Why Sand Quality Matters for Dairy Cow Bedding

July 7, 2023
Read this blog to learn about the importance of sand quality when used as dairy cow bedding.

Sand is widely regarded as the best bedding for dairy cows for a number of reasons. It provides a clean, dry and comfortable place for the cows to lie down, and because it is an inorganic material, it doesn’t support the growth of bacteria, such as mastitis-causing pathogens.

While sand is considered the gold standard for dairy cow bedding, not all sand is created equally. Sand is available in a range of particle sizes for a variety of different uses, so it may seem like there are a lot of choices for dairy producers to consider for their bedding sand. However, when it comes to dairy cow bedding, the quality of the sand is imperative to ensure all the benefits of sand are realized.

Here are the main reasons why sand quality matters.

For cow health and cow comfort

Cow comfort and cow health are the most important aspects of a dairy operation, which is why many dairy producers choose to use sand bedding in the first place. However, a quality sand is necessary for optimum cow health and comfort.


Quality sand will contain a mix of coarse and fine particles that are ideal for cow health and cow comfort. Sand that contains an excess of particles that are too coarse can potentially harm the cow’s hooves.

On the other hand, sand that contains an excess of fine materials, such as silts and clays, can pack down and become hard in the stalls, making them uncomfortable for the cow to lie in. Fine particles also tend to retain moisture, which can create an ideal breeding ground for harmful mastitis-causing bacteria.

A good quality sand will maximize cow health and cow comfort by allowing moisture from leaked milk or urine to drain away from the cow, keeping her cleaner and drier and reducing the ability for mastitis-causing bacteria to grow. It will provide traction for the cow to stand, reducing potential for joint injuries, as well as cushion the cow, reducing hock lesions. It will also be abrasive enough to clean between the cow’s toes, reducing lameness.

For cow health and cow comfort, consistency in the sand choice is key.

For separation, recycling and anaerobic digestion pre-treatment

Besides cow health and cow comfort, another main reason to use sand bedding is because it can be recycled and reused. Reusing recycled sand bedding can save dairy producers thousands of dollars each year by limiting the amount of new sand they have to buy and reducing their sand inventory.


Sand can be recycled using sand lanes, mechanical sand separation equipment or a combination of the two. Sand recycling can be utilized on dairies of all sizes and with a variety of manure handling/removal systems.

As with cow health and cow comfort, the quality of the sand is important for optimal separation. Sand containing minimal fine material is ideal for separation and high sand recovery. High sand recovery is necessary to achieve maximum ROI and to minimize the need for and cost of purchasing new sand. It is also necessary for dairies bedding on sand and using anaerobic digesters, where as much sand as possible must be removed from the manure stream before it enters the digester to reduce the risk of material buildup, which can wreak havoc on the digester.

The best sand for bedding

Concrete sand is the best type of sand for dairy cow bedding because it offers a standard, consistent product with minimal fine particles. This is important for many reasons.

First, concrete sand contains a range of coarse and fine particles that are ideal for cow health and cow comfort. It doesn’t contain an excess of coarse particles that can harm the cow, and it contains minimal fine material that can cause the beds to become dirty and uncomfortable.

The consistent range of particle sizes in concrete sand allows for a bedding material that is both cushioning and able to provide a cleaning effect. It wicks moisture away from the cow, readily drains urine and leaked milk, and cleans between the cow’s toes.

For these reasons, concrete sand offers a comfortable place for the cow to lie down, which is important for milk production. It also provides a cleaner, drier environment for the cow to lie in, which is necessary for cow health, as it limits exposure of the teat ends to mastitis-causing bacteria.


The second reason concrete sand is the best type of sand for dairy cow bedding is because it offers high sand recovery in sand separation systems. High sand recovery equates to less money spent on buying new sand for in the freestalls. It also means less material in the manure stream that can fill up lagoons or storage ponds and less material that needs to be spread out in the fields.

Also, because concrete sand is a standard product containing a consistent range of particle sizes, the separation performance and efficiency can be better predicted. This is especially important if bedding on sand and using anaerobic digestion, where it is crucial to remove as much sand as possible ahead of the digestor to limit material buildup within the digester.

With a combination of mechanical sand separation equipment, such as Sand-Manure Separators and Agricultural Hydrocyclones, used in conjunction with sand settling lanes, dairy producers can recover up to 98% of sand from the manure stream.

Finally, concrete sand is available around the world, so it shouldn’t be difficult for dairy producers to buy this quality sand for bedding. Depending on the location, concrete sand may also be referred to or called “construction sand”, “bedding sand”, “river sand” or “torpedo sand”.

By using a quality sand such as concrete sand for dairy cow bedding, dairy producers can maximize cow health and cow comfort as well as benefit from recycling sand for reuse.

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Tags: Bedding Management

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