Cow bedding options

Trials conducted over the past decade on bedding options and how they perform in terms of comfort, hygiene, cleanliness, and welfare and cow preference.

Promoting an environment on which cows want to lie down is about more than just comfort. The bedding material you choose plays a important role in preventing mastitis, reducing injury, regulating temperature and fitting into the overall management system.

One measure of bedding quality is the concentration of environmental pathogens, which play a role in milk quality and are major causes of mastitis – clinical and subclinical. Environmental pathogen concentrations are impacted by the dry matter and pH of the bedding materials. As bedding dry matter increases, the concentration of environmental pathogens decreases, and as the pH of the bedding material increases, environmental pathogen concentrations increase.

Both of these factors impact the quality of bedding material. This is why cubicles need to be cleaned each milking, or at least twice daily. Moisture from the ground lead to elevated bacteria counts also. There tends to be a seasonal effect on the concentration of environmental pathogens in bedding material, with summer having the highest concentration of pathogens likely due to temperature and humidity.

You can control contamination of teats from environmental pathogens with good management practices. Teats become contaminated through contact with contaminated bedding and other environmental risks. The number of bacteria on the teat end has been positively correlated to the number of bacteria on bedding. Adequate amounts of dry bedding ensure minimal contamination of teat skin with bacteria. There are a number of factors that lead to increased bacterial population of bedding material including ambient temperature, humidity, bedding management, ventilation, cow density, , bedding dry matter and bedding storage.

Keep beds dry

Regardless of what type of bedding is used it should be dry

Any bedding that is wet or damp will increase the bacterial growth; bedding should be stored in a dry environment. Bacteria love moist warm environments

Bedding must be comfortable to lie on.

Dry bedding is critical year-round for cow comfort and to reduce pathogen growth. As bedding dry matter increases, bacterial populations have been shown to decrease. (Bedding is one of the primary sources of exposure to environmental pathogens, and maximum bacterial growth occurs within 24 hours and up to 48 hours of adding bedding material.)

Good footing from bedding prevents injury in the stall and in the passage-way.

Nonabrasive bedding promotes cow comfort and aides in injury reduction.

Bedding should drain well to keep cows dry and limit pathogen growth.

Bedding material should provide ease of use,

Sand and straw improve the physical cleanliness of cubicles compared with sawdust, but straw and sawdust register higher bacteria counts than sand (the major pathogens associated with bedding materials being Streptococci, coliforms.

Sand is the ideal cubicle bedding surface for the dairy cow because it limits bacterial exposure to the teat end and provides cushion, traction and support for the cow when she is lying down and during the standing and lying process.

Sand is hard to handle and can block drains and wear out equipment.

You need to ask your self are your cows worth the hassle?

Cattle Foot Baths

Cattle foot baths

All cows should be included in the foot bathing routine.

Permanent, concrete footbaths may measure 3 m (10 ft.) long and 0.2–0.6 m (8–24 in.) wide. The sides of the bath should not slope inward and should be 15–25 cm (6–9 in.) deep. Cows prefer to use footbaths that have a bottom close to floor level; therefore, a built-up block “rounded lip” could be considered in the design. The medicated solution should be a minimum of 8–10 cm (3–4 in.) deep. Drainage from the bath should be provided to ensure the foot can be properly cleansed. To avoid blockage, the drain hole should be 10–20 cm in diameter and located at the lowest point of the bath.

Footbaths should be located in relation to the exit from the milking parlour in a frost-free environment with, ideally, an area suitable to drain chemicals from the feet to avoid contaminating the bedding. At all costs, deviation from the normal free flow of cow progression should be avoided.

Prewashing the feet before entering the footbath has been increasing in popularity. Ideally, the wash bath should be located before the cows enter the milking parlour. This allows time for washing fluid to drain before cows enter the chemical bath. The dimensions should be similar to those of the medication bath.

Use of a footbath is not a substitute for either good hygiene or claw trimming. However, if digital dermatitis is endemic on a farm, regular use of a footbath should be required.

Plastic, fiberglass, or metal portable footbaths should be avoided. A hoof mat, consisting of a sheet of foam plastic encased in a perforated plastic cover, is also available. The foam is soaked in medication that squirts up between the claws when the cow walks on the mat. There are no recent reports on the effectiveness of this device.

