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Cooperative Extension Fact Sheet FS537

Horse Manure Management: Bedding Use

  • Michael Westendorf, Extension Specialist in Animal Sciences
  • Uta Krogmann, Extension Specialist in Solid Waste Management

Stall Waste Production: A 1000-pound horse will defecate from 4 to 13 times per day1. On the average, this horse's manure will contain about 31 pounds of feces and 2.4 gallons (~20 pounds) of urine, totaling up to 50 pounds of manure (not including bedding) per day as excreted.

Typically a ton of horse manure from an exercising horse will contain 12 pounds of nitrogen (N), 6 pounds of phosphate (P2O5), and 9 pounds of potash (K2O). (A ton of horse manure from a sedentary horse will contain 7 pounds of N, 2.5 pounds of P2O5, and 2.5 pounds of K2O.) A horse kept in a stall will require 8 to 15 pounds of bedding per day. This could be a wood byproduct (sawdust, shavings, or chips), straw, hay, or paper. Manure plus bedding will have a volume of 2 to 3 cubic feet per day(2,3,7).

Soiled bedding should be removed from stalls daily and replaced with fresh bedding. Soiled bedding may equal 2 to 3 times the volume of manure, depending on management practices. Each stalled horse may require the removal of 60 to 70 pounds of manure and bedding per day. This results in 12 to 13 tons of waste per stall per year of manure, and bedding from a 1000-pound horse. The density of horse manure is about 62 lb/ft3 not counting bedding. Annual stall waste from one horse will fill a 12' x 12' stall about 6 feet deep. This leads to a steady stream of manure to handle.

Bedding Materials: There are several materials commonly used as bedding for horses. Tables 1 and 2 describe some of these. The following are not recommended for horse stall bedding: black cherry or walnut wood products(1,3,6,7).

Black walnut (Juglans nigra) shavings will cause laminitis or founder, so all hardwood shavings are often avoided on the chance that walnut is mixed in. Be careful when getting shavings from a lumber yard or similar source, hardwoods may be mixed in.

Table 1. Density of bedding materials.
a. Loose bedding Density lbs/ft3
Straw 2.5
Wood Shavings 9
Sawdust 12
Non-legume hay 1.0-1.3
Straw Pellet 22
b. Baled bedding  
Straw 5
Wood Shavings 20
Peat Moss 1.8-2.5
c. Chopped bedding  
Straw 7
Newspaper 14

Bedding Selection: The following should be considered when selecting bedding1: 1) availability and price, 2) absorptive capacity, 3) ease of handling, 4) ease of clean-up and disposal, 5) non-irritability from dust or allergens, 6) texture and size, and 7) fertility value of the resulting manure. Please see Table 3 for other bedding properties.

Bedding should be absorbent, non-toxic, dust-free, comfortable to horses, available, disposable, unpalatable, and affordable. The more absorbent a bedding is, the less that will have to be used. All beddings should be stored in well-ventilated areas to remain as dry as possible prior to use.

Although straw is traditionally the most widely used bedding source, many other sources are used. Pine shavings or sawdust will result in less disposable material than straw but cannot be disposed with mushroom producers as straw can. Wood shavings, sawdust, and straw are all relatively absorbent. Straw may not be the bedding of choice for horses that have a tendency to consume it. Oat straw is generally more palatable than wheat, rye, or barley straw. Straw can also be musty and moldy andr contain straw mites. Many horse producers, particularly owners of racing or performance horses, prefer shavings because they are less dusty and may result in less respiratory irritation. Some horse producers have begun using pelleted straw as bedding. It is absorbent, reduces dust and odors, lowers the volume of waste, and has excellent composting characteristics(4,5) . However, it may be higher priced than other bedding sources.

Corn stalks or corn cobs can be used if ground prior to use. These are absorbent but may not always be available. Recycled newsprint may also be used. It is pollen-free and less dusty than straw or shavings. Although it is soft, it soils easily and is not as absorbent as other bedding materials. A further concern is its combustibility. Non-traditional sources such as pelleted wood products may provide acceptable bedding. A number of these products are available commercially. They expand readily when water is added, are absorbent and easy to handle, and may be especially useful on small horse farms.

