Utilizing Waste Cardboard for Livestock Bedding on Small Farms

Final Report for FNC08-735

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2008: $2,299.95
Projected End Date: 12/31/2011
Region: North Central
State: Michigan
Project Coordinator:
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Project Information


We operate an equine boarding and training stable on 40 acres, and lease 10 additional acres from our neighbor for additional hay land. We raise 100 percent (most years) of the hay fed and utilize pasture forage extensively for six months of each year. We practice rotational grazing between four small pastures, changing pastures every two or three weeks. A ten-acre hayfield is pastured as second crop each fall.

Spring Valley Ranch is a private operation, run by myself and my husband, with some additional help from our three grown sons. Besides producing most or all of the needed hay each year, we sometimes also grow our own grain (oats) as when we were farming the neighbor’s fields to improve them for hay production. We do not plan to raise oats on our won farm for 2012 but may have a son, who farms ten miles from us in Iron County, Wisconsin, raise oats for us.

We practice sustainable agriculture with our rotational grazing as well as keeping our pastures and hayfields in permanent cover and producing through use of manure and only occasional commercial fertilizer applications (Once every three to five years for a hayfield. We have never fertilized the pastures but will I the spring in 2012 due to increase in number of horses for the current year.) The land has been in permanent grass or hay production for 30 years, with no decrease in production.


Goals: Project will attempt to create a method to easily and economically turn waste cardboard from local businesses into usable bedding for free stall, stanchion or box stall livestock housing.

I contacted owners of small, medium, and large varieties of chipping or shredding type machines. My idea was to try many different types of machines. Unfortunately, due to unforeseen problems and horrible luck, several of the machines could not be used. (A large fire that has put the business out of work since June 2011; heart surgery for one of the owners of a machine, making him and the machine unavailable for use; a malfunction of another large commercial chipper that resulted in the death of an operator.) I also found that several owners of commercial chippers (such as owned by tree services) were unwilling to try to shred cardboard for me. One operator told me that cardboard would dull the knives much quicker than branches do. Several others simply refused to return calls.

From my experiences, I would tell others to plan for many unforeseen problems and plan to have to travel out of your area to find machinery if needed. Many companies are unwilling to try experimental things with their machinery.

Unfortunately, I was unable to produce any useable bedding from shredded cardboard. The use of the bale shredded only produced what resembled a pile of cotton which was unsuitable for stalls. It may have had some use in a large, enclosed loafing barn but this type of barn would need to be fully enclosed to prevent the stuff from blowing around. The portable chipping machine used clogged up too frequently to produce a useable amount of bedding in a reasonable amount of time. It also grabbed the cardboard in such a ways as to be hazardous to the operator. Other types of machines were unavailable to try, due to circumstances listed above.

The already shredded paper I obtained from our Solid Waste Authority was useable, however it was made of office paper which absorbed much less moisture than newspaper would have. Shredded newspaper was unavailable. Also, the Waste Authority did not have enough shredded paper available for regular use. This MIGHT be an option for the owner of one or two animals who needs bedding just for their private use. However, the bother of having to pick up and store the bags are probably not worth if. It is much easier to purchase bagged shavings. Also, shredded paper will blow around if not used in an enclosed barn and the used bedding must be completely wet or it cannot be put outside because it will also blow around and create an unsightly mess.

I did not expect to meet the resistance of tree service owners being unwilling to try to shred cardboard for this research. Obviously, I also did not expect all the misfortunes that plagued this project to occur.

While the project was a failure in the fact that I could not produce bedding from normal shredding machines, I still believe cardboard and newspaper is useable as a bedding source. Unfortunately, it will probably have to be produced by commercial companies and thus the cost of such a bedding will be no less expensive than currently available bedding such as shavings and straw. However, it may be feasible for those who wish to use a so-called green product rather than seeing more trees cut down for shavings. Also, as wood waste products and straw are turned into pellets for fuel, cardboard bedding may become less expensive than shavings and straw. Should this be the case, I would expect to see many more commercial companies getting involved in producing cardboard bedding products.

I did not overcome the problem with producing cardboard bedding. Obviously, the disadvantages of a project such as mine are finding the equipment needed and the owners willing to work with a small grant or research project. I would tell others interested in such a project to try different machines that were not available to me: a huge commercial chipper in a wood industry, a large round bale shredder, etc. i would also encourage someone to develop a machine capable of cutting the cardboard into small pieces, such as paper shredders do. I do know that the cardboard currently being produced into bedding is cut and not shredded, so a small machine that cut cardboard and would be affordable to a farmer might show promise.

I believe the economic impact could be very beneficial from the standpoint of having an available bedding source at a lower price available. Cardboard bedding is also economically sound as it takes cardboard out of the landfills. This could be a social benefit for farmers and ranchers also, as the public would see a so-called green operation. However, the impact cannot be truly measured until a method to produce cardboard bedding, either directly on the farms, or at a cost that makes this bedding less expensive than alternatives, can be found or widely produced.

I had planned to show cardboard bedding at various horse and cattle shows in my area and set up displays at local and regional equine and farm expos. I had hoped to produce a bedding that I could have actually used in horse and cattle stalls at shows to demonstrate its usefulness, as well as using pictures via posters and videos to show how the bedding was produced. Unfortunately, I could not produce a useable product with the methods I had available to me.


Participation Summary
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.