Fully automated power spray washers are claimed to be extremely economical in the use of water, and they require no operator. They deliver soapy water, and some users believe this device alone reduces the incidence of foot disease.

Chemical Agents for Footbaths:

Formalin 4% is the least expensive footbath solution for the control of interdigital phlegmon (foot rot). Some cows will refuse to enter a formalin footbath if the solution is stronger than 4%. Formalin has been found of value to control digital dermatitis. The solution should be changed after the passage of ~200 cows, more frequently if the bath is heavily contaminated with manure. Formalin has good bacteriostatic activity and some potential to harden the epidermis. However, it is ineffective at temperatures <13°C.

Formalin generates strong fumes that irritate the lungs of milkers and can taint milk. It should never be used in baths located near the milking parlour.

The stronger the formalin solution used, the more effective it is, but the danger of a chemical burn on the cow’s skin is also greater. If the hair on the foot appears to be standing on end or the skin is pink, bathing should be suspended. Normally, cows can tolerate twice daily baths for 3 days using a 3% solution. The treatment should be repeated every 3 wk. higher concentrations should only be used for the most resistant conditions.

Formalin is regarded as a hazardous waste, and land disposal restrictions should be checked and followed. Formalin must never be released into sewer systems, because sewer treatment plants may have problems and contaminated drinking water could be released. However, formalin is said to break down in 7 days in sludge or slurry; even then, it is wise to wait until it is diluted to one part formalin in three parts sludge before spreading it on arable land. Preferably, the land selected should not have a high water table.


Foot bathing with a 5% solution of copper or zinc sulphate controls interdigital dermatitis and is of some value in controlling foot rot (interdigital phlegmon). There are two grades of copper sulphate, and the pentahydrate grade should be used. The solution must be prepared 5 hours before use. Prewashing of the cow’s feet is advised, and the solution should be changed after the passage of ~200 cows.

Copper has a strong affinity to be bound by soil, the organic matter in manure, and soil minerals. Hence, much of the copper found in soil is unavailable for plant uptake. Once the copper reaches a high level in the soil, the process cannot be reversed. Therefore, plants stunted by high levels of copper have a lower nutritional value to cattle. Copper sulphate footbath solutions may be tagged to slurry at the highest practical dilution and spread widely on the land.

The sulphates are quite rapidly deactivated by combining with the proteins in manure.

Studies have shown that formalin (formaldehyde) is carcinogenic meaning that it can cause cancer in humans. Furthermore, it can cause serious damage to organs including the eyes (blindness), heart, and kidney. Next time when touching formalin, think about your workers .

Over use and adding more is a misguided belief .

Your Pre-Rinse wash

Are you aware why your pre-rinse water temperature should not be higher than 45°C, but also not lower than 35°C?

Proteins will denature when temperature exceeds 45°C, making it more difficult to clean

Fats will solidify and adhere to surfaces when temperature reaches below 35°C Denaturation can occur when proteins and nucleic acids are subjected to elevated temperature they lose the quaternary structure, tertiary structure, and secondary structure resulting in Milk Coagulation and Protein Denaturation.

Have you seen fat globules in your filter , do you mistake it for mastitis ?

Check your filter after your wash and see if there are any signs of denaturation or Coagulation

The future of the dairy sector

I Recently read a dairy sector Report on future farming, I am trying to understand future trends and where it will take the industry .

Over the last 25 years dairy farming has been taken to another level with a shift to intensive farming that really started in the Second World War. This effort for cheap food led to animal welfare issues related to widespread acceptance of confinement systems, genetic selection for growth rate and yield,  . In the twenty five years, a recent historical report has found significant changes in the number of animals farmed and the structure of the industry. There has been growth in the dairy sector per farm, however a decline in the red meat sector, and plateau across all agricultural sectors. Breeding for increased growth rate and yield has continued apace with fewer cows, more milk, with associated health and welfare issues.

Milk quotas were introduced within the European Union to alleviate restrictions on EEC milk output and were introduced in response to the problem of surpluses and their budgetary consequences.

The action of the scheme has had wide-ranging effects on agricultural patterns and markets and on linked activities, but must also be seen in the context of world trade in dairy products.

Pressure on the dairy sector to placate continuing societal demands for cheap food will be worsened by a range of economic, social and environmental factors.

