It’s tempting to make a load of sand or sawdust last a week or two longer than it used to. After all, that’s one less check to write. And you may get a way with it for a while.

But, the long-term effects can be expensive.

Recent research shows that when stalls were bedded with sand that was 2 inches below the curb, cow lying-time was reduced by two hours a day. Conversely, when 17 pounds of sawdust per stall was added on top of mattresses, cow lying-time increased two hours.

Another experiment shows that when the bedding was wet, cows spend five hours less lying down and more time perching with only two feet in the stalls than when the bedding was dry, reports Alvaro Garcia, South Dakota State University extension dairy specialist.

Reduced amounts of bedding and/or replacing bedding less often leads to cows standing for longer periods of time.

When cows remain standing, two things happen, he says:

  • Their hooves usually spend more time on wet surfaces, absorbing more water and reducing hoof hardness.
  • Each of the cow’s four feet have to bear an added 350 pounds (or there about) for two or more hours each day.

“The unwanted outcomes of increased standing are hoof lesions and lameness,” he warns. Lame cows incur higher production losses, lower fertility and greater culling rates. In addition, deaths due to lameness or injury increased 60 percent between 1996 and 2007 and lameness continues to be the second highest reason for culling in the United States.

Bedding usually only represents 2 percent of your dairy’s operating cost, or about 25 cents per cow per day. Is this really a good place to cut cost? Be sure to run the numbers and consider the ramifications before you do.