are often sold in bagged or bulk options. However, wood shavings should be made especially for animal bedding without any potentially harmful materials such as black walnut. This bedding option also tends to produce dust.

Shredded paper is a highly absorbent and dust-free bedding option, ideal for horses with respiratory issues and allergies. You can buy this bedding option in bags or bales. Avoid using this bedding material in drafty locations since it can get blown away.

Beef Cattle

A good bedding option can provide the right comfort for beef cattle to reduce injuries such as swollen hocks. Straw is one of the most common bedding materials, but other options include sand and newspaper.

Cattle bedding not only provides comfort for cows to rest and support their joints but can also provide some insulation during the winter season, which can help maintain their energy levels without requiring additional feed.

Choosing the right bedding option can also promote a cleaner environment, reducing the risk of contaminating meat during processing. Ultimately, the bedding option will depend on the location of the cattle and the type of manure system used.

Dairy Cattle

Sand is an effective bedding option for dairy cows. It can conform to the cow’s body shape, reducing injuries, such as mastitis or hock lesions, and increasing comfort when they lie down for most of the day.

This bedding material can easily drain moisture, creating a cleaner environment. However, sand can be heavier to use than other types of bedding and increase wear and tear on equipment in the area. Sand can also stick to utters and tears when wet or dry.

High-quality sawdust can be an alternative bedding option for dairy cattle. However, sawdust can increase the risk of bacterial growth in damp conditions. Adding lime to the bedding can reduce the spread of pathogens.

Wood shavings are often used as a top layer of the bedding due to a higher cost and less absorbency than other options like sawdust.

Chopped straw can provide a cozy option for dairy cows. However, it requires more frequent changing than other options since it may promote bacterial growth. Use the smallest particle size to improve bedding longevity and cow comfort if possible.

Recycled paper is an affordable and widely available option that works best with other bedding materials, such as straw or sand.

In open barn settings, compost is an organic option requiring daily aeration and adding wood shavings or sawdust.

Other options include waterproof mattresses filled with various materials, including polyethylene foam, water, and rubber crumbs. Cows usually prefer additional bedding on top.

Pigs

Straw is an excellent option for bedding due to its comfort level and absorbency. Other options include hay, pine shavings, leaves, and rice hulls, which are more affordable than straw.

In environments with slotted flooring, bedding may not be necessary. In the winter, a double layer of bedding can help pigs regulate their temperature on hard and cold flooring such as concrete.

For farrowing sows in an outdoor environment, setting up piles of straw can allow sows and piglets to have a warm and cozy nook. However, putting too much loose straw can increase the risk of piglets getting stuck and injured. Dust-free shavings are an excellent option for farrowing sows.

Goats

For goats, pine shavings are an excellent bedding material due to their absorbency, softness, and affordability. Pellets are also cheap, absorbent, and won’t be eaten by goats. Cedar shavings are another popular alternative that can also work as a pest repellent. Straw is a common option, too, but it’s not as accessible or affordable as shavings.

Sawdust is a lightweight material that can also be used for goat bedding. Sand is soft, but can create a mess from the urine and excrement. It’s also not as absorbent as other materials. Wood chips are cheap, but aren’t comfortable or absorbent for goats.

Sheep

We recommend using straw as sheep bedding unless it is prohibitively expensive in your area. If this is the case, use sawdust instead. If you use straw, ensure that your sheep are not eating any grains attached to the straw. Other bedding options for goats include paper, wood chips, and hay. Paper is an excellent option if your animals are allergic to wood shavings.

Small Pets

Hamster coming out of habitat

When it comes to small pets like hamsters, guinea pigs, and rabbits, providing them with the right bedding is crucial for their comfort and overall health.

One of the best options for bedding is aspen shavings, as they are soft and absorbent, and do not produce dust like other types of wood shavings. Avoid using cedar or pine shavings, as the aromatic oils in these types of wood can be harmful to small pets.

Kiln-dried pine shavings are an exception to the rule since they undergo a drying process that removes most of the aromatic oils. Wood-based pellets are also good options. Another great option is paper-based bedding, which is also soft and absorbent, and does not produce dust.

Small pets may also benefit from fabric-based bedding options, such as fleece, because it is reusable, saving you money and time. One of the drawbacks of using fleece bedding is that it causes pooling, gets your small pets wet, and requires more frequent cleaning.

Shop Animal Bedding at Wilco Farm Stores

We’re your number one source for all the animal bedding your farm needs. From wood shavings for goats and sheep to straw for poultry, we’ve got you covered.

Our high-quality animal bedding is built to last, and our prices are unbeatable. Plus, you can shop online for added convenience.

Keep your animals comfortable with Wilco Farm Stores.

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