Slurry and muck handling

Slurry and muck handling

Muck is obviously an excellent medium for supporting many bacterial and viral species, and particularly those pathogens which cause environmental mastitis such as E. coli, which is present in large numbers in faeces.

Keeping cows and their environment clean is essential in lowering Bactoscan readings, as it is a means of controlling bacterial contamination of milk, but it is also important for general herd health and condition and prevention of illness and disease, particularly when housed.

Good clean bedding for cows is imperative in this respect, as is the choice of housing system:

  • In cubicle-housing systems the frequency of passageway scraping can make a great difference to the cleanliness of the cows and can offer important benefits in terms of improved mobility/reduced lameness and reducing the potential for cows that slip, fall or are pushed by other cows to have their teats and udders heavily contaminated with muck; the fitment of automatic scrapers can improve cleanliness levels - although they need to be maintained for reliable performance - and slatted floor housing systems also offer improvements. Keeping cubicle bedding fresh and frequently removing soiled bedding and muck from cubicle beds are important management points.
  • In yard-based systems, the straw must be kept clean; the whole yard must be mucked-out at least every four to six weeks, and ideally the whole yard should be disinfected when mucked-out. Heavily-trafficked areas around water troughs, doorways and gateways may need more regular attention and should ideally be considered when livestock housing is at the planning stage. Adequate straw needs to be used to top-up the bedding on a daily basis, preferably in the morning when the cattle are being milked. Passageways should also be scraped at the same time to avoid muck being carried back onto the freshly-bedded yard.

In all systems, where passageways are dirty for significant lengths of time, cows are likely to lie down with dirty feet, contaminating bedding materials and risking contamination to teats and udders. All passageways should be scraped at least twice per day.

Collecting yards should be scraped before or after every milking and loafing areas should be kept clean. These areas where cows collect and travel through must drain well to stop slurry pooling and have good grip surfaces. Ideally a collecting yard should have 2m2 space allowance for each cow.

Hygiene scoring is used as a means of measuring the overall effectiveness in the housing and grazing system of keeping cows clean and can indicate problem areas in muck and slurry handling systems.

The material chosen for bedding can itself pose problems for muck and slurry disposal. Large amounts of straw, particularly if not short-chopped, can cause problems by blocking slats and pumps. Sand, while providing the ideal bedding material in terms of cow comfort and welfare, provides particular problems.

Sand - being more abrasive than other bedding materials - will wear slurry scrapers, passageways, slurry pumps and other machinery and equipment used to handle and dispose of it at a much quicker rate and this has to be considered when costing and planning a sand-based system. As it is heavy, the labour required and means to handle it has to be considered, particularly in deep-bed cubicles where requires weekly topping-up. It also does not mix well with slurry, and will tend to settle in storage, so a system whereby slurry stores can be accessed or dismantled for digging-out is ideal. Larger farms, particularly in the US, that utilise sand as a bedding material possess equipment capable of separating the sand from the slurry but the cost of such technology is prohibitive for most UK farms.

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