Flaming sand bedding can reduce pathogens

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Joe Hogan, PhDFlaming sand bedding in free stalls. Bovine mastitis is the most costly disease in animal agriculture accounting for $2 billion annually in lost production, veterinary care, and reduced quality and quantity of value-added dairy products in the global market, says Joe Hogan, PhD, The Ohio State University. “Control of mastitis is accomplished by reducing exposure of cows to mastitis causing pathogens,” he said at the 3rd International Symposium on Mastitis held in conjunction with the 2011 American Association of Bovine Practitioners meeting in St. Louis.

Hogan explained that the primary source of environmental mastitis pathogens in the cow’s habitat is the bedding or material used for cows to lie upon in stalls or corrals. The use of sand as bedding for dairy cows dramatically reduces the mastitis pathogen exposure to teat ends compared with common organic bedding materials. 

Use of sand as bedding
The effectiveness of sand for reducing exposure of mastitis pathogens to mammary glands is due to the inorganic properties of sand. “However, as organic content and moisture in sand bedding increases during the common and cost-effective practice of on-farm reclaiming sand from manure, the mastitis pathogen populations also increase,” Hogan noted. “The need exists for environmentally safe and effective procedures for altering physical properties and bacterial loads in recycled sand bedding.” 

The recovery of recycled sand from manure for use as an inorganic bedding to reduce exposure to mastitis pathogens is an environmentally and economically sustainable practice, but the bacterial load in bedding increases with the elevated moisture and organic matter residuals inherent with sand reclamation. 

Flaming sand
Research conducted by Hogan and Ohio Agriculture Research and Development Center (OARDC) personnel tested the efficiency of using propane fueled flame as a means to sanitize recycled sand used as bedding.   Hogan said the daily movement of the propane flame over the surface of recycled sand bedding in stalls provided an environmentally safe and effective procedure for altering physical properties and bacterial loads in recycled sand bedding. 

Scientists at the OARDC and Propane Education and Research Council collaborated in a controlled field trial on a commercial dairy farm to determine the effects of propane flaming of sand bedding on bacteriological populations of common environmental mastitis pathogens. A technical advancement gained in this trial was the development of a practical, effective and safe propane flaming unit mounted on a tractor. 

The daily movement of the propane flame at 2 miles per hour over the surface of recycled sand bedding in stalls reduced mastitis pathogen loads in recycled sand bedding. Hogan said the reduction of bacterial populations was greater on the surface of recycled sand bedding than at the depths of 1 to 2 inches or 2 to 3 inches in stalls, and propane flaming of bedding reduced bacterial populations in recycled sand more effectively the first 24 hours after bedding was placed in stalls compared with flaming sand at 48 and 96 hours.

“The use of propane flaming of recycled sand was shown to have great potential as a beneficial farm practice to control mastitis pathogen populations in bedding,” he said. “The reduction in pathogen exposure is directly associated with a reduced incidence of clinical mastitis.” 

On-farm recycling of bedding by separation of sand from manure reduces bedding costs and aids the environmental sustainability of farms by decreasing over-the-road cartage costs and soil compaction of farmland. The use of propane flaming has the potential to serve as a clean and rapid antibacterial procedure without contaminating the environment when bedding is removed from stalls and corrals.

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