The type of bedding used will also affect the fertilizer value of manure. For example, wood products (especially pine) will break down much slower than straw and many cause nutrients to be released more slowly from the manure.

Although a variety of bedding materials can be used effectively, they should all be considered as part of a farm's management plan. Any nutrient management plan implemented on a farm should take into account how the bedding material will influence the management of manure nutrients on a farm.

Wastes: It is important that other materials such as trash, plastic bags, baler twine, needles, syringes, veterinary supplies, and pesticide containers be removed from bedding. They should never be allowed into the manure pile. Needles in particular will pose a health risk to anyone who comes in contact with them. These kinds of materials should never be disposed of with bedding, regardless of how bedding is disposed.

Table 2. Absorbtion capacity of bedding materials.
Material lbs. of water absorbed per lb. bedding
   Tanning bark 4.0
   Fine bark 2.5
      Chips 3.0
      Sawdust 2.5
      Shavings 2.0
      Needles 1.0;
   Hardwood chips 1.5
Shredded newspaper 1.6
   Shredded stover 2.5
   Ground cobs 2.1
   Oats 2.5
   Wheat 2.2
   Straw Pellet 4.5
Hay, chopped manure 3.0
Peat Moss 9.0-10.0
Shells, hulls
   Cocoa 2.7
   Peanut/Cottonseed 2.5
Table 3. Bedding Use Characteristics6
  Dust Controlled Odor Control Absorption Cushion Cleaning Ease Composting Rate Low Palatability Comments
Straw Low Low Low Medium Low Low   *Shifts easily exposing bare floor if not deeply bedded or if animal is very active
Shavings High Medium Medium Medium Medium Medium X *do not use treated wood
*verify wood type is not toxic to your animal (eg walnut, cedar)
*Kiln dried recommended
*limited availability
Corrugated Draft High High High High Medium Medium X *air trapped in corruation provides springy cushion
*good for fiber animals (eg llamas, alpacas, sheep)
Sawdust High Medium High Medium High Medium X *variability between products
*kiln dried recommended
*enhances performance of straw and shavings when used as base layer
Wood Pellets High High Medium Medium High Medium/Fast X *see comments for shavings
*pellets containing zeolite, or addition of PDZ sweetener necessary for odor control
*do not use on outside stalls or dirt floor; pellets readily absorb moisture from ground and air
Peat High High High High High Fast X *up front cost is high, but maintenance cheaper than for straw or shavings
*dust easily managed
*excellent compostability
excellent for horses with respiratory or skin allergies
*limited availability
Straw Pellet High Medium High Medium High Very Fast X *upfront cost is high, but maintenance cheaper than straw or shavings
*excellent compostability
*limited availability


  1. Antoniewicz, R. J. and A. A. Cirelli, Jr. 1993. Replacing Nature's Bedding. Horse Industry Handbook. American Youth Horse Council. Lexington, KY.
  2. ASAE. 2005. Manure Production and Characteristics. American Society of Agricultural Engineers. ASAE D384.2 March 2005.
  3. Horse Facilities Handbook. 2005. MidWest Plan Service. Iowa State University. Ames, IA.
  4. Komar, S., R. Miskewitz, M. Westendorf, and C. A. Williams. 2011. Effects of Bedding Type on Compost Quality of Equine Stall Waste.. Journal of Animal Science. Accepted for Publication.
  5. Krogmann, U., M. L. Westendorf, and B. F. Rogers. 2006. Best Management Practices for Horse Manure Composting on Small Farms. Rutgers Cooperative Extension. New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station. Rutgers University. Bulletin Series. E307.
  6. Strategies for Livestock Manure Mangement. Washington State University Cooperative Extension of Kings County. Agriculture and Natural Resources. Fact Sheet #539. September, 2002.
  7. Wheeler, E. and J.S. Zajaczkowski. 2002. Horse Facilities 3: Horse Manure Stable Management. Pennsylvania State University. University Park, PA.

September 2013