Bedding is an important source of teat end exposure to environmental mastitis pathogens. To better control environmental mastitis, we need an improved understanding of the relationships among bedding selection and management, bedding bacteria counts (BBC), and udder health (UH). The objectives of this cross-sectional observational study were (1) to describe BBC, bedding characteristics, udder hygiene scores, bulk tank milk (BTM) quality, and UH in US dairy herds using 1 of 4 bedding materials; (2) describe the relationship between BBC and herd measures of UH; and (3) identify benchmarks for monitoring bedding hygiene. Local dairy veterinarians and university researchers enrolled and sampled 168 herds from 17 states. Herds were on a Dairy Herd Improvement Association (DHIA) testing program and used 1 of 4 bedding types for lactating cows: new sand, reclaimed sand, manure solids (MNS), or organic non-manure materials. Each herd was sampled twice (winter and summer) in 2016. Samples and data collected included unused and used bedding, BTM samples, udder hygiene scores, DHIA test data, and descriptions of facilities and herd management practices. Bedding was cultured to determine the total bacteria count and counts of Bacillus spp., coliforms, Klebsiella spp., non-coliform gram-negative organisms, streptococci or streptococci-like organisms (SSLO), and Staphylococcus spp. Bedding dry matter, organic matter, and pH were also measured. Bulk tank milk samples were cultured to determine counts of coliforms, NAS, SSLO, Staphylococcus aureus, and Mycoplasma spp. Udder health measures included DHIA test-day average linear score (LS); the proportion of cows with an intramammary infection (IMI), where infection was defined as LS ≥4.0; the proportion of cows with a new IMI, where new IMI was defined as LS changing from <4.0 to ≥4.0 in the last 2 tests; the proportion of cows with a chronic infection, where chronic was defined as LS ≥4.0 on the last 2 tests; and the cumulative incidence of clinical mastitis in the 30-d period preceding sample collection. Although much variation existed within and among bedding types, mixed linear regression showed the use of MNS bedding to be generally associated with higher BBC, dirtier udders, increased coliform and SSLO counts in BTM, and poorer UH measures compared with organic non-manure materials, reclaimed sand, or new sand bedding materials. While controlling for important farm traits and management practices, mixed linear regression showed that increased counts of coliforms, Klebsiella spp., SSLO, and Staphylococcus spp. in both unused and used bedding were associated with poorer values for 1 or more herd-level measures of UH. Achievable benchmarks identified for counts of coliforms (unused: ≤500 cfu/cm3; used: ≤10,000 cfu/cm3), Klebsiella spp. (0 cfu/cm3 for unused and used), Staphylococcus spp. (0 cfu/cm3 for unused and used), and SSLO (unused: 0 cfu/cm3; used: ≤500,000 cfu/cm3) can be used to monitor bedding hygiene in most bedding materials, with minor variations suggested for SSLO in unused MNS (≤1,000 cfu/cm3).
- bacteria count
- milk quality