There seems to be a focus and a large shift away from farming systems and input standards towards also measuring and seeking to improve welfare outcomes for the animals. This trend is expected to continue and accelerate. The development and adoption of outcomes-based approaches to welfare is likely to be supported by the development of new automated technologies for assessing animal health and wellbeing.

The legal recognition of animals as sensitive beings in the EU in 1997 was a major victory for animal welfare and established a foundation on which future animal protection legislation could be built. Another landmark moment was the introduction of the Animal Welfare Act 2006, which overhauled animal welfare legislation in the UK and introduced a ‘duty of care’; making owners and keepers responsible for ensuring the welfare needs of their animals are met.

The generally-quoted aims for mastitis control and milk quality on UK dairy farms are:

Mastitis incidence rate of no more than 30 cases per 100 cows per year.

Mastitis persistence rate of no more than 20% of the herd affected per year.

Mastitis re-occurrence rate of less than 10% of the total number of cases.

Herd-average Somatic Cell Count below 150,000 cells/ml.

An average Bactoscan result of below 5,000.

We don’t live in a sterile world bacterial growth is the new buzz word and the dairy sector needs to prepare and control this increase in bacteria.

Latest studies are showing environmental pathogens are on the increase as controlling contagious mastitis is in decline.

Set goals

Train staff

Make staff aware why they are undertaking these actions.

A positive and less stressful environment is essential .

Smart farming technologies.

Smart farming technologies.

Dairy farmers are facing many challenges today. As new systems for milking cows are installed it seems software systems are very complex. Many applications produce a lot of data, but do not offer the right information simply to the farmer. 

The complexity in the agricultural sector is increasing rapidly.

We are now moving into the age of SMART farming Therefore the future smart farming technologies are going to be leading the way over the years.

Smart farming is new and still developing it’s a huge market and growing rapidly.

You have just spent a fortune on your new milking system, with the knowledge you have the latest and up to date information at hand.

However the reality is that you just don’t have the time to digest all the information and act on it

That information is crucial to act and react to different situations.

I recently visited a farm where the state of the art milking system was installed with the latest software and a mind boggling amount of information.

Just one aspect of Smart farming when In conversation I asked the farm manager if he knew his percentage of mastitis cases per annum and whether all treated cases were recorded I was reassured that all cases were recorded and he believed his case rate was 25 percent, once I scoured the software it transpired it was more like 38 percent.

Having this knowledge he can now turn data into information to help him make better decisions.

If this data is used farmers, herdsmen and other dairy professionals can use the information to pass on to the employees and act accordingly. 

The milking machine as a cause of severe agitation in cows

On a recent visit the dairy farmer had complaints about uneasiness of the cows during milking. The problems started after changing some parts of the milking machine. Therefore a dynamic milking machine test was carried out to detect the cause of the problems. This test showed that the removal of milk from the unit of the milking machine was insufficient with high and fast milking cows (4.0 kg/min). The cyclic variations in the short milk tube and the drop of the mean vacuum in the short milk tube did not comply with the milking –time requirements in cows with a high milk flow. Furthermore, in these cows, the mean vacuum in the beginning of the long milk tube was too low (25 Kpa) the dairy farmer had bought a cluster flush system with two inline valves next to the milk meter, this in affect was restricting the milk flow backing up to the original claw bowls (125ml capacity claws) these units prior to the fitment of the cluster flush coped with the movement of milk away from the claw.

The Cluster flush is no longer made and it has been removed and a new flush system is in the process of being installed.

Replace the milking claws by claws with a larger volume, the existing claw units are still being used (the farmer was comfortable in how he handled the unit)

After the implementation of some of the advises, the cows were at ease again. ��c��

The Bulk Milk Tank

Your Milk needs to be produced as hygienically as possible. Bacterial contamination is the most important cause of hygiene-related problems as milk is an excellent source of food for bacteria. When milk is at a temperature of about 35oC bacterial numbers can double within half an hour- so, within two hours, 1,000 bacteria in a mL of milk can become 10,000 bacteria and, within 5 hours, 1,000,000. Temperature is key, below 5oC most bacteria which affect milk quality do not multiply. However, the bacteria are not killed they are just dormant waiting for an increase in temperature to start reproducing again. High levels of bacteria in milk affect both its manufacturing properties and its shelf life.  Measuring the number of bacteria in milk is thus an extremely valuable measure of quality.

The problem is preserving the quality of raw cow milk and its complying with the main standards for dairy buyers. The initial quality of milk is found to be preserved when it is intensely cooled only during the first stage of its production.

