Shavings Vs Straw: What Is Better for Pigs?

Whether you are in the pig industry commercially or have a small pig farm, you must know what type of bedding material is good for your pigs. Shavings and straw are two good bedding options but which is better for pigs. One outshines the other when they are compared side by side.

Straw is better for pigs. Straw absorbs more and is more comfortable for pigs than shavings. With straw, your pigs will be much happier and healthier in the long term, so it pays to spend a little more. Shavings are absorbent and rot slowly but are difficult to find, and some varieties can be toxic. 

In this post, I will compare the differences between small pig farms and large-scale operations.

Depending on your needs as a farmer, one bedding option may be better for you. Additionally, shavings and straw will be compared in-depth to address any other questions you may have. Read on to find out.

What Is The Best Bedding For Pigs? Straw Vs Shavings

Sometimes you may not need bedding, but some pigs growers, finishers, and rearers prefer bedding to provide a comfortable space for their pigs. Generally, bedding helps to raise happy and healthy pigs. 

Many pig farmers choose straw over shavings. Straw is the superior choice in terms of comfort and absorbency. However, both options can be considered, especially if you are on a budget because shavings are the cheaper of the two bedding options. 

The following chart details the advantages and disadvantages of bedding materials in the pig industry:

ShavingsAbsorbent, Comfortable, Many varieties

Does not require frequent replacements Decomposes slowlyDust-free varieties available Less smell Cheaper option
Wood shavings come with some health risks

Must be specific about wood chip types to avoid toxic ones

Usually requires services by a private sawmill or lumber yard
May be unavailable in your area

Often very damp Mold, mildew, and other microbes thrive on damp shavingsCan stain your pigs when damp
StrawMay increase pig growth used mostly for sows

Help keep tails undocked

Improves pig welfare
Great enrichment material highly absorbed easier to clean can be used as part of compost when it begins to deteriorate
Expensive Health risks due to difficulties controlling temperature and climate conditionsMycotoxin risks can disrupt sleep or eating

Decomposes fast

At this point, you may be wondering why anyone would choose shavings over straw. The main determining factors are cost and tradition. 

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Do Your Pigs Need Bedding?

Most large commercial pig farming operations skip the bedding because it is labor intenstive to lay down and can cause more problems in the long run for a large operation. If the bedding is not changed regularly, it can cause disease that can rapidly spread through a large enclosure. This can easily put hundreds of animals at risk.

Bedding can be particularly hard to maintain if climate control is difficult. Unpredictable temperature changes combined with lots of rain or humidity can degrade the straw or shavings. At this point, the bedding is much more susceptible to microbial growth, including molds and mildews.

If you are rearing pigs to produce meat, you typically don’t need bedding. Larger indoor facilities sometimes have a special floor that allows manure to be collected underneath it. In these facilities, it would not make sense to have bedding. As a general rule of thumb, most indoor facilities do not require bedding, especially if designed with slotted floors. 

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What Pig Bedding Is Best with Your Pigs Floor?

In many pig operations, there are concrete, dirt, or slatted floors. With slatted floors, you don’t need to worry about bedding. Concrete and dirt, however, typically require bedding.

On dirt floors, straw works the best. It breaks down nicely and is easy to remove when soiled. Shavings can also be used, but the clean-up is a lot more tedious; you can’t just use a pitchfork. 

On concrete floors, both straw and shavings work well, and it is left up to personal preference. With a concrete floor, you can easily use a shovel to pick up soiled bedding, which is even easier than using a pitchfork on the dirt floors.  

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How To Choose A Straw Bedding For Your Pigs

There are many different types of straw to use as bedding options for your pigs. It is easy to choose the cheapest option, but that may not make your pigs the most comfortable.

Also, it is good to consider what your pigs like; if you have used a variety of straws, is there one they seem to prefer over another? Be observant to make your pigs happier in the long term. 

