Stall bedding materials for cows have become increasingly expensive and difficult to find. This situation has prompted many dairy producers to search for more feasible alternatives, such as sand and recycled manure solids.
Although sand can be considered the ideal bedding source for dairy cows, not all producers are willing and able to convert to sand bedding because it presents some manure-management challenges. So, what about recycled manure solids? Is anyone making it work?
Adam Husfeldt, a graduate student at the University of Minnesota, and Marcia Endres, animal scientist with University of Minnesota Extension, conducted an observational study on 38 dairy farms in Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota and Iowa that were using solids for bedding free-stalls. They wanted to find out what management practices and bedding characteristics were associated with bulk tank somatic cell count (SCC) and evaluate animal welfare in these operations.
They documented various aspects of herd management, including how solids were obtained and managed, their bedding practices, etc. Bedding, milk and feed samples were collected. Cows were scored for hygiene, hock lesions and locomotion, and milking prep procedures were recorded.
The researchers concluded that excellent cow preparation at milking time, sanitation of milking equipment, cow hygiene, adequate dry cow housing and bedding/stall management appeared to be critical in maintaining a low SCC while successfully using manure solids for bedding. Type of manure solids used—digested, raw or composted—had no association with SCC.
Moisture is one of several factors necessary for bacterial growth in bedding materials. Therefore, it is important to keep stall bedding as dry as possible to minimize exposure to environmental mastitis pathogens. Additional methods to help dry stall bedding (use of a blower, good barn ventilation, adding equipment to remove moisture after separation) could help reduce bedding moisture.
They also learned that lameness prevalence was similar, hock lesion prevalence was slightly higher and cow hygiene was better than in herds using sand for bedding.
Click here for more study results.
Source: Marcia Endres, University of Minnesota Extension