Winter's coming again, to my great displeasure, and we just finished the mass cleaning of the barn today so the horses can start coming in when the weather's bad and at night (they haven't got a shelter out in the paddock, and very few trees or structures for protection).
Our barn is...different. Only some of the floor is cement, the rest is hard-packed gravel, including the stalls of "my" two horses. I have often asked my dad if we could cement it, but he always refuses, and the weather's becoming too wet now anyways. But anyhoo, no cement, and I'm not likely to get any.
The first thing I'm going to ask about is bedding. We only have straw, we have only ever used straw, and I'm finding it inconvenient and just...unpleasant. It doesn't absorb everything, it gets kicked around so there are bare patches in the most-trodden places, and I just generally don't particularly like it. I'd love to get shavings or sawdust, but first of all I don't know where to get them since there are no saw mills around here anymore. I also don't know how much they cost-if they're expensive, as opposed to the free load of straw we just baled, then I don't think we'll get them. And finally, how would they work on the gravel? Would they just make a big mess? If you can answer any of my questions, I'd appreciate it.
I am also interested in knowing your cleaning routines. Last winter I tried valiantly to diligently keep the stalls clean, but I'm one person and I am often strapped for time after school, so the stalls really only got a strip on the weekends and were just picked/half-stripped the rest of the week, and some days I barely looked at them. Ideally, I'd like to clean them daily, but I know when schoolwork picks up near exams and such as well as riding and other work, that's not going to be realistic. I'm thinking this year I'll pick the dirty spots each day and do a strip on weekends and then another strip through the week because I'm bound to have at least one not-busy day. Do you think this sounds reasonable? I like to keep the barn clean so they aren't standing in urine and manure all day (they go out during the days unless it's really wet and cold), but it's simply not possible for me to do a thorough cleaning every day unless I'm going to be out in the barn until 10 each night.
Best thing to do with gravel stalls is to put down stall mats, even with cement you should use stall mats as it is easier on their feet/legs.
There should be some shavings available in your area. Either peruse the phone book or call some garden/feed stores for a company name. Someone can put you onto your local company. Another option is to use pellets for pellet stoves, quite a few people in my area use them and they seem to work well. The pellets break apart fast and do an amazing job of absorbing pee.
Ditto on the mats - no matter what the actual flooring material is, a layer of rubber between steel-shod feet and hard floor is a good idea. They may be a bit pricey, but they last nearly forever. I pull mine up a few times a year when I uber-clean.
If you can do it right, sawmill sawdust is the way to go. I have access to a pickup and a bumper-pull box-trailer that carries ~7 cubic yards of sawdust - if you need to have it delivered that will bump the price up. Most sawmills I've bought from have a skidsteer or small loader and will take a moment and dump it in the trailer for me, but at home I unload it the hard way. I've gotten it absurdly cheap; like $10 for the 7 cubic yards. Unless it is stored indoors, it's best to pick it up near the end of a stretch of nice weather - you want it dry.
What I ran into recently was that the local sawmills have contracted out to wood-pellet companies. They just blow the sawdust into a tractor-trailer, to be sent off for pellet stove pellets - no more giant nuisance pile that they are happy to be rid of, or are willing to sell to individuals. I've been buying sawdust by the bag at TSC for quite a while now. I'd love to find a trailer load going into winter... (sigh)
Your cleaning plan sounds quite reasonable to me. My boys are complete and total pigs - I swear, they tap dance until there isn't a clean spot left... I don't put down a great deal of bedding (partly because bagged sawdust is pricey), and I essentially strip the stalls in the morning (ends up as one full wheelbarrow of soiled bedding per stall), and pick up piles and wet spots as I see them throughout the day and before I close up for the night. That keeps everyone clean and dry. Also, because even the cleanest barns take on that barn-smell sometimes, I'll take a handful of baking soda and sprinkle that on the floor before the fresh bedding. Works just as well on horse stalls as it does on kitty's sandbox. :wink:
A couple of ideas - if you use sawdust from a sawmill, make sure they never have walnut trees around; that's toxic to horses even underfoot. Second, we used straw bedding inside our barn last winter for our sheep, and it was a huge chore to strip....so I had read about 'deep bedding' where you clean the poo out and pick the really wet spots out, and leave the rest, and put a fresh layer of straw on top. It actually worked out really well for us. We cleaned it out once during the winter and again in the spring. Didn't smell any worse than regular stall bedding methods (I was really surprised about that) and the sheep stayed clean. The only trick to this method is you have to be able to keep it from piling up around the doors, so that you can still open/close stalls. We were also surprised that worked out well...we needed less in front of the doors because they didn't do their business there.
That was exactly my strategy. We were really surprised how well it worked for us. I also read on another message board where some folks had a horse with bad feet (laminitis, I think, from Cushings) and they had to keep him off the frozen ground and ice all winter, but didn't have stalls. They needed to bed deep because of the pain he was having. They just bedded him down and freshened it up as needed and dug it out in the spring and it saved them a ton of work and money not having to use shavings.
We use Equine Pine pellet bedding.
One of our boarding facilities we used to be at used sawdust, and our horse kept getting sneezing fits from inhaling it when he would try to pick up grain pellets that had fallen out of his bucket during feeding or even when he would eat his hay.
I would never use straw. It's a personal thing. IMO, It's just too messy, doesn't absorb the ammonia from the urine at all, and if not stripped bare regularly, any wet patches missed could start to mold.
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