Milk produced under hygienic conditions will retain good quality for a period of up to 15 to 20 hours. However, it is not only the storage temperature that is important; the cooling time to reach storage temperature, normally 4 °C, is also critical. Bulk milk coolers have been specially designed to cool the milk to 4 °C within a specified time period

Rapid cooling to below 4 °C greatly contributes to the quality of the milk on the farm. This treatment slows down the growth of the bacteria in the milk, thereby greatly improving its keeping qualities

Bulk milk coolers, generally, are designed to cool the milk to 4°C within a specified time period, normally 30 minutes.

However, it is vital to recognise that cooling is a part, not a solution, for hygienic working conditions. Avoiding infections through good hygiene practices, and cooling the milk as soon as possible after milking, combine to ensure high milk quality

Cooling is the part of the solution against growth, and with efficient cooling and good hygiene practice is the solution to reduce micro-organisms.

Check your cool time

If pre-cooling and refrigeration do not quickly and effectively get the temperature of the milk below 7oC, the bacteria that are naturally present in the milk at low numbers will multiply leading to elevated Bactoscan.

High thermoduric count

Thermoduric are bacteria which can tolerate high temperatures. The most common cause of a high thermoduric count is inadequate cleaning of the milking plant. There is often hard milk residue on the upper surface of the milk lines and visible residue in the tanks. Less commonly, thermoduric can arise because of environmental contamination

A recent visit to a farm it was noted the farmer was under the impression that the milk cooled in 20 minutes , however with a temperature recorder it took over one hour .

Do you know how long it takes to cool your raw milk?

Trace Minerals and the immune system

Mastitis is an inflammation of the mammary gland, probably the most prevalent disease on your farm with the highest monetary loss in dairy herds. In addition to the economic losses, mastitis in most cases is caused by bacterial invasion. Pathogenicity of the bacteria together with environmental factors and the individual condition of the cow will decide how prevalent the disease.  

Infection such as Staphylococcus aureus could produce long term mastitis; Escherichia coli are usually isolated from mastitis with an acute response.

The immunity of the cow plays a main role in the development of the mastitis

Some nutrients as trace minerals are somewhat important for the immune response against the pathogenic bacteria.

Knowledge of the trace minerals and their action mechanism is very important to improve the status of the immune system, to prevent infections and to reduce the effects produced by mastitis.

Trace minerals like zinc, iron or copper are present at a very low level but they are involved in essential functions such as catalysis of different reactions and functional processes. Trace minerals are an essential part of different proteins with different functions in the immune system.

Zinc in the organism is bound to the methallotionein that acts in the activation, adherence and invasive capacity of the macrophages.

Iron is a component of the lactoferrin, transferrin and desferoxamine. Lactoferrin is a very important glycoprotein with a high presence in milk and another epithelial secretions with high activity bactericide and bacteriostatic ability it has an inmunomodulator effect. Different research papers have shown higher lactoferrin concentrations in milk obtained from infected teats than from milk obtained from healthy teats. Epithelium secretes lactoferrin as an unspecific response against pathogenic agents. The lactoferrin could reduce the growth of many bacteria responsible for mastitis like E. coli and S. aureus. However, another bacterium like Streptococcus uberis does not reduce their development under high concentration of lactoferrin. 

Copper works in the immune response as a component of the ceruloplasmin that is involved in the inflammatory process, moreover it has antioxidant properties and plays a key role in the homeostasis of iron.

The effect of minerals in the reduction of somatic cell count and mastitis is very well known. The inclusion of organically chelated zinc has been reported to reduce somatic cell count (SCC) in high producing dairy cows, particularly when the initial SCC was high. Mechanism involved in the immune response against mastitis and infected cows

Trace minerals have an important role to play in the immune response. They participate in the immune cycle. The immune reaction is different depending on the mastitis and whether it is chronic or acute.

There is an important economic advantage to be gained by improving udder health in dairy herds. Approaches to promote these aspects should be focused on all aspects of prevention; nutrition can play a key role in maximising the immune function

Pre – Dipping

Mastitis control plans support pre-dipping. It is one of the best methods to reduce pathogens on the teat surface and an excellent process against mastitis. Many producers have taken on board the procedure and have noticed a substantial impact on the reduction of clinical mastitis and a reduction of somatic cell counts. Other producers have observed minimal impact.

