OSCII Activity D.42

Development of sustainable alternative sources of bedding for dairy cows

Activity summary

One important criterion in choosing an appropriate housing system for dairy cows is that the stall provides a comfortable and healthy surface for the cow to lie down. Stall comfort is essential to promote rest and ensure health and productivity. Bedding plays a key role in stall comfort and hygiene, but it is increasingly expensive and labour intensive, and farmers have tended to reduce their use of organic bedding.

The use of switchgrass as an alternative source of bedding on dairy farms has not been extensively investigated in controlled studies. Non-traditional bedding materials can be much less absorbent and require more material to maintain cow dryness and minimize the exposure of teat ends to mastitis-causing microorganisms. One way to reduce the risk of teat contamination from bedding is to incorporate lime into the bedding. “Lime-straw mattresses”, a mixture of carbonic magnesium lime, chopped straw and water, have been proposed as an animal-friendly and hygienic bedding for cows, but to our knowledge have not been scientifically investigated. Switchgrass has not been tested in combination with lime to form a mattress.

The overall goal of this research proposal is, therefore, to investigate the use of switchgrass in two forms as sustainable, alternative bedding sources for dairy cows that also enhance cow welfare. The first objective will be to determine cow preference for two switchgrass bedding types, compared to straw bedding, used as a reference (control treatment). The second objective will look at the impact of each bedding type on the bacterial contamination of bedding and teat ends, two risk factors for mastitis. In order for a new type of bedding to be considered as a viable alternative to the commonly used organic bedding types, it is essential to evaluate its economic impact. The third objective of the project is therefore to examine the economic impact of using alternative beddings. Most agronomic studies on switchgrass were conducted to explore its potential as an energy source. However, the use of switchgrass as bedding for animals remains, as of today, one of the most interesting outlets for this crop. Given the interest of the community for this outlet, and the lack of technical information available to producers interested in using switchgrass as bedding, the fourth objective of this project is to identify harvesting practices that will optimize the performance and conservation of quality bedding.

The expected benefit of this project is the identification of an alternative, cost-effective source of bedding for dairy cows. This project will lead to recommendations in terms of optimal harvest dates and drying time for switchgrass.

Activity researchers

Name Affiliation
Renée Bergeron, Activity Leader University of Guelph, Campus d'Alfred
François Bécotte Institut de technologie agroalimentaire
Trevor DeVries University of Guelph
Doris Pellerin Université Laval
Philippe Seguin McGill University
Anne Vanasse Université Laval
Elsa Vasseur University of Guelph, Campus d'Alfred