Milk & Money March 27 2014

Article about Cattle Bedding Stalls & Sands by Paul Watkins from The Dairy Farmer
(extract from article written in the 80s! - more emails required please to update us on current practices)

In his article, Paul Watkins said:

My ideas regarding cubicle beds are gaining clarity but the objectives have been clear enough for some time – to keep the cows clean and comfortable while using the minimum quantity of litter.

Many people have found an answer to the first and third of these three requirements by using a flat bed – by which I mean a flat concrete bed without any kerb to retain litter. This type of bed is in use on many farms. The farmers who use it are, in general, very satisfied with it.

I am now quite clear in my own mind. They are exceptionally easy to clean, they require very little litter, and farmers love them. But cows loathe them.

I have not reached this conclusion quickly or lightly, but my observation of cows on this and many other farms leaves me in no doubt. I described last spring how my own cows had shown their overwhelming preference for a lipped cubicle with sand, over a flat bed with a sprinkling of chopped straw.

Then last month in Herefordshire I was in a large cubicle house with lipped, sanded beds in which a trial row of eight cubicles has been concreted with flat beds. All the flat beds were empty, while nearly all the sand beds were occupied. Later the same day, in Shropshire, I saw cows lying in slatted passages rather than lie in flat beds which were thinly sprinkled with shavings, and in my experience a cow will lie on a bed of nails before she will lie on slats.

Finally, a friend in Wales, whose cows were reluctant to use flat concrete beds in a new bank of kennels, tried screwing a hardwood batten on to the timber kerb and bedding with sand and his refuser problem immediately disappeared. All this has been enough to convince me that, while flat beds are clean, clinical and efficient, they are not comfortable for the cows; those worries about swollen hocks were justified after all.

There will be much muttering in the flat bed strongholds, and I am well aware than many highly successful herds use them. I don’t dispute that they can be made to work. All I am saying is that, given the choice, most cows will prefer a bed with a reasonable depth of litter on it. It is not impossible to achieve this with a flat bed, but the absence of a lip obviously makes it much more difficult and much more extravagant in litter.

So what do we do? Do we go back to the old, lipped design with a 3” lip or upstand from a concrete bed? Only, I believe, where the slurry disposal system allows soft sand to be used as litter. Long straw on a lipped bed has to be very well managed to avoid the build-up of dung which gave the design a bad name and which led to the development of the flat bed.

But there are many farms on which sand cannot conveniently be used – for example, where the slurry has to flow along a channel or be pumped up into a tower – and where other considerations make it essential to use as little bedding as possible. In these circumstances, lipped beds would almost inevitably lead to dirty cows and mastitis; in fact, until we started using sand, it was very much what was happening on this farm.

So there does seem to be a need for a compromise design which is easy to keep clean but which retains enough litter to keep the cows comfortable.


Figure 3 shows one solution, which was worked out in collaboration with a farm manager friend in South Wales, and which has been working well on his farm for the past two winters.

Its basis is a wide step on which the cow can comfortably stand and off which dungpats can easily be scraped, but in front of which is a 2” deep depression which holds sufficient litter to make the cows comfortable. The bed is of no-fines concrete topped with a screed, and it has a very slight (1”) slope back towards the kerb.

Cardigan Sand & Gravel would like to add:

Cattle Bedding Sand comprises sub-rounded sand grains smaller than half a millimetre in diameter (to avoid abrasion) and contain less than 10% (normally about 5% by mass) of silt and clay particles smaller than one sixteenth of a millimetre in diameter.

The sand drains quite well and is frequently used as bedding for those cattle being dried off from milking.

Cubicare is essentially the same as Cattle Bedding Sand but with a higher silt/clay content (normally 7-10% by mass). This binds better into the cubicle causing less spillage into the passage. This is our most popular cattle bedding sand, and is for general use..

Cubicare Plus is similar to Cubicare but with an even higher silt/clay content (normally 15-25% by mass) and a small precentage of gravel particles. This bedding was produced in response to demand from those farmers demanding even less spillage from the cubicles in dry managed housing where the beds are kept bone dry and it works well in correctly designed cattle cubicles, subject to weather. When wetted the clay element in Cubicare Plus retains moisture and becomes like porridge. Therefore, this material should ideally be stored under cover before being placed in the cubicles. Belt-feeders and similar dispensing tools have difficulty dealing with damp cohesive materials as they need a free flowing medium to operate efficiently.