Slurry from a 500 cow dairy unit in West Sussex may be recycled and used for bedding in an effort to cut costs and increase cow comfort.

By February this year, a Storth mechanical separator may be installed on the Heaselands Estate near Haywards Heath to compress moisture out of the slurry to create what’s known as green bedding. The dry material will be used to replace sawdust on cubicle mattresses and the liquid part will be spread on the land as fertiliser.

“This will be one of up to 50 farms using recycled manure solids – or green bedding – across the country,” said Charles Burgoyne, who manages the herd. “Dairy herds across the country have had milk price reductions of up to ten pence per litre in the last six months. If they don’t constantly innovate in this way and others, they will go out of business.”

At Heaselands Estate, the cattle have been bedded with sawdust on top of cubicle mattresses. But the mattresses are wearing out after ten years, and the decision has to be made to replace them like for like with mattresses and sawdust on top or remove the mattresses and go for a green bedding system. Currently, some £30,000 a year is spent on sawdust.

Slurry for the green bedding is free, and DEFRA will grant aid the new system for 35% of its capital cost. In addition, the saving on sawdust will give an almost 100% return on capital in the first year.

Green bedding can be produced overnight using cheap rate electricity and should be used the following day to prevent any build up of pathogens. Twice a day, the cows’ area and bedding will be scraped and cleaned and returned to the slurry lagoon so the whole process can start again. “Our vet is happy with the principle of the system,” said Mr Burgoyne, who emphasised that the dry matter had to be at 30% or less and the bedding should be continuously layered using a mechanical box spreader so that the product is always dry. “DairyCo is to continue research which up to now has shown no significant difference between the cell and bacteria counts in this and other bedding systems,” Mr Burgoyne added.

He appreciated there may be some consumers who think there may be a risk of cows picking up disease from green bedding. But he pointed out that cows stand in their own slurry anyway and other bedding systems are associated with disease such as mastitis. “The impetus behind this entire system is increased cow comfort and driving out further cost from the business in an ever more competitive global dairy market.”

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