ST. CLOUD, Minn. — A few weeks ago, I was able to attend a dairy field day event in Sauk Centre, Minnesota. I had the chance to see how operations and living conditions for cattle were managed at this dairy. One aspect which surprised me was the type of bedding that they had for their cows. They used a type of thin “memory foam” mattress for cows to lay on in their stall. I was surprised because most people don’t even get the luxury of sleeping on a memory foam mattress. I decided to do more research about the types of bedding that cows rest on and what might be the most ideal for both cows and farmers.
The gold standard for dairy cattle bedding is something that keeps the cows comfortable. Since they are such large animals, this type of comfort and support must be uniform. Bedding plays a key role in cow’s temperature regulation by keeping them cool in the summer and warm in the winter. It is also crucial to take into consideration if pathogens can easily be spread through the type of bedding that is chosen. Bedding choices also depend on the type of barn design that each farm has. It is also important to note that choices by the farmer are influenced by cost and availability of products in the area.
One of the most common types of bedding is sawdust and wood shavings. These bedding materials are generally absorbent and have the ability to break down over time in the manure. This quick decomposition of the bedding reduces wear and tear on the manure handling systems. Unfortunately, this absorbent material with high surface area also can act as a suitable environment for rapid bacterial growth.
The type of thin mattress, at the farm I toured, is commonly referred to as a geotextile mattress. This type of mattress is made of a combination of many materials. A farmer can easily incorporate this bedding in a tie or free stall barn. They are waterproof on the outside and require no other types of bedding to be put on the top. The addition of lime to the mattress can help manage pathogens because it lowers bacterial load on the mattress, protecting the cows’ teats. According to Bernard et. al., adding bedding to the mattresses does make it more desirable for the cows.
Straw is another common type of material used. It is considered better to use than sawdust and wood shavings because of its ability to compost efficiently. Straw is usually more attractive for farmers when it can be produced on the farm, thus lowering the cost.
Each of these 3 types of bedding is an ideal choice of bedding for cows and farmers. They provide the cow with comfortability through temperature regulation, discouraging bacterial growth, and have the ability to compost efficiently.
Sources in this article are linked here: https://z.umn.edu/cowbeddinghansen
If you have questions about this or any livestock related topic, please reach out to your local Extension Educator. Residents in Stearns, Benton and Morrison Counties can email email@example.com or call 320-255-6169 ext. 3.
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