Cow lying on green bedding© Andrew Bailey

Green bedding could be banned in two years’ time unless research is completed to plug gaps about the possible risks it poses to cow and human health.

DairyCo commissioned a scoping report into the use of recycled manure bedding last August to investigate its effect on udder health, but results failed to demonstrate any positive or negative effect.

Defra ruled there was insufficient evidence to rule out its use in the UK and implemented a two-year moratorium in England and Scotland to allow more evidence to be gathered.

In the interim period farmers are still allowed to use green bedding, providing they comply with prescribed management rules. One of these is that it must be dried to 34% dry matter or above.

In the UK it is estimated there are between 50-60 users of green bedding.

But the Welsh government has banned the use of green bedding, on the basis that researchers were unable to demonstrate there was no risk to human and animal health.

Speaking at the British Mastitis Conference, Sixways Stadium, Worcester, Andrew Bradley from the University of Nottingham, a principal researcher in the scoping study, said there was a real risk green bedding could be banned in the UK.

“In two years’ time it is possible [farmers] won’t be able to use the solids as bedding.”

Although they would still be permitted to use it for slurry separation to reduce storage capacity, he conceded.

“One would surmise Defra would say no because there are too many uncertainties.”

As part of the scoping study, clinical mastitis and somatic cell count data was collected on 10 UK farms using Recycled Manure Solids (RMS). Samples of total bacteria counts taken from bedding were similar to other bedding materials, but results failed to demonstrate any real negative or positive effect on the use of RMS as bedding.

“We weren’t able to show significant differences, probably because of an inadequate number of samples,” explained Dr Bradley.

Although bedding plays an important role in mastitis control, he said there was a shortage of evidence in the UK and other countries to show how bedding materials affected udder health.

 “We don’t understand risk pathways from existing bedding, let alone RMS.

“There’s no clear evidence to suggest RMS bedding is associated with deterioration in udder health.”

He said the was a “massive lack of research” and it was therefore critical to address these uncertainties.

Dr Bradley urged UK users of green bedding to come forward and help by providing evidence for further study.

 “What’s important now is current users engage with researchers so we can make an assessment.”

Researchers need to find 40 farms using green bedding so they can assess its use in comparison to an equal number of sand and sawdust users.

The study, commissioned by DairyCo last October, will aim to establish the risk that each bedding poses to sub-clinical and clinical mastitis and samples will be taken of the bulk tank to relate it back to the bacteriology found on bedding.

It is hoped it will provide a greater understanding to inform the legal position and investigate management techniques to mitigate potential health risks.

Farmers willing to take part should contact the Dairy Group or Quality Milk Management Services (QMMS).