Can anyone shed some light on the use of the Deep Litter System (we use wood shavings) for stables? What are the pros and cons of this system?
A deep litter bedding system is one where droppings are removed throughout the day, but the rest of the bed is left undisturbed, with fresh bedding being added on top. Some people remove the wet shavings too, but strictly speaking it is left. Using this system, the bed needs to be completely dug out at least once a month or every second month, when the bedding should be removed, the floor swept, scrubbed or disinfected and left to dry, before putting in a new bed. It is a good idea to once a week remove the excessive wet patches leaving the rest of the bed undisturbed. If you do this then the monthly removal of the bed is slightly easier. With good management this type of mucking out can work very well, although monthly removal of bedding is heavy work. Traditionally, this type of bed was thrown with straw, although recently shavings have become more popular.
Important things to know about this type of bedding is that firstly, droppings MUST be removed as quickly as possible so that they do not become trodden into the shavings. Also important is that you start off with enough bedding – most people make the mistake of not putting enough bedding to start with, so that by the end of a month the horse is sleeping on concrete! I would fill it to a depth of 40cm at least, more if possible. A deep litter system works well with a natural floor, as the floor can be ‘dug down’ a little, allowing for a deep bed to be thrown in. These types of beds are labour saving and can be economical, bearing in mind though that enough bed must be put in initially. Because the beds are not opened every day, spores and dust released into the air are a bit less than with conventional beds. The biggest problems with deep litter systems is that because the wet shavings are not removed daily, ammonia builds up in the bed. That leads to respiratory problems, and can be very damaging to the hooves. I would try to remove some of the wet shavings if possible at least once a week, or make sure that enough bedding is added on top. Also, proper ventilation is essential with these types of beds. They can become very unhygienic if not managed well. Also, if the horse tends to be very restless or spends a lot of time in the stable, it tends to tram up the bed, making a mess and tramping manure into the bedding. Another problem is that by adding bedding , the whole thing becomes very deep, or high – (if you are using it on a conventional cement floor) especially if it is not taken out every month or so. The shavings tend to compact and digging out the bed can be hard work.
Another common problem if this type of bedding is used with wooden stables, is that the compacted bedding starts to heat and will rot the wood. This must be prevented by applying a good sealant and preserver to the bottom part of the stall in contact with the bedding, before adding the bedding.