When is the last time that you thought about the bedding options that you use on your dairy farm? When is the last time that you thought about the effectiveness of the bedding options that you use?

During the busy harvest season, preparing for the cold winter months and focusing on daily chores, your bedding options are probably the last thing on your mind.

Dan McFarland, Extension education-agricultural engineer at Pennsylvania State University Extension explains why it is important to put some thought into bedding options on our operations.

“It’s important to think about bedding options because cows spend 10 or more hours per day resting,” said McFarland.

A comfortable stall encourages resting and minimizes injury by reducing hock and knee abrasion and swelling and reduces lameness.

Additionally, bedding helps to maintain cow cleanliness and udder health by maintaining a clean, dry resting surface, absorbing surface moisture and controlling levels of environmental bacteria.

Now that we understand why it is important to think about bedding options, let’s take a look at the desirable characteristics that bedding should have.

Bedding should do the following.

• Provide cushion

• Conform to a resting cow

• Resist compaction

• Enhance traction

• Prevent injury

• Be dry

• Inhibit microbial growth

• Be plentiful and cost effective

Is your bedding material and management working?

Here are some ways for you to know that your bedding options and management are working.

• Low incidence of environmental infections

• Excellent stall acceptance

• Cows are resting 12+ hours per day

• Cows are clean

• Minimal hock abrasions and swelling

• Minimal lameness

If your bedding materials are not working, it’s time to think about changes that can be made.

There are a lot of options to consider when choosing bedding. The bedding option that you choose should encourage stall use, improve cow cleanliness, maintain good udder health, minimize injury and provide traction to recline and rise.

These two types of bedding categories are inorganic and organic.

Inorganic bedding drains moisture away from the surface, is inert and may improve footing. Some examples of inorganic bedding materials are sand, limestone screenings and gypsum.

Organic bedding absorbs surface moisture and increases the ability to support pathogen growth. Some examples of organic bedding materials are sawdust, shavings, waste wood, paper, crop residue and dried manure solids.

McFarland recommends establishing an adequate layer of bedding between the stall bed and the cow to reduce hock injury, improve cushion and improve cleanliness.

General field observations that McFarland has seen include the following.

• Quantity and quality of bedding decreases as costs rise.

• Recycled bedding materials are applied more generously than purchased materials.

• Freestalls with resilient stall beds typically have inadequate bedding layer.

• Stall grooming and management can be improved.

• Resilient stall beds are often used well beyond their functional life.

There are many advantages that you can see on your operation by having a dry, comfortable resting area for your cows.

Some of these advantages include reduced time on feet, less injuries, cleaner cows, increased longevity, improved milk production and better udder health.

Create a quality resting area by thinking about the following.

• Resting area access and size

• Stall design

• Bedding type and management

• Manure management

• Ventilation system management

• Population

The bedding option that you have on your dairy operation gives you the ability to create a clean, comfortable, quality resting area that promotes udder health and well being.

Though it’s tough to take time to think about changing your bedding option or what you could do to improve your bedding management, take it one step at a time.

For more information about udder health and bedding options, speak with your veterinarian or local ag cooperative specialist.

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