Pre-dipping is applying a germicidal solution to the teats before milking machine attachment. It is an extra for the other aspects of good pre-milking sanitation. It will help ensure that the udders are clean and dry before machine attachment and will replace the use of an udder wash.

The germicide should be left on the teats for at least 30 seconds longer dependant on teat condition and soiling having cracked and organic matter on the teats will render the solution inactive. This then ensures that the solution has acceptable contact time. Teat dips require at least this amount of time to effectively kill the bacteria. This preparation will not be fully effective if the teat dip is removed too soon after application.

Pre-dipping will not work for an exceptionally contaminated environment.

Manufacturers state pre dip Kills major mastitis causing bacteria picked up from environment not contagious and not all pathogens.

DIPPING: Fill teat cup ⅔ full with pre dip.  Dip teats of every cow, making sure that the full length of the teat is immersed. Allow recommended contact time, then using a single service paper towel, wipe & dry the teats thoroughly, before continuing with the normal milking routine.  Top up with fresh solution as required.  Empty & wash out cups after milking.

SPRAYING: Spray the entire surface of each teat of every cow with pre dip. Allow recommended contact time, then using a single service paper towel, wipe & dry the teats thoroughly, before continuing with the normal milking routine.

Teat washing or udder wash, done without care, can actually greatly add to bacterial contamination of the teat canal due to pathogens present in the water being carried from higher up the teat towards the teat orifice. Washing could remove any natural oils present on the teat, contributing to the drying of teat skin, which in turn may cause skin damage or cracking where bacteria can easily colonise.

Where teats are washed they must be dried thoughrly , this will then  avoid bacterial contamination entering the teat orifice wet teats increase the  possibility of liner slip and squawks. The preferred method is to use individual towels, one per cow and washed and dried after each milking, but the use of clean paper towels is adequate.

Pre-dips and sprays tend to work differently to post-dip treatments – as they have to perform differing functions, although the types of chemicals used for pre-milking treatments are mostly the same chemical as those used for post-milking treatments. The liquids, foams and gels available as pre-milking disinfectants are designed to kill pathogens very quickly, whereas post-milking treatments have a longer term contact effect.

The chemical manufacturers will specify a time period, in which the dip or spray has to remain on the teat before it is wiped off. However dependant on your teat condition you may need more contact time, remember these are just guidelines.

Bimodal Milking.

It is very important to understand the need for good cow throughput but with the proper preparation and unit attachment procedures in order to promote good udder health.

These structured issues should be combined to achieve good cow throughput with excellent teat preparation and unit placement.

Poor Stimulation shows milk -letdown with no let down for 50seconds

Milking-Time Test shows bimodal milking

A milking –time test involves accurate monitoring of flow rates from individual cows throughout milking.

Milking –time test are now the standard as values of good milking health and hygiene are used on dairies to determine if there are concerns or problems with prep routines and flow rates. It can also be used to monitor flow rates from cows assigned to different milking preparation routines to determine if the routines produce different outcomes for flow rate profiles, peak flows and  bimodal milking.

On many dairies where the interval between teat prep and unit attachment is too short it is common to see bimodal let down profiles. Initially the cistern milk is removed and a certain flow rate is seen. It then reduces significantly for a period before increasing again as full let down finally ensues and alveolar milk is released by the oxytocin effect. During this low flow period there may be increased liner slips and squawks and potential unit falloffs, all of which are a concern. It also may produce teat end irritation as the liner collapses on the near empty teat for a period of time before full flow resumes.

Good preparation routines should stimulate quick milk let down and maximum peak milk flows. Based on a recent controlled research where comparisons were made with short prep routines (units attached less than 60 seconds after teat stimulation) with a normal routine (units attached 90 seconds after teat stimulation) they found bimodal milking improved. Fast milk out is valuable as long as end of milking flow rate threshold settings for unit removal are set for quick unit removal. If not, then extended unit on time with very low milk flow rates can lead to additional teat end irritation.

The above graph shows excellent and consistent milk let-down with good stimulation

The milking-time test objectively monitors milk flow-rate graphs on a select number of cows to understand what is happening. Ideally, once units are attached there should be few bi-modal flow patterns, peak flow would be reached quickly and units should be promptly removed when the low flow-rate setting are reached. Doing so improves udder health, teat-end condition and parlour throughput. low-rat