Especially as December gets nearer, farmers across the country are being encouraged to invest in the best possible bedding for their livestock.
For cattle in particular, bedding is of the utmost importance. Cows can spend over 10 hours every day lying down in the resting position, usually over the course of about five ‘resting bouts’.
Having a quality place to rest can reduce injuries in cows, including swelling and abrasion in the hock and knee area, as well as decrease cases of lameness. It’s important to encourage resting in your cows by providing a comfortable stall area.
A sanitary and dry space can also keep cows clean and improve their overall health, including in their udders.
Ideal bedding will absorb moisture, which in turn controls the levels of environmental bacteria. It also provides a cushioned surface that conforms to the shape of the cow, enhances traction for reclining and rising, prevents injury, resists compaction and is cost effective in large quantities.
With so many factors to consider, it’s important to put sufficient thought into your own farm’s bedding!
There are usually two initial choices when deciding on bedding: Inorganic and Organic.
- Inorganic bedding is inert, which means its chemical composition won’t be altered over time. It drains moisture away quite well, and it may improve footing.
- Organic bedding absorbs surface moisture and also supports pathogen growth.
The required amount of bedding materials depends on the type of cow:
- Lactating dairy cows require about 100 square foot per head.
- Far-off dry cows require about 80 square foot per head.
- Close-up dry cows require about 120 square foot per head.
- Maternity cows require about 140-200 square foot per head.
Examples of inorganic bedding materials include sand, limestone screenings and gypsum.
Inorganic Bedding Materials
Sand is particularly praised for its suitability in dairy cow bedding.
- It conforms to the shape of the cow
- Provides some cushioning
- Drains moisture away from the surface
- High levels of cleanliness
- Can reduce hock and knee injuries
- Decreases some cases of mastitis
- Sometimes can improve footing.
However, farmers have noticed some issues with sand:
- Heavy to handle
- Abrasive to equipment
- Wears hooves
- Polishes floor surfaces
- Invades feeding areas
- Settles in waterers
- Gets into the rumen
- Sticks to teats & udder
- Plugs drains
- Gets into filters
- Settles in milk tank
- Damp sand freezes
When using sand, it’s important that the right consistency is used that has no debris or stones. Grains should be less than 3mm in size. It should always be kept dry, and have low organic matter content. However, if the sand grains are smaller than 0.6mm, there could be problems. Sand particles that are too small will compact more easily and provide poorer drainage.
This material is compared to sand quite often, as it is very fine and can sometimes get compacted. However, it’s important to note that it can also alter the pH of soil.
Gypsum is a soft sulfate mineral, and experts characterise it as: absorbent, non-caustic, but with the ability to elevate H2S4 levels in manure slurry.
Organic Bedding Materials
Organic materials, such as wood shaving, sawdust, waste wood, paper, peanut hulls, straw, dried manure solids and crop residue have a variety of pros and cons that overlap with inorganic characteristics.
Organic Bedding Advantages:
- Absorbs moisture
- Compatible with manure handling systems
- Typically readily available
- Comfortable Resting Area Benefits
- Reduced stress on feet
- Less injuries
- Cleaner cows
- Increased longevity
- Improved milk production
- Better udder health
Organic Bedding Disadvantages:
- Supports rapid growth of environmental mastitis pathogens when mixed with manure, urine & milk
- High populations in 24 hours
- Pathogen numbers increase with decreasing particle size
- Damp particles stick to teat skin
- Increases opportunity for infection
When using organic bedding, it’s important to groom stalls at least three times per day. Wet and bare areas should be covered and soiled bedding should be immediately removed.
It’s vital that farmers analyse the information regarding all options, and decide which is ideal for their farm resources.
Some information sourced from Penn State Extension.