The chart below shows the five most common straws available on the market:

Type of StrawProsCons
Barley StrawPopular choice
Soft and comfortable
Less dusty
Not very absorbent
Oat StrawSofter than other straws
Most absorbent
Fluffy and lightweight
More expensive

Will easily blow away in outdoor enclosures
Wheat StrawMost common optionGreat choice when transportation costs are low. Multiple varieties to create a comfortable bedBrittle; not very soft

About 25% less absorbent than oat straw
Least tasty of straws
Rye StrawDecent option can easily be mixed into another type of strawNot readily available like most other straws

Ergot infestations are common and can cause major health problems

Can be dusty
Triticale StrawRelatively new optionLab-grown wheat and rye crossHigh yield for farmers, leading to larger volumes for livestock farmersLess absorbent than oat straw
Slightly harder than wheat straw

Like straw, shavings can come in many different varieties. However, the availability of these different types of shavings varies by region. Pine is one of the more popular shaving options.

Remember that you want to avoid toxic varieties, like cherry shavings. You should talk to your lumber yard or mill to guarantee a reputable and safe product. 

How to Clean Your Pig’s Bedding

Keeping the bedding is peak condition will help ensure your pigs’ overall health. This may require more work and time invested on your part, but having clean bedding goes a long way toward your pigs’ health and happiness. 

Why You Should Clean Your Pigs Bedding Often

  • Reduces the chance of bacterial growth
  • Removes potentially contaminated bedding in a timely fashion to avoid outbreaks
  • Provides comfort through access to dry and soft bedding

Not changing the bedding often enough is more of a health risk to your pigs than anything else. As temperatures fluctuate and humidity and water are introduced to the system, straw can decompose quickly. Additionally, shavings will begin decomposing; however, they take much longer to rot. 

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How To Clean Your Pigs Stalls

  1. Remove any old bedding with a rake or shovel. Old bedding can be composted or worked into the manure system. Keep in mind that wood shavings may not compost well.
  2. Clean the area with water with a hose or pressure washer and allow time for the space to air out. You do not want to put dry bedding on top of a damp surface.
  3. Make sure to pay close attention to the front of the stalls where bedding deteriorates more quickly.
  4. Finally, fill in the stall with bedding. Avoid placing bedding too close to feed and water stations. This will help keep the bedding in peak condition longer. 

Removing bedding from your pig enclosure in writing is quite simple. However, cleaning the bedding out from your pig enclosure is no small task, but it is crucial to overall pig health, and healthy pigs make you the most money. 

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Why Should You Avoid Dusty Straw or Shavings?

Dust is one of the main causes of respiratory problems in pigs. By choosing a low-dust or dust-free bedding option, you can ensure the health of your pigs. There is no need to worry about respiratory issues when the dust is low. If a respiratory issue arises, contact a veterinarian to discuss other potential causes. 

A low-dust or no-dust option keeps your pigs comfortable and happy, making for better livestock in the long term. In addition to having low-dust options, some are treated and tested to make sure they are pathogen-free. These may also be good options to explore. 

You’ll want to protect your face lungs and hands from contact with any pathogens as you clean out the bedding in your pig stalls. Wearing a properly fitted mask, gloves and safety glasses is the easiest and most common way to prevent getting sick.

How To Select The Right Materials For Pigs Bedding

Managing your shavings or straw bedding is essential to keeping your pigs happy and healthy.

There are five major qualities to consider when purchasing bedding for your indoor or outdoor enclosure. These are important considerations to ponder as a farmer, whether it is sows, growers, or finishers you are rearing. 

Is This Bedding Option Comfortable?

Any bedding you choose should be comfortable. This is especially important for sows that are raising piglets. Growing and finishing pigs do not usually get as cozy a treatment but being comfortable has been linked to improved growth. 

Important Features For Pig Bedding

  • Soft texture
  • Dry and not soggy
  • Clean and pathogen-free
  • Retains heat to keep warm

Comfortable bedding makes a huge difference in pig happiness. Comfortable bedding keeps pigs calm and centered. Based on these points, straw is the more comfortable option, and oat straw is the softest option you can choose for your pigs. 

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How Absorbent Is the Bedding?

You want to select bedding that can absorb a large amount of liquid. However, as the bedding becomes moister, the chance of pathogens infecting your animals increases. Wet or damp bedding will more easily stick to your pigs’ skin. This creates a problem when trying to clean off your pigs. 

How To Prevent Pig Bedding Becoming Moist

  • Providing adequate drainage, so water and waste do not pool
  • Turn the bedding occasionally to introduce air and improve ventilation

Selecting absorbent bedding is important to wicking away moisture and keeping your pigs dry and warm. Both shavings and straw are absorbent options, and oat straw is the most absorbent straw available. 

