Shavings, Sawdust In Short Supply

The next time you get a delivery of sawdust or bagged shavings for bedding, you may pay more than you did the last time. That’s the good news. The bad news is that you may be lucky to find a supply of shavings or sawdust at all.

Several market forces are combining at this time that could force a near-crisis in bedding. They include rising fuel prices, lower demand for lumber, overseas competition in the lumber industry and rising demand for bedding as the horse-owning population continues to grow. The situation started to develop with rising fuel prices midway through last year. Many horsemen did not notice, however, if their usual supply was purchased in bulk before that time.

The problems with sawdust and shavings are different. Sawdust is usually purchased loose and in bulk from local mills, while bagged shavings are usually shipped in from mills in Canada. Local mills with the right equipment found in 2000 that it was cheaper to use their sawdust byproducts as fuel in their lumber-drying ovens than it was to purchase fuel. Therefore, local supplies of sawdust have disappeared in some areas, particularly in New England.

The depressed state of the lumber industry is affecting the availability of shavings. Housing starts went down in 2000, and competition from cheaper lumber in Russia and Europe went up, so many mills in Canada and the northern United States have been shutting down or operating shorter hours. This means reduced lumber byproducts, and what byproducts there are often go to meet a rising demand for particle board and cardboard instead of bagged shavings. It also costs more in fuel to ship the shavings. At the same time, the demand from the horse industry for that supply has gone up.

Darryl Williams, of Darryl Williams and Associates, which is headquartered in Toronto with bases in Florida and California, said his company supplies 20 percent of the bagged shavings in North America. He said production of shavings industry-wide went down 20 percent in 2000 while demand rose 10 percent.

“We get many phone calls every day from people we never heard of,” said Eric Fortin of Royal Wood Products in St-Romuald, Quebec. “We started to feel this slowdown at spring 2000, and delivery time increased from two weeks to 1?? months.

“Shavings are harder to find because the same number of people are looking for shavings and there is less product on the market,” said Fortin. “We are competing against board, wood pellets, plywood, paper and bulk to farmers.”

Horse Journal contacted horsemen around the country in mid-January and also talked to suppliers of shavings and sawdust. Only about one in five horsemen noted any difficulty yet in obtaining shavings or sawdust, mostly in northern states, while most suppliers were saying the situation should start to become serious. Shortages were noted in parts of or the Northeast, New England, Florida and Colorado.

The best guarantee that you will be able to still get shavings or sawdust is maintaining a good relationship with your supplier. Some suppliers seem to be making an effort to stand by their long-time customers, even holding down price rises despite increased fuel costs, and are turning away appeals from new customers.

The situation may improve somewhat in the spring or early summer with new housing starts and therefore more lumber production. Changes in prices and availability are dictated by local conditions in each region of the country. However, that positive blip may be short-term if rising fuel costs, lumber-industry difficulties, and increased demand for bedding continue throughout the summer.

“A steady solution to the problem is every horseman taking a look at how they manage their bedding,” said Williams.

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