There are benefits to cattle having access to a bedding pack as compared to animals laying on snow or frozen ground.
When bedding is provided, animals stay cleaner. Straw or shavings absorb urine, feces, and mud. Granted, it requires the bedding material to be replenished on a regular basis, this practice reduces the risk of pathogens from the feces and urine being on the haircoat and udder of animals. This is especially important just prior to and during calving. Calves can be contract various diseases when nursing off a dirty udder.
When a hair coat becomes wet and or dirty, heat loss to the environment increases. This changes the lower critical temperature of the animal. They cannot withstand the cold as efficiently as an animal with a clean hair coat. When temperatures are below the lower critical temperature, additional energy (heat) must be generated to stay warm. This is accomplished by animals consuming more feed which increases the amount of heat produced during digestion. There is a limit to the amount of additional feed an animal can consume. Fat can also be mobilized by the animal to generate heat. This reduces body condition. Fat is an insulator which helps keep the animal warm, so the mobilization of fat only compounds the need for more energy to keep warm.
Cows laying on frozen ground are less comfortable than laying on a bedding pack. This reduces the amount of time the animal ruminates which decreases the amount of feed that can be consumed. Pressure on joints or on bones can increase the incidence of lameness. More problems with hair loss, and knee injuries are also noted when no bedding is used. Bedding provides a cushion between the animal and the hard surface.
When snow starts to melt and the ground thaws, this is a critical time to provide bedding. Heat loss from a wet or dirty hair coat is higher compared to a dry clean coat. More energy is required for the animal to stay warm. This takes energy away from milk production. Cows laying on the ground can have coccidiosis spores attach to the udder. When calves suckle, these spores can be ingested which results in sick calves.
Even though straw is more expensive this year, it is a good investment to improve animal performance and help prevent sickness in the herd.
For more information, contact Barry at 403-741-6032 or firstname.lastname@example.org.