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Control what’s growing in your bedding

Stephanie Jens, Renato Schmidt and Bob Charley for Progressive Dairyman Published on 31 March 2019
Dried manure solids

Using dried manure solids for bedding is becoming more common among U.S. dairy herds. It allows farms an alternative way to handle manure, and it can help offset bedding costs – a large expense on many dairy farms.

Although dried manure solids can be a great alternative bedding, there are certain challenges that must be managed. Below are a few known challenges farms must consider when using dried manure solids:

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  • Moisture control is key: Moisture in bedding can potentially be correlated to the population of pathogenic bacteria able to grow within the bedding. More importantly, wetter bedding has been known to stick to the teat more than drier bedding, making the parlor prep routine critical.

  • Correctly manage bedding for cow health: If not managed properly, this type of organic bedding material can be a “hotbed” of bacterial growth and potentially lead to an increased risk for environmental mastitis. Bacterial numbers tend to peak around 24 hours after the delivery of bedding, so bringing in fresh materials daily has potential to control negative population spikes.

Managing manure solids

There are six main tips for properly managing dried manure solids in stalls.

  1. Daily grooming: Removing feces and urine from the back of stalls is necessary to help control bacteria growth within bedding. In turn, this will go a long way toward controlling somatic cell count (SCC) and environmental mastitis cases. Do not groom too deep.

  2. Milking prep: Teat cleanliness is of the utmost importance to control environmental mastitis. Ensuring your milking prep routine is set up to remove all bedding from the teat is vital.

  3. Adding new bedding on a regular basis: There is little research on the most effective delivery schedule for new bedding. Farms typically add new bedding once a day up to twice a week. To decide on the best approach for your operation, test for normal bacteria counts within your bedding and determine a range where SCC and mastitis cases remain under target levels.

  4. Monitor bedding moisture: Dry bedding is better in terms of bacteria growth. Be sure to monitor trends if wetter bedding is delivered.

  5. Monitor pathogen counts in bedding: It has been suggested pathogenic bacteria numbers should remain below 1 million colony-forming units (CFU) per gram, but there is limited research to back this number up. More work needs to be done to determine whether bedding bacteria counts play an important role or if the management of these populations in bedding material is more important.

  6. Bedding treatments: Some bedding treatments, when used as directed, can help control bacteria and allow producers to get the most from their bedding choice.

Choosing bedding treatments

Currently, there are limited options for treatments for organic bedding materials. In general, there are three types of choices. The most common are lime-based treatments used to help control moisture and bacteria counts. However, there is very little information on the beneficial impact of the addition of lime to help control pathogens within bedding.

The duration of effect is limited, generally around 24 hours. Therefore, lime needs to be applied daily to bedding to be most effective. In addition, lime can be a hostile ingredient to handle directly and should be applied with caution.

Another treatment option is chiloptilolite, or zeolite. This is a natural-occurring volcanic mineral that has been used as an anti-caking ingredient in feed additives, for example. It has been used in many different aspects on dairies, including lagoons and composting.

Chiloptilolite has been shown to decrease ammonia gas production by retaining nitrogen in the form of ammonium. This type of product will also absorb moisture from the surrounding environment. Similar to lime, the duration of the effect may be limited, and the product needs to be applied regularly. Clinoptilolite is another type of zeolite, which works in a similar fashion.

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A third type of bedding treatment is newer to most dairy producers: application of beneficial bacteria. Producers have used this type of technology in silage making and animal nutrition for years to optimize microbial populations, although it is only recently this technology has been applied to the animal environment – particularly in bedding materials like dried manure solids or other organic bedding.

We know these organic types of bedding provide an ideal environment for growing bacteria. Creating a favorable balance of beneficial bacteria in the microbial population within the bedding can help provide a safer environment for the animal while also maximizing the agronomic value of the bedding and improving the handling of the material once it reaches the manure pit.

Compared to other bedding treatments, bacteria-based options should be able to self-sustain for a time off the nutrients within the bedding and likely allow for longer durations between treatments. The right bacteria can help retain more nitrogen, limit ammonia gas production and control or decrease moisture release within the bedding by allowing for a reorganization of organic matter within the bedding.

Putting bedding management into practice

There are a lot of steps involved in the best use of dried manure solids in bedding. There are alternative treatment options that can help, but these alternative treatments may not have any impact if bedding is not managed properly on the farm. Day-to-day management will set the tone for what types of – and how much – bacteria will be able to survive. Once basic management is under control, consider an alternative treatment to further manage your bedding and provide value beyond the stall.  end mark

PHOTO: Dried manure solids are growing in popularity as an option for bedding. Good day-to-day management and the application of bedding treatments are ways to control bacteria levels. Staff photo.

Renato Schmidt has a Ph.D. in animal nutrition from University of Delaware and is employed by Lallemand Animal Nutrition, North America as a forage products specialist. Bob Charley, forage products manager with Lallemand Animal Nutrition, has a Ph.D. in applied microbiology from the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland.

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References omitted but are available upon request. Click here to email an editor.

Stephanie Jens
  • Stephanie Jens

  • Territory Business Manager
  • Lallemand Animal Nutrition
  • Email Stephanie Jens

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