Pitfalls of caring for sand cubicles

Dairy consultant John Hughes is an avid fan of sand – when used correctly it is cheap, easy and hygienic and cows love it.

He reckons the cost of installing new sand cubicles is half that of traditional concrete and straw versions.

But small management mistakes can turn a clean, comfortable bed into a soggy mess, so it is essential farmers get the basics right.

Specially designed sand cubicles are slightly shorter than concrete ones, as sand is softer to lie in, says Mr Hughes.

They are also a third of the price, at £20 a cubicle.

Tyres filled with sand make the base and then 10-12cm (4-5in) of free-running sand is built up over the top of these.

“By filling the tyres with sand they cannot squash or rise up to the surface.”

At the front of the cubicle a 38cm (15in) high concrete pyramid is covered with a bank of sand, to allow the cow to rest her head at the right height for ruminating, he says.

And the front of the cubicle should be banked so it is 12cm (5in) higher than the back.

“You must not neglect sand banking – a lot of cows dig up the front of the cubicle.

When they end up lying downhill they will be uncomfortable, will struggle to get up and cannot ruminate.

Also, you’ve got to keep the heel tread level with the sand, otherwise the cow can’t lift her feet up over the tread, panics and urinates in the sand.

Those are the two most common mistakes people make.”

A sleeper should be placed along the back of the cubicle with a half inch gap to the floor for drainage, says Mr Hughes.

Slurry should be stored in a lagoon, as sand will ruin any other type of system.

“It wears out bearings in pumps and spreaders – you will have to account for that extra cost and it may put off contractors,” he admits.

But sandy slurry is good for clay soil types.

Sand cubicles are the cheapest system on offer for anyone replacing old units, he claims.

Built from scratch, they will be half the price of concrete cubicles, with lower running costs on top.

“And cows kept in good sand cubicles are the cleanest and happiest I have come across.”