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Test your top bedding with these three questions

Amy Throndsen and Scott Hartwell for Progressive Dairyman Published on 15 February 2018
cow on mat in freestall

Top bedding can make or break cow comfort, cleanliness and milk quality, but the materials used to top stall surfaces are not created equally.

The goals of an effective top bedding on a mattress or waterbed are to reduce the bacteria and moisture that can wreak havoc on vulnerable udders and to provide comfort for the resting cow. Before sprinkling that next scoop of bedding in a stall, consider whether it is helping or hurting the cow.



Just grab a handful of bedding and ask yourself these three questions:

  1. Do any sharp objects poke your hand?
  2. Is the top bedding wet?
  3. How much top bedding is on the bed?

1. Do any sharp objects poke your hand?

When you squeeze a handful of bedding, does it hurt your hand? Chances are if it is poking you, it also feels sharp to the cows, particularly to the udder and teats. Being poked by the top bedding might irritate her pressure points or be a nuisance for the cow, and that may be causing her unnecessary stress.

Depending on the material, there may be a simple solution. Perhaps straw can be chopped finer, or the sawdust provider can provide a different grade with fewer rough particles or a different wood source.

2. Is the top bedding wet?

Some materials like paper mill byproduct or dried manure solids are inherently moist and may put your cow at risk of bacterial exposure. You should ask your paper mill supplier if you are able to get a drier product. If you are using dried manure solids, check with your separator supplier to see if your machine is performing correctly or if you can adjust the settings to get drier manure. If the bedding is excessively wet or soiled after it’s in the stalls, examine stall setup and protocol. What is the maintenance procedure to keep the stalls clean and dry?

It’s also possible the problem is in the stall design. Check cow positioning within the stall. Is the neckrail positioned correctly? Are you using a brisket locator? Is there something wrong with manure management, such as a broken scraper or skid steer? Are stalls being maintained to your standards? Don’t spend time, money and energy improving top bedding if there are other reasons stalls are not clean and dry.


Click on the table below to view it in more detail.

Bedding pros and cons

3. How much top bedding is on the bed?

Steve Adam, a cow comfort, behavior and well-being expert with Canadian organization Valacta, often tests bedding surfaces for softness with an impact tester. He notes the “volume of bedding depends on the softness of the stall base, although I don’t recommend no bedding.” He says producers on farms he visits in Quebec usually add 2 to 4 pounds of bedding per stall, per day. “If it’s a hard rubber mat, producers need more than that,” he adds.

Besides the hardness of the surface, consider why you are using that amount of top bedding. Are large and small cows together in the same pens? If so, then small cows will have more space to move in the stalls, and that means that they’re likely to make the stalls messier. In this case, more top bedding may be needed to dry up the added moisture in the stalls. Do you have a reliable and consistent supply of top bedding? If so, you may choose to use more because supply is not a concern. Are mattress covers ripped or has the foam layer started to pack? If mats are no longer providing adequate cow comfort, add more top bedding to provide additional comfort.

If you’re using top bedding simply for drying the stall surface, look at the amount of bedding, frequency and type of bedding to see if there’s any place to make adjustments without impacting cow comfort.

Just like every decision made on the farm, there are pros and cons to the different types of top bedding available for mattress and waterbed stalls.  end mark


Amy Throndsen
  • Amy Throndsen

  • Director of Business Development
  • Advanced Comfort Technology Inc.
  • Email Amy Throndsen
Scott Hartwell
  • Scott Hartwell

  • Regional Sales Representative
  • Advanced Comfort Technology Inc.

PHOTO: Staff photo.