Most good cow people will tell you that a comfortable cow will rest in a lying position 14 to 16 hours per day. This part of the cow’s time clock is often spent ruminating and resting between milkings and feedings. It’s critical to milk production and often one of the first things to suffer when pens are overstocked or weather causes cows to be uncomfortable lying down.
A recent study conducted in Italy considered the differences in cow health and comfort between two types of bedding: wheat straw and poplar wood shavings. The group focused on comparing the cleanliness of the beds and comfort of the cows resting on them.
The study was conducted in a tie stall barn, and the researchers consider the results most applicable to that housing system.
During the study, 38 lactating Holstein cows in mid-lactation were housed in a tie stall barn where they were divided into two groups and provided 7 kilograms per stall of either wood shavings or wheat straw.
The study only lasted 10 days, so no production or milk quality differences were found, but there were differences in cow cleanliness and bedding microbial level.
Cows housed on the wood shavings were marked cleaner throughout the study, while the used bedding was found to be higher in microbial content. Cows on wheat straw were dirtier, but the used bedding had a lower microbial content. The researchers concluded that the wood shavings had lower moisture levels than the straw, explaining those differences in cleanliness.
Straw-bedded cows appeared to be more comfortable based on the behavioral benchmarks set by the study. Cows on the straw bedding had a higher sleeping frequency and greater dry matter intake, which were both considered signs of cow comfort.
The researchers concluded that both bedding types were acceptable for tie stall housing, but more broad data collection would add insight for use in other housing environments and with other levels of bedding inclusion.
While this study is a small microcosm of what happens in a dairy barn, it is an important reminder of the role of bedding and its effectiveness in cow comfort and health. No matter the bedding utilized on your farm, these same benchmarks can be used to identify good bedding use on your farm. Dry bedding, clean cows, and low incidence of udder-related cow health issues indicate bedding that is doing its job — keeping cows dry, healthy, and comfortable.