|Sand bedding offers a potential $125/cow advantage over other stall surfaces, suggests a
Evidence is mounting that cows housed in deep-bedded sand freestalls are outperforming cows on mattresses.
The differences can be dramatic. In a survey of large Wisconsin free-stall herds, cows on mattresses had an average Transition Cow Index (TCI) of –675 lb. while cows on sand had a TCI of +560 lb.
TCI, offered by AgSource DHI, is the difference between expected production and the actual first test 305-day projected milk for each individual cow. Every 1,000-lb. increase in TCI equates to about 1,270 lb. of milk production over a lactation, a 2.4% decrease in herd turnover rate and a modest increase in pregnancy rate by 150 days in milk.
When these differences are translated into dollars, a 1,000-lb. increase in TCI equates to $122 more income over feed cost. So the 1,235-lb. difference in TCI between mattresses and sand can equate to $150/cow/year for sand mattresses, says Ken Nordlund, a veterinarian with the University of Wisconsin–Madison vet school.
But simply using sand is not the be-all and end-all, says Nigel Cook, Nordlund's colleague. "Because sand is so forgiving, it is often said that the cow may compensate for failures in stall design, such as inadequate space,” he says. "I used to agree—but we have seen too many improve-ments in production and health in sand-bedded facilities when other stall design improvements have been made.”
Stalls that are 44" or 45" wide and 66" from the back curb to the brisket board simply are not large enough for mature Holsteins, Nordlund says. For prefresh mature cows, stalls should be 50" to 52" wide and 9' to 10' in length to provide adequate lunge space.
The big benefit from sand actually comes with lame cows. Cows need at least 12 hours of lying time per day to optimize rumination and milk production. In the Wisconsin studies, cows on sand—even lame cows—got their 12 hours of lying time. Cows on rubber crumb-filled mattresses averaged less than 11 hours per day.
"The reason for this is twofold,” Cook says. "First, there are 42% fewer lame cows in sand-bedded freestall herds, and second, lame cows stand longer in mattress stalls.”
In deep-bedded sand, the cow's weight is dispersed over a wide surface of the rear hooves. On mattresses, the weight is concentrated at the tip of the hoof claw on a solid surface. The pain makes cows avoid lying down.
"As a result, we see an extension in standing time per day and a reduction in the number of visits to a stall per day,” Cook says.
There are more benefits to sand: a 20% reduction in somatic cell counts and 17% fewer cases of clinical mastitis. Along with more milk, these improvements can help finance barn conversions to sand, Cook says.
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