There are several factors that affect the amount of bedding needed for pre-weaned calves including the amount of milk or milk replacer fed, weather conditions, and bedding material characteristics. Understanding these factors and how they interact will help you manage bedding for your pre-weaned calves to enhance their comfort, health and growth.
Listed below are 13 bedding factors to be considered when selecting organic bedding.
- Water retention & evaporation rate
- Structure integrity
- Carbon content
- Carbon availability
- Animal health impacts
- Animal comfort
- Air quality impacts
- Pathogen presence
Which factors do you consider beyond availability and cost? Absorbency or water holding capacity and structure are important too. Carbon content and availability were included for those who compost used bedding. If your pre-wean calf performance is not meeting the Dairy Calf and Heifer Association gold standards of pre-weaned calf health listed in Table 1, you may want to reassess your calf management program including your bedding selection and use.
In cold weather, deep, clean and dry bedding is recommended to keep calves clean, dry and insulated from cold and wet manure, floors and air. Bedding absorbs water and feces and becomes wet and soiled over time. Clean, deep bedding that allows calves to nest helps reduce heat loss to the environment by preventing their hair coat from becoming wet and matted. Bedding that can be fluffed and retains its structure allows more nesting.
Roughly 80% of the water consumed by calves is returned to the calves' environment as urine, respiration and sweat. So if you increase the amount of milk or milk replacer fed you should expect more urine added to the calf pen. And if calves produce more urine, you need to use more bedding to absorb the urine if you want to provide a clean dry place for calves to lie down.
You might ask why the moisture cannot drain away. Urine and spilled water cannot drain away if the calf barn has a concrete floor or packed earth. Some people have floor drains or ground limestone under their bedding. While floor drains and ground limestone are good ideas they are not as effective because the bedding has to be extremely wet for liquid water to drain out of the bedding. Think of wet bedding like a wet towel. The towel has to be extremely wet, too wet for good calf comfort, for water to drain out of it. You can wring out a wet towel to get water to drain out but you still have a damp towel that is too wet to prevent wetting your skin.