Sand vs Sawdust: Which is the Best for Cow Bedding?


Posted: November 23, 2009

For dairy producers, making the choice in the type of bedding used in their stalls is an important measure in preventing a variety of illnesses. One of the primary concerns is environmental mastitis which is caused by coming into contact with bacteria that is present in bedding as well as in soil and manure. Dairy cattle are exposed to these bacteria regularly and changes in bedding materials have been made by some producers in an effort to reduce the occurrence of mastitis.

Environmental mastitis costs dairy producers a lot of money for treatment and medication as well as the premature culling of animals. This makes it important to them economically to reduce the occurrence of these bacteria in the stall so that the dairy cattle don’t have the likelihood of contact and the incidence of infection is reduced. One of the bedding materials that has been used in order to eliminate this problem is sand.

Since many dairy producers believe that only organic bedding is likely to support the growth of the bacteria, this has lead to the belief that sand is the answer to the problem. However, its effect on the occurrence of the bacteria and on the teat ends of the cattle have not been well-researched to show that there is a legitimate reduction in the amount of bacteria and related cases of environmental mastisis with the switch to sand in the stall. While this type of research has been limited, there are some results that you can use as a guideline in choosing between sand and sawdust bedding.

Research that measured the number of bacteria in both sawdust and sand bedding focused on the three types of bacteria that are most commonly known to cause mastitis. These included Klebsiella, Streptococci, and coliforms. Since these are the most likely cause of mastitis, there was a greater concern that they are the bacteria present in the bedding of dairy cattle stalls.

The results of the research showed a greater number of the coliforms and Klebsiella bacteria in the sawdust bedding than in the sand but also that there were as many Sreptococci in the sand as there were in the sawdust. The research also revealed a difference in the way the bacteria multiplied in sawdust or sand bedded stalls. With the addition of fresh bedding, the number of bacteria in the sawdust increased for forty-eight hours before it stabilized while there was no detectable pattern for the bacteria that was present in the sand.

In examining the cattle in the research, teat swabs were taken from each cow regularly and researchers found that the results for bacteria closely followed the results found in the bedding. There were more of the coliforms and Klebsiella present in the swabs of cows that were housed in stalls with sawdust bedding than on sand while those from a cow housed on sand would have more Streptococcus on teat ends than those who were housed on sawdust. In addition, once waste built up in the stall, the cow that was in the stall with sawdust bedding would have more bacteria on the teat ends when swabbed while this was not necessarily the case for those in the sand bedding.

As for the milk samples taken from the cow, the bedding in the stall seemed to have no correlation between the bacteria content in the bedding and the presence of bacteria in the milk or in the teat canal. Therefore, there is some evidence that sand used a stall bedding will reduce the amount of some types of mastitis-causing bacteria in dairy cattle but does not show any proven results for eliminating others.

Other evidence shown by the research is that which is already known by most dairy farmers. The more contamination there is from feces and urine in the bedding, the more bacteria the cow will come in contact with. Therefore, keeping the bedding in the stall as fresh and dry as possible is one of the best ways to reduce the occurrence of bacteria and the resulting mastitis. Supplying the cow with a stall that has a rubber mat underneath the bedding can make it easier to clean up and change bedding to help reduce the threat even more.

Take a look at our cow stall mats and cow mattresses.