Bacteria survive in much the same fashion as humans: by eating, drinking and reproducing. Dairy producers can unknowingly help bacteria in their quest to do all of these by using the wrong bedding materials with the wrong particle size.

Jeff Reneau, University of Minnesota dairy specialist says an important factor to consider is the particle size of the bedding used. "Fine, thin organic materials are able to support much more bacteria growth than coarser materials," Reneau says. In fact, the speed of bacteria growth in finely chopped straw is more than twice the rate of growth in straw with a coarse particle size.

"Using a larger particle size will drastically reduce the amount of colony forming units of bacteria,"" says Reneau. "During the summer months this can be a big factor in reducing a significant amount of bacteria."

In addition to using bedding with a larger, or coarser particle size, the University of Minnesota's dairy research team also suggests producers follow these recommendations in order to minimize high somatic cell counts and udder infections this summer:

  • Keep bedding as clean and dry as possible. The best way to do this is to change the bedding daily.
  • Remove soiled bedding at each milking and always use fresh bedding under the back one-third of the cow to avoid waste buildup.
  • Do not move bedding from the front of the stall to the back of stall.
  • Store unused bedding in a dry area. Because bacteria thrive on moisture, you need to store bedding in an area that is protected from rain and from moisture in the ground being absorbed by the bedding.

When it comes to keeping cell counts low, don't forget to consider bedding as a source of the problem.