Studies show that a layer of bedding between beef cattle and the surface where they lie improves performance.
However, the materials used for the bedding is more a matter of what materials are available in the area in which the livestock are raised than a research science-based decision, said Julie Walker, South Dakota State University Extension livestock specialist in Brookings.
“It’s using what you can get at the most economical price — that is the bottom line,” she said. “Much of the bedding in eastern South Dakota is corn stalks.”
That’s because there are a lot of corn fields in the area and cattle producers have easy access to them.
Other plant-based bedding options are wheat, oat and other small grain straw, soybean residue and poor quality hay, according to an SDSU Extension livestock research study. The study was conducted by Keith Underwood, former SDSU Extension meat specialist, and Heidi Carrroll, former SDSU Extension livestock specialist and beef quality assurance coordinator.
Non-vegetative options are sawdust or wood chips and shavings, sand and shredded newspaper, Carroll’s and Underwoods’ study said.
The manure hauling systems of the cattle operation also will be a factor in the decision of what kind of bedding to use, the study said.
Using bedding is particularly important for all cattle and particularly bulls, Walker said.
“We don’t want frost damage to their scrotums,” Walker said. Damaging the scrotum has potential to cause reproductive issues, she said.
Meanwhile, cows, especially those with calves, need a bedding layer to protect their udders from frostbite, Walker said.
It’s also important to use bedding for cattle that will be sold for slaughter. The bedding protects the castle from manure, urine and mud that can get attached to the hair coat and create “tags,” the SDSU Extension research showed.
Dirty hair coats reduce the insulating capacity of animals, which means that they will be more susceptible to heat and cold.
The tags and unclean hair coats contain feces so it’s also important from a food safety standpoint that the animals’ coats are clean. Otherwise the bacteria may be transferred to meat products during slaughter.
The more mud and manure on the cattle, the more chance for the transfer of the pathogens and microorganisms, the SDSU Extension study said.
Besides improving food safety, bedding provides a warm area for animals to lie and encourages rest. The bedding also cushions the cattle from the outside ground or barn floor, protecting their joints.
Meanwhile, during cold weather, bedding insulates the animals from snow and ice, reducing their energy requirements, SDSU Extension.
The thickness of the bedding is not as important as its ability to absorb moisture, Walker said. Farmers and ranchers should ensure there’s enough bedding to protect the cows from wetness when they lie down.
Though bedding down cattle may seem rote for livestock producers, it is integral to maintaining a healthy herd of animals and the individuals who consume them. The on-farm practices that help animals stay cleaner helps ensure safe meat products, the SDSU research showed.
Ann is a journalism veteran with nearly 40 years of reporting and editing experiences on a variety of topics including agriculture and business. Story ideas or questions can be sent to Ann by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org or phone at: 218-779-8093.
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