Kenaf Bedding Shows Promise

It looks like a spongy cross between cat litter and cereal, and it may soon be available in a feed store near you.

Nafcore horse bedding is the dried and chopped core of the kenaf plant. Tobacco farmers in Southern U.S. regions are finding the tropical plant easy to grow but tricky to market.

We visited Greene Natural Fibers (GNF) in Snow Hill, N.C., a new, large commercial operation dealing directly with the farming, production and marketing of kenaf. While our field trials backed up their claims of the benefits of using kenaf bedding, we don’t think wood shavings will be replaced anytime soon.

Dust is a big issue, especially with high-performance horses and those with allergies or respiratory problems. We found Nafcore bales to be initially dusty when the bags were first opened, but what looked like dust is actually kenaf “flour.” A quick water spray settled the heavy particles, and then the bedding was relatively dust-free.

We found it significantly less dusty than wood shavings or straw. Nafcore in turn-out sheds was still dust-free months later. Even so, GNF claims that the dust problem will soon be solved: Their auger measuring the product for bagging, which crushes some product into flour, will be replaced by a conveyer belt.

Kenaf core is so absorbent that it’s also used in oil spills and environmental clean-ups. But it’s not quick. Whereas urine is absorbed immediately in sawdust by holding moisture onto the surface, kenaf absorbs moisture inside the chip. It maintains a relatively dry surface, but it may puddle for 20 to 30 minutes before the absorption is complete. This may cause some clay flooring to soften, depending on depth of the bedding. The absorption rate improves if the product is pre-moistened with water. The bedding is easily turned, allowing most detectable moisture to evaporate.

We liked Nafcore slightly better than traditional bedding, although a reader expressed concern about ammonia buildup (see sidebar). Interestingly, partly due to absorption and compression resistance, the wet spot is less noticeable, so the bedding can be left longer.

Nafcore makes a nice bed. We deep bedded a foundered pony, and the spongy bed invited the mare to lie down for noticeably longer hours.

Nafcore is significantly lighter than traditional beddings. The wood products we compared were around 50 percent heavier, which makes a big difference when lifting a full muck basket. Nafcore averages 8 pounds per cubic foot. The driest of the wood products, Dry Nest shavings, averaged 13 lbs./cu.ft, and generic shavings averaged 14 lbs./cu.ft.

Our testers were of mixed minds over cleaning. A compulsive picker may take more time in a stall, simply because the nafcore sifts so easily. The particles stay loose, even when wet, so it takes some getting used to. If stalls are thinly littered, nafcore takes less time and effort due to its lighter weight. In a deep bed, the manure will roll down side banks just as easily as with sawdust and more easily than with shavings.

We talked to users that claim problems such as seedy toe and raw hocks disappear in a nafcore bed. Fewer skin problems in humid climates like Florida were also touted. We were unable to confirm or dispute these claims.

Nafcore decomposes more quickly than wood products, basically as quickly as straw. There is no risk of kenaf plants springing up on fields behind the manure spreader as seeds can’t be produced at U.S. latitudes. Not only does it spread and handle easily, overall bulk of dirty bedding to be composted or spread is reduced.

Nafcore is bagged in plastic, so the bags can be stored outside on pallets, under tarps. Bulk delivery is available to some locales, but you may need to consider an entire tractor-trailer load to make it financially worthwhile.

At the time of our trials, the product was about $7.50 per bag (2.8 cu.ft.) in North Carolina, where we did our trials. A bulk order in Massachusetts of 500 bags may be priced as low as $6.65 a bag. Shipping distances and quantity will affect pricing outside the Southeastern U.S.

Greene Natural Fibers claims to be the “largest grower and processor of kenaf in North America.” Kenaf requires a full six-month growing season, so it’s grown mostly in southern states where its commercial possibilities have been explored for decades. It’s available on a limited local basis in the South, particularly in Texas. Greene, which is making progress in processing and marketing, is making a strong push for distribution outside the South.

We feel that the kenaf “sticker shock” will discourage the average horse owner. We used 8 to 10 bags initially in a 12’ x 12’ stall, and we added one to three bags per week to maintain. However, the reduced bulk of the bedding and the inherent time savings in a spreader or dumpster can also be factored favorably on the economic side.

Bottom Line
This product is one to watch. If its price were equal to wood products, nafcore would dominate the horse-bedding market. In our trials, women were willing to spend the extra money for nafcore because they appreciated the less weight, bulk and the easy handling.

Owners of horses with respiratory issues, vet clinics, and barn owners in wet climates or places where traditional bedding products are also costly, may also be attracted to nafcore. Price and availability will drive the market, and that will vary widely with location. Larger operations with a fixed labor cost might not benefit from Nafcore’s features, and we think the price will discourage mainstream usage.

Contact your local feed store or distributor or: Greene Natural Fibers, 252-747-3460; Nafcore, 877-433.9140.

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