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Horse of a Different Color


Detroit Lakes, Minn. — A Minnesota pet litter producer is riding its success into a new arena.

Pet Care Systems of Detroit Lakes manufactures Swheat Scoop cat and small-animal litter from non- food grade wheat. The popular scoopable, flushable, biodegradable litter is carried by thousands of retail

stores nationwide. Now Pet Care Systems is considering the equine industry.

“It started when a cat-litter customer asked if we’d ever tried the litter with horses,” says Mark Hughes, Pet Care Systems general manager. Wheat contains an enzyme that reacts with urine, significantly reducing ammonia, which can be harmful to horses. “We sent our customer six bags of our pelleted litter, but since it’s made of 100 percent wheat, the horses ate it.”

Then Pet Care began working with AURI to evaluate a variety of agricultural and wood combinations to develop bedding that reduces odor and comfort, but that horses would not eat. Dozens of fibers and coproducts were tested with varying degrees of success. Cayenne pepper was even added to some blends to discourage eating.

“We chose fiber coproducts to blend with wheat, based on specific characteristics such as absorbency, ammonia control, handling and pelleting ease,” says Alan Doering, AURI scientist.

While evaluating different fiber mixtures, Doering and Hughes remembered the results of work done years before. While developing its cat litter, Pet Care Systems patented a pelleted blend of wheat and aspen. While never used in cat litter, Hughes says the concoction was exactly what they were looking for.

“Aspen is absorbent and the wheat eliminates ammonia from the urine, so the combination made a really nice bedding,” Hughes says. “The aspen gives the bedding a nice aroma, the wheat takes care of the ammonia, and the bedding clumps together for ease of cleaning so you tend to waste less.”

The new product called Swheat Stall was tested in horse stalls at North Dakota State University alongside traditional wood-shaving bedding.

The results were nothing to whinny at.

NDSU tested the two beddings on 12 stalls, each housing a horse averaging 1,100 pounds. The Swheat Stall test, with six 40-pound bags, lasted seven days, while wood shavings had to be added after three days. Ammonia tests in stalls with Swheat Stall showed substantially-reduced readings compared to wood shavings. Best of all, none of the horses ate it.

These results have Hughes hoping Swheat Stall achieves the same success as its feline predecessor. “From the testing we’ve done, people have been impressed.”

“It reminds me of the clumping in the cat litter,” says Julie Swanson of Eagle’s Bend Ranch in Isanti. “It absorbs really well and when you clean it up, you’re just getting the mess and not a lot of extra bedding.

“Plus it smells good.” Swanson says a woman who came to the ranch for dressage lessons, “commented that we had the cleanest, nicest smelling barn.”

“I also have six barn cats that use the stalls as their litter box. The Swheat Stall works for them, too.”

Pet Care Systems recently started markting Swheat Stall and is initially targeting Minnesota horse owners and those in east and west coast areas that have high horse populations. National retailer Tractor Supply Company has already agreed to test the bedding in some of its stores.

Hughes says a 40-pound bag of Swheat Stall runs about $5.25. While it may cost more to fill a stall, the wheat and aspen blend should last significantly longer than traditional bedding, making it economically competitive with shavings.

“Swheat Stall fills a customer need while expanding uses for wheat and Minnesota-sourced aspen,” Doering says. “It also continues to create processing opportunities.”

While not currently produced at its Detroit Lakes facility, Hughes says Pet Care Systems may add horse-bedding manufacturing capacity once the market takes off.