While cows clearly prefer sand as their first bedding choice, recycled manure fiber is an option for those dairies unwilling or unable to convert to sand.
A study of 38 Midwestern dairies (in Iowa, Minnesota, South Dakota and Wisconsin) shows that recycled fiber is a viable bedding alternative. Marcia Endres, a University of Minnesota dairy and animal welfare specialist, and Adam Husfeldt, one of her graduate students, compared recycled manure fiber bedding with sand in deep-bedded stalls and on top of mattresses.
What they found surprised them: Lameness, hock lesions and hygiene scores on deep-bedded recycled fiber were comparable to sand and better than mattresses. "If you have tons of recycled fiber, why use mattresses? Deep beds are better," Endres says.
Cows on deep recycled fiber had a lameness prevalence of about 16% compared to 21% on mattresses. Severe lameness was less than 5% on the fiber compared to 7% on mattresses. Hock lesion scores were also lower on recycled fiber: 47% versus 64%. And severe lesions were less than half: 6.6% compared to 15%.
with recycled fiber are the cleanest cows I’ve seen," Endres says. Somatic cell counts (SCCs) in the recycled fiber herds averaged 275,000 cells/ml.
Herds that used digested recycled fiber averaged slightly less: 268,000 cells/ml. Herds using "green" fiber were slightly higher—290,000 cells/ml—although there was no statistical difference between digested and green fiber.
"It is a common thought that using recycled fiber will increase SCC. Not necessarily," Endres says. "However, excellent cow prep in the parlor is a must when using recycled fiber since there is greater exposure to bacteria in the bedding."
Endres recommends storing recycled fibers under roof. Those left exposed to the elements are wetter, compact more in stalls and can have higher bacteria counts when they heat up.
She also notes that walking surfaces can be slightly slick or filmy when recycled fiber is used. But this might have an unintended benefit: Cows need to be allowed to walk slower to and from milking, which seems to result in less splashing of manure on teats and udders.