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Cattle Bedding and Food Safety

April 29, 2014
BT Calf Snow Winter 2
Food safety relies on livestock bedding more than you would think.  
 
 

Food safety relies on livestock bedding more than you would think.

By: Heidi Carroll, Livestock Stewardship Extension Associate, SDSU Extension

When most people think of farm animals, a picture of Old MacDonald’s Farm likely comes to mind with fluffy, bright yellow piles of straw in and around a barn. Cattlemen may look at bedding as just another chore along with feeding, watering, and doing health checks that promotes the well-being of the animals to grow and produce high quality food. However, some people may be wondering, does this on-farm chore have any influence on the safety of the meat products produced by cattlemen?

What materials are used for bedding cattle?

Bedding can consist of different materials that are suited for the specific facility design (open lot, confined barn), environment and climate (hot, cold, wet weather), and production level of the animals (pregnant cows/newborns, feeder cattle). Some typical bedding materials include:

  • Straw (wheat, oat, other small grains)
  • Corn stocks or stover
  • Hay (usually low quality that is less palatable, avoid mold)
  • Saw dust or wood chips/shavings
  • Soybean residue or stubble
  • Sand or dried compost
  • Newspaper (usually shredded)

In South Dakota, straw, corn stocks, and hay are the most widely used bedding materials by beef producers. Wood products may be used more in areas that have easy access to the by-products of the forestry industries or with show stock since the cattle are less likely to eat it. Sand or dried compost and newspaper is used less often by beef producers. Availability and the manure hauling options of the operation will influence which type of material a cattleman may choose for bedding. A cattleman must also consider the comfort, bacteria/fungi growth potential, moisture holding capacity, and the cost of the bedding.

Why do cattlemen bed livestock?

Bedding provides a soft area for animals to lay that encourages rest and helps to maintain overall health and production. It also cushions the animal from the ground or floor of a barn to protect its joints. During cold weather, bedding provides insulation to the cold snow and ice and thus helps to keep cattle’s maintenance energy requirements lower. Dry bedding is important to protect newborn calves from harsh weather conditions that rob them of necessary energy to develop and grow up healthy. Most importantly, bedding helps to absorb urine, feces, and mud to keep it off of the animal’s coat and provide a healthy environment for the animals to live. Keeping urine, feces, and mud off of the animal’s coat does two important things for the cattle 1) maintains the insulation capacity of the coat to keep the animal warm in cool, wet weather and 2) maintains good hygiene that reduces the amount of bacteria and pathogens on the animal’s hide.

Does providing bedding have benefits to the safety of the meat purchased by consumers?

Bedding allows the animal to stay cleaner and maintain less manure, urine, and mud on the animal’s hide. This is important because pathogenic bacteria exist in the feces, manure and mud that could be transferred to the meat products during harvest. The transfer of pathogenic bacteria may occur when the hide is being opened or during the hide removal process. With increased mud and manure on the animals coat there is a greater opportunity to transfer microorganisms and pathogenic bacteria to the carcass. Therefore, any on-farm practice that will help the animal stay cleaner helps ensure safe meat products.

What happens at the packing plant to ensure meat safety?

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