The different types of cow bedding


Cows need to lie down, it’s part of the milk production process and they’ll do it many times a day. When they rest, they ruminate, and blood circulation through the udder increases by up to 30%. Any reduction in rest and lying time will result in lower milk production, so it’s important the cow is comfortable where she’s lying or she won’t be inclined to. For this reason, cow bedding is an important consideration when operating a dairy farm that sees cows spend any amount of time indoors. Let’s look at the options available.

Bedding needs to be:

  • Dry
  • Non-abrasive
  • Offer uniform support
  • Be stable to walk on
  • Not be too hot in summer or too cold in winter
  • Cost and labour efficient

Compost

Compost bedding is made up of 50-60cm of natural materials like wood shavings, sawdust or suitable plant material on top of which the cows lay down on.

Benefits

  • In our experience, when kept fresh and aerated, compost bedding is soft and warm for the cows, doesn’t smell and didn’t leave the udders as dirty as you’d expect.
  • Depending on the materials used, and if it composts correctly, it can be an excellent source of fertiliser spread on pastures and crop paddocks.

Things to consider

  • Works best in open style barns as it needs ventilation.
  • Labour required as it must be turned/aerated twice daily and new wood shavings or sawdust added once a week. The entire load must be removed and replaced annually (twice a year is even better).
  • Feeding and watering areas need to be kept separate to the composted area.

Sawdust or wood shavings (as compost bedding)

Benefits

  • Easy to source as it’s a very common bedding choice on dairy farms.
  • Is broken down by microorganisms in the disposal system.
  • Sawdust, because the particles are smaller, is more absorbent than wood shavings and quicker to break down.
  • Once it has been removed, it is an excellent source of fertiliser on pastures and crop paddocks.

Things to consider

  • Because it is absorbent it can breed pathogens. Potentially adding lime to it can hinder this growth.
  • Can be expensive.
  • Labour intensive in laying and removal

Miscanthus

While this plant is still a relative newcomer on the New Zealand farming scene it has been grown overseas, throughout most of Asia, United States and Europe, mainly for biofuel but it also offers an option for animal bedding.

Benefits

  • Can produce 20T – 30T DM per hectare
  • It is infertile so there’s no danger of it spreading to unwanted areas
  • Dies off when the frosts come and can then be harvested while harvester machines are idle in late autumn early winter
  • Out grows weeds and to date has not suffered serious pest attacks
  • Stands of Miscanthus overseas have lasted for decades
  • More absorbent than straw or sawdust

Things to consider

  • Miscanthus may use more water than other crops

Rubber mats or mattresses

Benefits

  • Permanent and long lasting so good value for money
  • Can be easily washed with a power hose if required
  • Hygienic
  • Anti-slip
  • Great orthopedic support
  • Keeps cows cleaner

Things to consider

  • May require occasional cleaning.
  • Adding lime can help to hinder the growth of pathogens.

Other options such as sand are used internationally. Research has suggested that sand is the preferred bedding material by cows, however in New Zealand we do not have the infrastructure required to manage sand as it requires daily cleaning and drying out.