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Manure solids for bedding… Does it work?

Marcia Endres
Extension Dairy Scientist
November 12, 2011

Stall bedding materials have become increasingly expensive and difficult to find. This situation has prompted many dairy producers to search for more feasible alternatives such as sand or 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 as it presents some challenges related to manure management. So, what about recycled manure solids? Is anyone making it work in the Midwest? There was no research or survey we could find. As a result, Adam Husfeldt (my graduate student) and I went ahead and conducted an observational study in 38 dairy farms in Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota, and Iowa that were using solids for bedding freestalls. We wanted to find out what management practices and bedding characteristics were associated with bulk tank SCC and, at the same time, evaluate animal welfare in these operations.

We documented various aspects of herd management including how solids were obtained and managed, what were 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. Our goal was to collect as much information as possible during the farm visit and from records throughout the year. In the end, 23 variables were used for our analysis of their association with bulk tank SCC. Four farms could not provide SCC information, so they were not used in the statistical analysis. The following are some results and observations:

In conclusion, excellent cow preparation at milking time, sanitation of milking equipment, cow hygiene, adequate dry cow housing, and bedding/stall management appear to be critical in maintaining a low SCC when using manure solids for bedding and making it work!

We sincerely thank all the dairy producers who participated in our study and colleagues Jim Salfer, Jeff Reneau and Kevin Janni for their input.

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