All Bedding Options Should Be Inert

Inert bedding means it does not change rapidly from its original form in which you buy it. In a perfect world, all bedding options would be inert. However, that is not the case. Straws and shavings are mostly inert choices. Even though these bedding options decompose over time, it is not a rapid or overly dangerous transformation. 

Because these bedding types do decompose, you have to be an observant farmer. When your straw or shavings begins to break down, it is time to change it out. Replacing bedding is time-consuming and laborious, but it is well worth it to have healthy pigs. 

Can You Ensure the Bedding Material Is Clean?

Clean bedding is important. With straw, you want to choose an ergot-free option. This means it has been verified not to have ergot and should remain safe for a decent amount of time for your pigs. Soiled bedding should not be used and should be removed from enclosures immediately.

When purchasing, you want to make sure the bedding is free of:

  • Mold
  • Mildew
  • Toxins
  • Chemicals
  • Excess water or moisture

These points are also important to watch out for once you have placed the bedding within your pig enclosures. If you become concerned with the quality of the bedding, it is better to change it before a larger problem is created. Straw is again the better choice for this consideration.

If you have a choice between different straws and shavings, the best type of straw is oat. It is the most expensive, but it is also the most comfortable. If you had to choose the best shavings option, it would most likely be pine or cedar shavings

Remember: if your shavings are colored, this coloration will most likely rub off on your pig’s skin, making them unable to show. 

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What Size Particles Are You Looking for In Your Bedding Options?

The last characteristic you want to consider is the size of each of the particles that make up the bedding. When choosing a particle size for pig bedding, opt for larger when possible. Smaller particles will begin the decomposition process faster. In the long run, you would be spending more money. 

If you consider sawdust as an example of small particle size, these fine particles can quickly become overgrown with bacteria and cause discomfort among your pigs. Both straw and shavings come in various sizes, so this is an important attribute to look at during the purchasing process. 

Making the Most of Your Pig Shavings or Straw

Because they are organic compounds, shavings and straw will eventually degrade. This process is sped along with increased exposure to moisture and humidity. Moisture and humidity are important variables to consider when making the most of your straw.

How To Make Straw & Shaving Last Longer

  • Keep the site dry – Dry shavings and straw last longer and are safer for your pigs.
  • Provide adequate drainage – Damp shavings and straw can grow mold and other bacteria.
  • Watch for spoilage and replace as needed – As bedding gets damp, eaten, or deteriorates, it can become unsafe as microbial growth begins at this point.
  • Store baled straw safely – Choose a location that is above ground, dry, and ventilated.
  • Turn the bedding – Occasionally turning the bedding adds ventilation, slowing the decomposition process.

In addition to making your shavings or straw last longer, there are other ways to save money:

  • Buy bedding during harvest season.
  • Buy sawdust or shavings during busier times of the year at the sawmill.
  • Buy in bulk – Remember to do so only if you can properly store the material.

These tips will help you save money by reducing the amount of time you spend replacing bedding and the amounts you need to add over. However, always consider the health of your animals over all else. It costs much less to replace bedding than to nurse sick pigs back to health. 

Is There A Pig Bedding Option Aside From Straw & Shavings?

If you are not sold on the shavings or straw options in your area, you may want to choose an alternative. Some simple alternatives can end up being cheaper than shavings or straw. If you consider one of these alternatives, make sure you investigate all the advantages and disadvantages of each option.

Some of the following are alternatives to shavings and straws as bedding for pigs:

  • Sawdust
  • Burlap sacks
  • Shredded paper
  • Sand
  • Newspaper

These are great options that have less potentially harmful impacts on the pigs. In comparison, shavings and straw can both end up with severe microbial growth that causes disease and infection. 

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In Summary

Straw is the better bedding option for pigs. Shavings are rarely used because they are not as comfortable as straw. Additionally, depending on the type of operation you run, you may choose to not have any bedding for your pigs. 

Bedding makes your pigs happier. However, it is more work for you to monitor and change the bedding as it becomes deteriorated constantly. Even still, happier pigs grow stronger and stay healthier. Having bedding is worth it if your enclosure requires it. 

Dane McManis

Dane started learning about farming while volunteering on a farm. Now he and his wife raise chickens, pigs, and ducks on their small farm with their two little girls.

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