Planning ahead for winter bedding

Now is the time to work out how much straw you will need for bedding and feeding over the winter in a worst-case scenario and calculate whether there will be a deficit.
calendar icon 28 June 2021
clock icon 2 minute read


Planning ahead to secure any straw requirements or to seek alternative good-quality bedding options for the winter months is crucial.

Alternative options, such as sand, sawdust, woodchip, crushed husk, waste paper or calcium carbonate, can reduce the dependence on straw. But all bedding materials require careful management to provide optimal lying conditions and to maintain animal health and welfare.

A good bedding material should be comfortable, non-abrasive, highly absorbent of water and urine, non-slippery and low in environmental bacteria. It is important to ensure that any bedding material has been screened to remove contaminants, such as nails, metals, glass and plastic, that could cause injury. It’s also worth re-examining materials even if they have passed through a magnetic process.

Alternative options can present different management challenges. When choosing a new bedding material, make sure it will keep your animals dry and clean, maintain a healthy environment and provide a comfortable, safe bed. When deciding how cost-effective a bedding material is, make sure it produces manure that can be applied to land and can be composted. It is also important to make sure the material is compatible with the farm’s slurry system.

Deep sand can be used in cubicle housing to provide a soft, comfortable and dry lying surface. Sand can also be used in deep litter yards, instead of straw, and as surface bedding material. Applying a layer of sand beneath the straw bedding will aid drainage to keep straw drier.

Whichever material is chosen, these top five tips can help reduce the amount of bedding required:

  1. Store bedding in a dry place.
  2. Ensure buildings are well-ventilated to eliminate moist air and help keep bedding dry.
  3. Ensure no water from gutters and water troughs gets onto bedding.
  4. Passageways should be scraped regularly to reduce the occurrence of muck and slurry being transferred onto cubicle beds via the cows’ feet.
  5. Keep cubicle surfaces dry and remove any soiled or damp bedding twice daily.

Products that must not be used for livestock bedding include poultry litter, gypsum, recycled rubber and woodchip produced from treated timber.

Further details are available at AHDB Bedding options.

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