The substances used for litter or bedding purposes are of considerable variety, their selection depending primarily upon the views of the horse-owner, the class of horse, the purpose for which the horse is kept, and the relative cost and supply of the various suitable materials. Wherever the health and comfort of the horse and the appearance of the stables are the primary considerations, and cost is of secondary account, straw is the substance invariably used. Horse-owners universally contend, and justly so, that clean, sweet, dry straw makes a better litter than any other material, as it entices a tired horse to lie down and rest, and it is generally more conducive to good health. Anyone possessing a real affection for his horses, and having any pride in them, will feel amply rewarded for the extra expense he incurs, by using straw for bedding, when he remembers that he is adding to the comfort and well-being of his equine friends.
Wheat-Straw makes a better litter than the other straws, such as oat, barley, rye, bean, pea. It makes a good bed, is brighter-looking, tougher, and more durable, the durability being balanced when the trusses are cut in two, so that soiled ends can be removed without sacrificing the un soiled.
Oat-straw is generally cheaper than wheat-straw, and makes a very fair bed, but it is not so bright or so durable. It possesses a disadvantage viewed, however, by some as an advantage - in that many horses when bedded with it eat their bedding.
Barley-Straw is cheaper than either oat- or wheat-straw, but it is inferior in appearance and durability, and its use cannot be recommended on account of the annoying property, probably from the presence of barley-awns, of producing skin irritation and itching of the limbs, and thereby inducing rubbing, stamping, and kicking among horses littered with it. Rye-straw is not so irritant as barley-straw, but it is less comfortable than oat- or wheat-straw, and its limited supply and extra cost preclude its general use.
Bean- or pea-straw is, as a rule, used only on the farms where it is grown. The general custom is to give it for combined fodder and bedding purposes, the better and more digestible parts being eaten, and the inferior used as bedding.
Damaged hay is sometimes used for litter, and on farms where it is there is a difficulty in knowing what other use to put it to; but it is not a good bedding, and horses littered with it generally acquire the habit of eating their bedding, a pernicious habit which, when the hay is much damaged and mouldy, may originate serious indigestion, or even broken wind.
The quantity of straw necessary to keep a good clean bed will depend to some extent upon the stall floor and the drainage, less straw being required where the floors are evenly laid and have a slight incline from before backwards. The amount will also vary for individual horses, and horses usually require more than mares. Where there are a number of horses the average amount necessary can easily be arrived at, and with ordinary care in the management it will be found that a good bed can be maintained on 8 lbs. per horse per day, or ½ cwt. per week. For several years this quantity was allowed to a large stud under the care of the writer, and although the weight was never exceeded, but, on the contrary, the whole of it rarely used, a thoroughly good bed was always maintained. As already indicated, whenever the straw is very long it should be cut in two. If the supply of straw were unlimited, and its cost of no moment, in all probability no one would think of using any other substance; but as cost is a very important point in large studs kept for utilitarian purposes, and the supply is more or less limited, for many of these studs saw-dust, peat-moss, and other materials have been substituted.