Q. Why is cow comfort important?

A. Cow comfort is important because most dairy producers encourage cows to lie down as soon as possible after eating. “Lying time” improves nutrient utilization and significantly increases the flow of blood to the udder, resulting in higher milk production. Comfortable cows are productive cows!

Q. Are some cow bedding types better than others at encouraging lying time?

A. University studies have shown that cows are more likely to lie on rubber-filled cow mattresses than sand, especially when temperatures exceed 80 degrees. Studies have also shown that cows are also more likely to occupy a stall when it contains a rubber-filled or foam-vinyl cow mattress compared to sand. Sand tends to compact over time, which can result in reduced lying time.

Q. How does cow bedding choice affect milk production?

A.  Several studies have shown no significant difference in milk production between cows bedded on sand and cows bedded on mattresses.

Q. How does cow bedding choice affect somatic cell count (SCC)?

A. Researchers at Colorado State University found cows maintained on rubber-filled cow mattresses or waterbeds had better overall hygiene than cows bedded on sand. They also found no difference in SCC among the bedding types.

Q. What is the association between sand bedding and mastitis?

A. Outbreaks of clinical mastitis have been associated with recycled bedding sand. What’s more, Mycoplasma spp. pathogens have been found to survive for up to eight months in recycled sand bedding.

Q. How much sand does each cow need for bedding?

A. Researchers at Iowa State and Purdue Universities recommend a minimum bedding requirement of 35 lbs of sand per 1,000 lbs of animal weight. That’s about 52 lbs of sand per average 1,500-lb Holstein.

Q. What are some of the challenges associated with sand bedding?

A. Two of the biggest challenges are cleaning and disposing of it. Sand-laden manure must be disposed of using a scrape or flush system; some producers with sand barns are replacing scraper cables annually. Most producers recycle sand by removing solids with slingers or mechanical separators. They may “flame” the surface to kill remaining pathogens, but fire in a barn is never a good idea. What’s more, sand is abrasive. It gets into everything, including bulk tanks, vacuum pumps and washing machines. In the long run, using sand bedding may decrease equipment life and increase maintenance costs throughout the dairy.


  • J.P. Harner, J.P. Murphy, Kansas State University. Handling Sand-Laden Manure. Proceedings of the 5th Western Dairy Management Conference, Las Vega, NV, April 4-6, 2001.
  •  N.B. Cook, et al. A Comparison of Dairy Cow Behavior in Sand and Mattress Free Stall Barns in Relation to Lameness. Proceedings of 13th International Ruminant Lameness Symposium, Maribor, Slovenia, 2004.
  • Thomas Quaife, Roger Palmer. New research sheds light on bedding choices. Dairy Herd Management, May 2002.
  •  A. Justice-Allen, et al. Survival and replication of Mycoplasma species in recycled bedding sand and association with mastitis on dairy farms in Utah. J. Dairy Sci. 93:192-202, 2010.