We know comfortable cows are healthier, more productive cows. We also know the type of bedding we use directly affects cow comfort. However, every farm is unique and no one type of bedding is best for all farms. How do you choose the best bedding for your cows?

Adamsprogar amber
Dairy Management Specialist
Amber Adams Progar was formerly an associate professor and dairy management specialist at Washing...

Obvious considerations include bedding cost and availability, but there are a few less obvious considerations that will help you make the best decision for your farm. Take a look at them below and discover which bedding fits your farm’s cow comfort goals.


One advantage of compost bedding is that it moves with the animal, promoting comfort. Fewer incidences of hock joint lesions for lactating cows were recorded on farms that use compost. Of the five bedding types highlighted in this article, compost is one type that has higher ammonia emissions. A key factor in producing compost appropriately is ensuring it is dry before using it as bedding for your cows.

Rubber stall mats and mattresses

Stall mats offer insulation during cold weather and offer better comfort than straw bedding on a concrete floor. Adding bedding to the top of stall mats increases comfort and attractiveness to the cows. When the stall mats become wet, they are very slippery, increasing the risk of cow injury.

Mattresses are thicker than mats, which increases cow comfort. The number of bacteria on mattresses increase over time, with the highest counts at 36, 48 hours after re-bedding. Daily cleaning and adding more bedding reduces the bacteria count. The percentage of cows with foot and leg injuries is higher on farms using mattresses than farms using deep sand bedding.



Sand is non-absorbent and generally does not contain carbon or nitrogen, limiting microbial growth. It also provides excellent traction and moves with the cow for better comfort. Uniform particle size is required for proper drainage. Sand bedding is beneficial for thermal comfort during hot weather, but cows do not prefer sand during cold weather. This type of bedding requires a manure cleaning system that can handle it.

Sawdust and wood shavings

Using sawdust or wood shavings for bedding requires proper management because wet shavings create an ideal environment for pathogen growth. Sawdust needs to be sifted to ensure no nails or pieces of wood are present, which would decrease cow comfort and possibly increase risk for cow injury. Wood shavings or sawdust bedding, if kept dry, are associated with better cow hygiene. This type of bedding also releases less ammonia than other types of bedding. Stay clear of bedding made from walnut, cherry or cedar because they have been connected to cases of laminitis in dairy cows.


Straw bedding is one of the only types of bedding that provides thermal comfort during cold weather. Similar to all bedding types, straw bedding cleanliness is crucial. When straw is heavily contaminated, it becomes a suitable environment for pathogens. Straw requires more frequent bedding addition because cows scatter it. Both cow comfort and hygiene are high in housing systems with straw bedding, especially loose housing systems.


Low incidences of hock injuries, minimal bedding required and long lifespan are a few of the advantages of using waterbeds. This type of bedding option also maintains a constant temperature. Dual-chamber waterbeds are particularly beneficial because they allow milk and urine to drain, keeping the cows clean and reducing the risk of infection. However, waterbeds require a longer habituation period for cows to adjust to using them.

Many types of bedding options are available, and choosing the best bedding type for your cows can be difficult. I hope the information above will help you consider the key advantages and disadvantages of each bedding, and help you make a decision that makes you and your cows comfortable.