Bedding Management

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Source: National Farm Animal Care Council Code of Practice for the care and handling of farm animals – Dairy Cattle, Section 2.8

Of all possible stall improvements, the provision of large amounts of dry bedding has one of the greatest impacts on cow comfort, lying times, and healing of injuries (6). Bedding is still needed on mattresses and mats—the combination of stall base (including mattresses, mats) and bedding together contribute to the softness and good traction of the stall bed (6). Increasing the depth of bedding not only increases lying times and reduces lameness and other injuries, but it also improves cattle comfort by compensating for hard or abrasive surfaces (6, 9).

Bedding quality, namely dryness, is a key component of cattle comfort (6). Cows and calves consistently show a preference for dry lying surfaces and will spend much more time standing when only wet bedding is available (6). Like mature cattle, calves spend most of their time lying down, and wet or insufficient bedding draws away their body heat. Keeping bedded areas dry also improves cattle cleanliness and reduces lameness, ammonia emissions, and fly infestations (9, 28).

REQUIREMENTS

Cattle must have a resting surface with bedding that provides comfort, insulation, dryness, and traction.

 RECOMMENDED PRACTICES

  1. provide generous amounts of clean, dry bedding (the more the better and at least 5 cm [2 in]) to help prevent lameness and promote healing of injuries (6, 9)
  2. incorporate a well-maintained bedding guard into stalls and pens to help keep large quantities of bedding in the animal’s area
  3. ensure stalls and pens are routinely bedded and raked out
  4. add new sand and level sand routinely in sand-bedded stalls
  5. routinely observe the legs of cows over pressure points for signs of abrasions, swelling, or sores and increase bedding depth if the rate or severity of injuries increases (6)
  6. increase bedding depth and/or improve bedding management if cattle are frequently seen standing in the stall or pen but not eating/drinking or show abnormal resting or standing postures (e.g., perching, kneeling)
  7. use chopped straw to increase absorption of bedding
  8. replace or top up bedding if your knees get wet in 25 seconds of kneeling in the rest area (an indicator that bedding is too wet)
  9. for stalls and bedded packs: add clean, dry bedding daily
  10. for bedded packs: remove cow patties a few times each day to maintain cow cleanliness
  11. for composted bedded packs: bed as needed depending on climate and other factors and till twice a day to maintain cow cleanliness
  12. in the summer, provide bedding that effectively conducts heat away from cattle (e.g., sand) (6)
  13. in the winter, provide straw bedding (which offers more insulation than other bedding types) and ensure the depth permits cattle, and especially young calves, to nest (5, 28).