To minimize lameness and encourage cows to lie in freestalls 10 to 12 hours per day, beds have to be clean, dry and comfortable. Here are some tips from Thomas Sumner and Donna Amaral-Phillips, dairy specialists with the University of Kentucky:
1. Properly bed all mattresses. Freestall mattresses should have at least 1" to 3" of bedding on them at all times to ensure cows stay clean and comfortable. Every time cows leave for milking, manure and urine should be cleaned out of the stall.
2. Replace old mattresses when needed. The maximum lifespan of most foam or rubber mattresses is 10 years. By then, the foam or rubber has compressed to make a very hard lying surface. Waterbed mattress need to be repaired or replaced as soon as they leak for the same reason.
3. Design stalls to fit the cow. Make stalls that fit the biggest cow in the herd. Stalls that are too small discourage cows from using them because cows can have a difficult time lying down or getting up, and can sometimes injure themselves in the process. Below are recommended freestall dimensions from Pennsylvania State University.
Recommendations for Sand Bedded Stalls
4. Keep the stalls full of sand. When cows get up and down in stalls, they tend to throw sand out of the stall. This often leaves a depression, particularly in the back of stalls, where moisture and urine can pool creating unsanitary bedding conditions.
5. Keep stalls groomed. Manure and wet, urine-laden sand should be removed as cows leave for each milking.
6. Slope sand toward the rear of the stall. When grooming stalls, sand should be sloped toward the alley with a 2% to 3% slope.
7. Use the right sand. Sand that is too fine won’t separate from manure solids and won’t be recyclable. But if sand is too coarse or has stones, it can increase the risk of lameness. Concrete and mason sands are recommended.
8. When recycling, replace with the cleanest sand possible. If you are recycling sand, make sure the sand has enough drying time before reusing. Recycled sand should be 10% to 12% moisture with less than 2% organic matter. Higher levels of organic matter can lead to more mastitis over time.
Note: This story appears in the April 2018 magazine issue of Dairy Herd Management.