Bed Pack Management - Thoughts for Consideration

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Written by: Heidi Doering-Resch, M.S. Form-A-Feed Beef Technical Services and Allison VanDerWal, Form-A-Feed Summer Beef Intern

As Midwest cattle producers, we are faced with all types of weather conditions. With many producers raising cattle in confinement settings, the weather brings a challenge not only for managing cattle but bed packs as well. Whether it is a hoop or mono-slope facility, different seasons bring different challenges to managing bed packs. The decision to have a deep or shallow pack, how much to bed, how often, and how it can affect performance are all concerns and questions producers have.

Let’s start with pack depth. Both shallow and deep packs have their advantages and disadvantages, but how do we decide what pack to use, and in what situations are they most beneficial? There are a lot of factors to take into consideration when analyzing bed packs.

Temperature and degree of dryness of the pack are two major concerns. When it comes to pack temperature, it was found in a study by Iowa State University that as pack depth increases so does the temperature of the pack. Deep pack bed temperatures in the winter can reach over 118 degrees F -  a cozy situation when cattle are looking for comfort and warmth. Those same deep packs in the summer can reach over 105 degrees F - maybe not so cozy when cattle are trying to cool themselves from the heat of the day. When considering cattle comfort, those cattle will be less likely to lie down in the summer if the pack is hot, resulting in cattle that tend to congregate near the perimeter of deep packs which is likely due to the increase in pack temperature. This results in a wetter perimeter and an increase in lameness and ammonia concentration in the pens. When trying to get cattle to gain, the goal is to get them to eat and then go lay down. If the pack is too hot in the summer, they will congregate at the parameter and not lay down, affecting your overall performance and health. You need to be aware if your pack is out of condition. Keeping up with a bedding schedule is just as important in the summer, as the winter months.

Shallow packs may be the best options for summer conditions if one cannot stay on a consistent bedding schedule to keep deep bed packs in condition and dry. However, we realize that challenges with manure hauling are also a reality in the summer months. Cooler pack temperatures and the likelihood of a drier environment allow cattle to stay healthier and more efficient during the summer months. Whether it’s a shallow pack or a deep pack, the overall goal is a dry pack.

A potential argument for shallow packs in the summer is for decreased bacterial count.  As expected, as temperature increases, E.coli populations in the manure can also increase. Likewise, bacteria that is associated with causing foot rot and hairy heel wart like wet or damp environments. Many of these bacteria, after they are introduced to a facility, never leave but can be controlled with good management. If packs stay dry, the bacteria will stay more dormant. In wet or even damp conditions the bacteria can thrive increasing their populations and making it easier for bacteria to enter a small foot abrasion and spread. If packs are not maintained, you may see an increase in foot pulls, a lowered response to your vaccination protocol and lowered potential dry matter intake.

How much to bed and how often can be an issue as well. Sometimes to try and save bedding costs producers don’t bed enough or don’t believe in bedding in the summer months. However, keeping packs dry can be a challenge not only in the winter months but the summer months as well. Rain as well as humidity can cause packs to become wet and sloppy. If cattle appear to have a lot of tag, are wet hided due to wet manure packs or even struggling to walk to the bunk, producers can expect a negative impact to feed efficiency. A study in North Dakota found that cattle who were not bedded gained about a pound less than those who received bedding and cost about 20 cents per pound more to feed. They also noticed that the heavier bedded cattle graded higher percent choice and above.

Bed-pack management can be a very time consuming and repetitive chore; however it is very important for a producer’s bottom line as well as cattle comfort both during winters cold and summer’s heat. It is important to keep pens and packs dry with adequate bedding regardless of the season.  Don’t forget to ask your Form-A-Feed consultant questions regarding bed-pack management and what is best for your facilities!