Farmer Focus: Swapping sand for mattresses still in progress

As I’m writing this, we are enjoying the second day of sunshine in a row. It’s positively tropical compared with the past five weeks.

The cows have gone out again after spending a few days sheltering from the rain on their new mattresses.

Cow bedding had been a topic of discussion round the breakfast table for a couple of years. We had deep sand beds, which were fantastic for the cows, but once kicked out of the bed, sand became a challenge.

See also: How a 540-cow dairy benefited from recycled bedding

About the author

Tom Hildreth
Livestock Farmer Focus writer Tom Hildreth and family grow grass and maize for the 130-cow herd of genomically tested 11,000-litre Holsteins near York supplying Arla. The Hildreths run a café, ice cream business and milk vending machine on the farm.
Read more articles by Tom Hildreth

I knew we had to do something about the bedding, but did not really want to stop using sand.

I have, therefore, been looking at (and pricing) various sand separation methods – all of which seem either expensive, experimental, temperamental, or a combination of the three.

Previously, two wagon loads of sand were delivered each month. All that came out of the beds went into the lagoon; that is a massive volume of storage taken up by sand.

Of course, the sand that went into the lagoon had to be taken out, so that was a big, expensive job involving a digger, side spreaders, and a towing tractor to assist the spreaders out of the pit.

The tanker needed a wash-out about every 100 loads, as 2-3t of sand would settle in the bottom.

Sand doesn’t suit covered slurry tanks and I think they are going to be a necessity in the coming years, especially as methane harvesting technology becomes more common.

I’m currently bedding with sawdust on matresses now, although the open sheds and blowy days mean keeping it on the beds is a challenge, and I’ll have to look at other options.

When bedding on sand, automation was never really an option. Now we’re able to investigate improving lifestyle for both us and the cows.

Slurry management is top of the shopping list. Twice-a-day tractor scraping is not enough when trying to keep both cows and mattresses clean, so I’m looking into a Lely slurry collector. If anyone has any advice it would be appreciated. Contact