As a horse owner, one of the most tedious jobs is cleaning out the stable. In a matter of hours, the stable can reek from the straw bedding that’s used as the horses’ home (and bathroom). For the owners and their animals, this is not just a matter of “bad smell”. If the cleaning isn’t done diligently, these odors and the resulting dust could expose them to ammonia and other respiratory issues.
If you’ve ever owned a pet hamster, you can relate to this as well. You set up the hamster’s home by laying down woodchips or straws, only to find out how quickly it turns nasty. It was probably one of the more annoying parts of owning and taking care of one.
Animal bedding is needed for a wide range of animals, ranging from horses, chickens, to even snakes. Traditionally, pine and straw have been the popular materials used for these beddings. But a startup is now offering a superior alternative.
Old Dominion Hemp, an animal bedding startup based out of Virginia, is looking to improve the quality of bedding materials by using hemp. Simply put, hemp offers a much more absorbent, longer lasting, and more sustainable bedding than straw or pine.
Hi Marty. Excited to learn more about Old Dominion Hemp! Could you tell us a bit about the company? What do you guys do and where are you based out of?
Marty Phipps: Old Dominion Hemp specializes in hemp bedding for equine (horse) and small animals. We started the company with the goal to show the public, specifically farmers, that industrial hemp has many agricultural uses. Our company was founded in Charlottesville, Virginia, where we’re located less than 5 miles from the home of Thomas Jefferson – who we like to call the Founding Father of Hemp.
We now serve customers nationwide. Recently, we’ve gotten a lot of interest from states such as Minnesota, Indiana, Colorado, and we’re even looking to send a package over to Alaska.
Specifically, what animals require this type of bedding?
MP: We currently serve animals such as horses, chickens, lambs, ducks, peacocks, mice, cats, snakes. Any animal that requires bedding will benefit from this material.
Using hemp as animal bedding is a novel application for many of us. Could you tell us a bit more of what advantages hemp brings as a bedding material?
MP: The benefits of hemp bedding are seemingly endless. Hemp is extremely absorbent as it can hold 4X its own weight, and lasts much longer than pine or straw bedding. Hemp bedding is very low dust, which is great for horses with respiratory issues. It also reduces odor better than straw or wood shavings. This is great for chicken owners, who often incur ammonia from the chicken scat. Hemp bedding is very economical for the farmers, as it lasts longer and reduces the products loss to waste. This, in turn, saves the consumer money. Lastly, hemp bedding is completely biodegradable, where as, pine can have a high acidity and “burn” fields, Hemp naturally decomposes into the earth. Our clients are actually mixing their hemp manure with seed and returning it to their fields.
What part of the hemp plant is used?
MP: We use hemp hurds for our bedding. Hemp hurds are the soft inner core of the hemp plant. It works great as bedding material as it is highly absorbent and rich in cellulose and has great thermal and acoustic properties.
And do you get your hemp supply from the US?
MP: We currently have to import our materials from Europe. However, with the movement that many states are making towards industrial hemp, we forecast using domestic supply by the end of 2018. Some states may even see 2017 as a possibility to use their domestic supply for hemp applications.
I hope that day comes soon! So how did you get started with ODH?
MP: We have been in business for about a year now. The drive behind starting Old Dominion Hemp was from losing our family land. That land had been in our family for over 100 years. The land could have been saved, maybe if we had another agricultural crop, such as hemp. We could have offset of the economic pressures coming from major entities that drive down the prices of other cash crops to the floor. These circumstances are destroying the inner fabric of our nation – the rural farmers.
Could you tell us how you got involved with hemp in the beginning?
MP: I’d say there’s a few reasons. First, I became a hemp activist through the Virginia Industrial Hemp Coalition. That was where I was introduced to the movement by Jason Amatucci about 3–4 years ago. I was able to meet the leaders of the hemp industry and got to learn a lot about hemp. Eventually, I purchased our first pallet of hemp bedding, which we used to conduct a 7 month Research & Development and Proof of Concept testing by donating our hemp bedding to places such as The Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, Virginia Piedmont Search and Rescue Mounted division, and other local horse and chicken farmers.
Personally, I became a believer in hemp when I started giving hemp-derived CBD oil to alleviate pain and joint stiffness for my dog, Sadie. She had bone cancer in her leg and was told that she would only have weeks to live. My belief is that the CBD helped her, as she lived another full year, and she finally lost the battle to cancer in January.
How have your customers taken to using the hemp bedding material?
“Bedding longevity, cleanliness and earth friendly qualities are things the consumers are looking for and hemp bedding offers that solution”
MP: The response has been unbelievable and we were blown away by the immediate responses. Bedding longevity, cleanliness and earth friendly qualities are things the consumers are looking for and hemp bedding offers that solution. This helped us even sponsor a show horse called Wisteria at the Dressage at Lexington event.
What have been some of the bigger challenges during the past year?
MP: Pricing has been the biggest issue. The up-front cost is more, however the longevity and labor reducing qualities of the product make it competitive against pine or straw. The longevity of this product is far greater than anything on the market. As more customers experience the benefits of this crop, we foresee that more owners will make the switch.
Basically, we are working with customers across the whole spectrum. We go to events that cater to all the different types of demographics, from local chicken swaps to high end horse shows. Ultimately, we want to make this an affordable product for anyone that has animal that needs bedding.
When you look 5-10 years down the road, what is your vision for Old Dominion Hemp?
MP: Our vision is to provide the consumer with high quality hemp products with a focus in agricultural needs, such as, hemp animal bedding. We want to show farmers, if they grow hemp, there is a market to sell hemp. Ultimately, we want United States farmers to be allowed to grow hemp, period.
We are hoping that as the applications of this crop grows, it will allow farmers to cultivate this crop. Old Dominion Hemp is here to bring the best bedding possible to the market and to let farmers know that there is an end game to the monotony in farming. It is coming in the form of industrial hemp.
Thanks for sharing your story with our readers Marty! How could our readers help with your mission?
MP: The number 1 priority for hemp is for the plant to be taken off the Schedule 1 Controlled Substances Act. This will be done when the Industrial Hemp Farming Act is passed, which is still sadly stuck in congress. I would encourage everyone to call or write to your local representatives and senators. After reading about businesses like ours, tell them about the useful applications that hemp has that could benefit our economy and environment.