Used extensively in the States, wood pellet bedding can be a great money saving solution providing horse comfort, easy mucking out and minimal waste. But make sure to do your homework. Wood pellets are composed of wood particles that have been sorted by size, compressed and, in some cases, heat treated and sterilised. This results in significantly increased absorption capability over wood shavings and any other type of bedding. Pellet bedding soaks up urine rapidly, creating a confined wet spot that can be more easily removed. 1kg of good quality pellets will soak up at least three litres of urine before becoming saturated, making them about three times more absorbent than the equivalent weight of shavings.
Pellets made from correctly graded, pure softwood produce minimal dust and reduce odours that can cause respiratory problems in horses. By absorbing more urine the bedding stays drier, which is good for the health of hooves, particularly in horses susceptible to thrush. Wood pellet bedding has a very high capacity for absorption, but just as you need to dampen a dry cloth before you wipe up a spill, the bed needs to be hydrated to maximise its rate of absorption.
A 12ft by 12ft stable will take around eight 15kg bags of pelleted bedding. To create a bed the bags should be laid out evenly across the floor, leaving equal gaps. The bags should be split open and, starting at the back of the stable, five to 10 litres of water added to each. After 10 to 15 minutes all the water will be absorbed and the bags can be tipped out onto the floor and levelled.
The bed will now have a soft, fluffy texture but some pellets may still be visible. This is normal and they will break down over the next few days. For best performance, the bedding should not be disturbed any more than necessary, as the control of wet and odour depends on the bed remaining in place.
NOT ALL PELLETS ARE THE SAME
Wood pellets used for bedding vary from brand to brand and it is important that the consumer investigate the properties of the bedding so that it will best fit the needs of their horse and stable conditions. Some brands simply package and label the same pellets as those used as fuel in wood stoves, but fuel pellets are best avoided unless you know they are made only from virgin softwood particles of suitable size and have been processed correctly. Other brands utilise specific materials that are geared to the needs of horses. These brands may use traceable virgin softwood, restrict the particle sizes to reduce dust, disallow the use of hardwood material (that can be toxic or create nuisance conditions for horses), exclude bark and knots in the formula and process the material in such a way that absorption capability is increased.
VIRGIN VS. RECYCLED
The source and type of wood in the pellets is also crucial to how they perform as bedding, and how they might affect the health of a horse. Virgin softwood pellets are a by product of the timber industry whereas pellets made from recycled wood are a by product of the waste industry – and there is a significant difference between the two. The source and type of waste wood can rarely be guaranteed and the pellets could contain hardwoods, bark and undesirable chemical contaminants. Pellets made from recycled wood are not as absorbent as virgin wood pellets because the structure of the fibres change as wood ages. You will almost certainly have to use more recycled wood pellets per week, so although you may make a small saving on the purchase price, in use they will work out more expensive. These pellets also break down quite quickly into fine dust, so their use in stables should be avoided. The source of virgin wood, on the other hand is fully traceable. The species of trees used are known and there is no chance of contamination from hardwoods or chemicals.
Once a pellet bed has been set up, it will usually only require one 15kg bag of good quality pellets to be added per week. When mucking out you can expect to take out 40-60% less bedding than with shavings, which means less effort and lower waste disposal costs. Pellet beds are quick and easy to clean so mucking out time is much, much less. Pellets can also be mixed with other bedding types, such as shavings, hemp or flax and even straw, to give better absorbency and to make the more expensive alternatives last longer.