Tips for Better Dairy Cow Bedding

September 18, 2023
Read this blog to learn more about how to improve dairy cow bedding.

Two of the biggest priorities for dairy farmers are keeping their herd healthy and producing high-quality milk. Several factors contribute to the outcome of high-quality milk, but cow comfort is probably one of the most important. One of the easiest ways to ensure cow comfort is to use proper bedding and management practices for the herd.

1. Use sand as bedding

When choosing what materials to bed your cows on, cow comfort is the most critical aspect to consider. Cows should ideally spend 14 hours or more a day resting and ruminating to help increase milk production. The more comfortable a cow is, the more milk she will produce.

Comfortable bedding also plays a role in cow health. Comfortable bedding material, coupled with properly designed freestall barns, will encourage the cows to lie down, thus reducing excessive standing and lowering the risk of lameness from injury to the feet.

While there are various material options that can be used as bedding, sand is the best for cow comfort for the following reasons:

  • Sand allows moisture from leaked milk or urine to drain away from cows, keeping them cleaner and drier for longer. Cows prefer a dry bedding material over a wet one. This is shown by the significant decrease in cow lying times on wet bedding.
  • Sand is inorganic, so it doesn’t promote the growth of mastitis-causing bacteria.
  • Sand provides traction for the cows and reduces the potential for foot or joint injury. It’s soft enough to provide cushioning for the cows, yet abrasive enough to clean between the toes of the cows’ feet.
  • In warmer weather, sand can provide a cooling effect. Heat-stressed cows tend to stand for longer periods of time, so cool bedding (along with fans and misters) can be crucial for preventing heat stress.
  • Sand can be recycled with sand separation equipment for reuse in the freestalls, saving you money by reducing the amount of new sand required.

All these benefits make sand an ideal bedding material for dairy cows.

What type of sand is best

When selecting a grade of sand for bedding, you should select a sand that doesn’t contain large particles that could cause hoof injuries. Bedding sand should also be devoid of excessive amounts of silts or clay, which can pack and get hard in the stalls.

Concrete sand is the best for dairy cow bedding because it is made up of a mix of coarse and fine sand. This mix is the most ideal for separation and reuse and allows for the highest level of sand recovery. Concrete sand doesn’t compact as quickly as other grades of sand with an abundance of fine silts and clays, so it remains loose and comfortable for cows to lie on. Concrete sand is available around the world and is always a consistent particle size.

2. Follow stall design and maintenance best practices

How stalls are designed and maintained is also crucial to cow comfort. Stalls should be designed with the appropriate dimensions to allow the cows to move in and out freely and comfortably throughout the day. When bedding on sand, the sand in the stall should be higher in the front and slope downward toward the curb at the back of the stall. Sand should always be at least 6”-8” deep, and the bedding should always remain above the back curb of the stall. Regular grooming of the stall is important to maintain a full bed of clean, soft sand.

Because of movement and compacting, sand levels in stalls will drop over time. In one study done by the University of British Columbia, for every centimeter the bedding drops in the stall, the cow will spend an average of 11 less minutes lying down. The average dairy cow uses an average of 50 pounds of sand each day. Because of this, new bedding should be added to stalls at least once a week. Grooming the stalls in between fillings helps to keep the sand loose and comfortable.

Keeping cows and their bedding clean and dry eliminates the potential for bacteria to grow. Because bacteria can grow in a damp environment, it is best to minimize the amount of moisture in the bedding prior to filling the stalls.

3. Consider sand separation and recycling to keep costs and pathogens low

With mechanical sand separation equipment, dairy producers can recycle sand bedding for reuse without impacting cow health or milk quality. Sand Separation Systems allow producers to capture 90% or more of the sand from the manure stream. These systems are used to clean, dewater and dry the sand for faster reuse, ensuring high-quality sand is placed back into the freestalls.

Because they generate clean recycled sand bedding, Sand Separation Systems provide a cost savings to the dairy by reducing the amount of new sand that needs to be purchased. These systems can also be used to pre-treat manure prior to anaerobic digestion so that producers can benefit from bedding on sand and using a digester.

Mechanical Sand Separation Systems are made up of various pieces of equipment such as Sand-Manure Separators, Agricultural Hydrocyclones, Shaker Screens and Bedding Dryers. These systems are scalable and can be adjusted based on dairy size. Systems like the SMS12 are designed for dairies with less than 400 cows in the herd, while larger Sand-Manure Separation Systems can be used on dairies with thousands of cows in the herd.

Sand-Manure Separators

Sand-Manure Separators are used to recover sand particles from sand-laden manure streams, as well as to wash and dewater the sand for reuse. They produce a clean, dewatered sand product that contains minimal organic content and requires minimal conditioning prior to reuse.

Agricultural Hydrocyclones

Agricultural Hydrocyclones can be used as a primary means of sand separation in applications where manure is highly diluted, or they can be used as a secondary means of separation following conventional Sand-Manure Separation Systems. When used in conjunction with Sand-Manure Separators, Agricultural Hydrocyclones can increase sand recovery by up to 10%.

Shaker Screens

Shaker Screens are an add-on to Sand-Manure Separation Systems. Installing a Shaker Screen after a Sand-Manure Separator will remove up to 40% of the remaining moisture, reducing the amount of conditioning required and improving turnaround times. Bedding is discharged from the Shaker Screen at approximately 12% moisture, which means it is considered “drip-free” and reusable in less than one week.

Bedding Dryers

Adding a Bedding Dryer to the Sand-Manure Separation System can further dry the sand to around 1% moisture. Bedding Dryers also eliminate bacteria and organic content. Sand from a Bedding Dryer can and should be reused immediately in stalls, which reduces handling time.

Sand Lane Systems

Sand Lane Systems are used to wash and dewater bedding sand that has been harvested from a sand settling lane. With this system, sand is scooped from your sand lane and loaded directly into the Sand Lane System, where the sand is further reduced of water and organic material. This increases recovery rates and reduces handling time, leaving you with a cleaner, drier sand.

Bedding material should always be picked with cow comfort in mind. Sand bedding is comfortable for the cows and can be recycled. The recyclability of sand helps you save money while keeping the best interest of your herd in mind, making it one of the best choices for stall bedding.

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Tags: Bedding Management, Freestall Management, Manure Management, Manure Separation & Dewatering

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