Advantages of bedding material for dairy animals

Published on: 9/5/2018
Author/s : Amit Kumar Singh / M.Sc. LPM Scholar, ICAR-NDRI, Karnal, 132001.


In India, current milk production is 163.7 million tones (DADF Annual Report, 2016-2017) Health and welfare of dairy animals is vital to ensure their longevity and long term productivity, to intensify the production, animal production systems are becoming highly mechanized.

In recent years, efforts have been undertaken to improve welfare and overall-health of dairy cows by providing a higher level of comfort regarding the housing environment. Housing system and resting surface have influence on milk yield and reproductive performance as much as feeding and keeping methods in dairy herd. Proper bedding and flooring provide soft area for animals to lay for rest and help to improve their productive and reproductive performance. Dairy cows prioritize resting over other behaviors and cows that are deprived of lying show behavioral and physiological disorders (Munksgaard and Thomsen, 2012).

Importance of bedding material

  •   Used as a flooring material

  •   Comfort to animal

  •   Encourages resting

  •   Contribute to udder health

  •   Contributes to milk quantity & quality

  •   Minimizes injury and fatigue

Types of bedding material


  •    Straw

  •    Hay

  •    Wood shavings

  •    Crop residues

  •    Sawdust

  •    Composted manure

  •    Wood chips


  •    Sand

  •    Limestone

  •    Gypsum

  •    Rubber mattresses

  •    Cement




Bedding material’s characteristics

  •    Particle size

  •    Dimension

  •    Moisture

  •    Availability

  •    Inert

  •    Comfort

Effect of bedding materials on health of animals (Vanegas et al., 2006)

 •    Poorly managed confinement housing can exacerbate the potential for environmental mastitis in milking cows by exposing teats to high levels of bacteria which is present in the bedding material

 •    Organic bedding materials tend to contain higher levels of environmental bacteria than inorganic materials                                                                                                   

 •    Cows kept on concrete also had a higher risk of developing heel erosions and were more likely to become lame, show higher claw growth and wear.

Effect of bedding materials on behavior of animals

 •    Lying is an important behavior for cattle occupying approximately 50% of their daily time budget (Kroh and Munksgaard, 1993).

 •    Cows prefer to lie down in soft beds (Benz, 2009).

 •    The number of lying bouts can be considered as an important indicator of the quality of the bedding material provided (Manninen et al., 2002).

 •    Lying times are lower and standing times are higher when dairy cow forced to use hard surfaces, specifically concrete (Haley et al., 2001).

Daily time budget for lactating dairy animals (Grant, 2007)

 •    Eating 3 to 5 hours (9 to 14 meals/Day)

 •    Lying/resting 12 to 14 hours

 •    Ruminating 7 to 10 hours

 •    Drinking 30 min

 •    Management activities 2.5 to 3.5 hours

 •    Social interactions 2 to 3 hours

Effect of bedding materials on production performance of animals

 •   In lactating animals, blood flow to the mammary gland is increased during lying. The increase of blood flow rate ranges between 24-28% to the udder when animal lying down compared to standing up (Cook, 2009).

 •   Soft bedding like sand bed can lead to improved body condition score, remove stress and that may ultimately improve milk yield (Buckley et al., 2003; Roche et al., 2009).

 •   Some housing types especially those with poor and unhygienic bases or resting surface types, often give rise to udder problems and risk of mastitis which directly effects milk yield (Cook, 2002).

Why sand?

 •   Inorganic materials, namely sand, have been considered the gold standard for bedding material, sand is inert, it can be recycled and (Vaneerdenburg, 2010).

 •   Sand does not support bacterial growth (Bell, 2007).

 •   Sand is also non-absorbent, which means that it does not retain or soak up urine and leaked milk (Gooch and Inglis, 2010).

 •   Bacteria types and counts found in bedding materials have a positive correlation with the bacteria types and counts present on the teat end (Zdanowicz et al., 2004).

 •   Lowest case of mastitis found in sand bedded animals (Bey and Reneau, 2002).

 •   Increased milk yield observed in free stall pens with sand than other type of bedding (Calamari et al., 2011).

 •   Sand bedding reduce development of new cases of lameness (Cook, 2010).

 •   Particle size should be 0.1-1mm and of uniform size (Schoonmaker, 1999).

 •   A depth of 25 cm has been suggested, with complete sand bedding replacement necessary every 12 to 14 days (Cook, 2010).


 •    Cow comfort is an essential management practice

 •    Bedding improves productive and reproductive performance

 •    Bedding material has a high impact on walking and lying comfort of dairy animal

 •    The bedding material used in cow stalls needs to be dry and clean to reduce potential risks for mastitis

 •    Sand is a “gold standard” so it can be used as bedding material

 •    Rubberizing the concrete floor reduce the chances of lameness and improve the reproductive performance 

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