Life's a beach for Cornish Dairy Cows

20-100 savings per cow per year are made by Cornish dairy producers using recent advances in welfare friendly cow cubicle division design combined with comfortable Calcareous Seasand bedding.   

The deep sand bed is ideal for the cow and particularly the large arable and grassland based dairy unit.  Where applicable on most Cornish dairy units I would prefer concrete and mats to be taken away and replaced with deep seasand beds. 

Careful building design and attention to specific soil type will allay many a dairy producers traditional concerns about the large-scale use of sand.  Glacial and river sand are the US comfort bedding of choice by extension workers and farmers - rivalled only by well bedded mattress for comfort - but not cost effectiveness.

20 - 100 per cow cost savings

annually are achieved over lime vs. sand manuring and straw vs. sand bedding material. For Cornwall, annual costs of straw purchase (1.5-2t/ cow = 60-80), handling and storage (20/ cow), cannot be withstood in straw yard systems. 

The necessary daily application of 2.5-3kg long straw over concrete or 1.5-2kg chopped straw over mats & mattresses is prohibitive versus a 7-10 day application of Seasand in deep beds and 3 day in shallower beds.  Hock abrasion is non-existent in well-managed deep sand beds. 


Alkaline seasand is not the natural substrate for mastitis organisms to grow.  Nevertheless at the rear end of any cubicle bedding not kept dry & clean bugs will eventually grow. That said seasand does have a head start over organic forms of bedding - straw, sawdust et al.  It is important annually to ensure no hard compacted seasand build up is left at the rear end of the cubicle.

Liming Value

Seasand has a neutralising value (NV) typically 35-45 versus Limestone at 50-55 NV.  Normal Padstow supplies of sea sand in Cornwall are sufficiently fine to allow over a 6-week period the same rise in field pH as ground limestone.  Thus 1.3t Cornish sea sand is equivalent to 1t ground lime.  In Mid Cornwall Limestone spread can be over 20 per t versus sand starting from 8.75/t tipped & spread and 6.50/t tipped for use in cubicles.  Sand is still very competitively priced in West Somerset as a bedding material despite its proximity to Cheddar limestone and cheaper straw prices. 


Most dairy farms should need no supplemental spreader applied sand /lime on accessible fields.  100 cows should use about 120 - 150 tons per winter, (6 - 7 kg per cow per day) - sufficient to maintain lime status on 240-360 acres dependant on artificial fertiliser usage and crop offtake. In many cases A typical dairy units bedding requirement will lead to a rising soil pH on cropped and silage areas. 

Free flowing Glacial or river washed rounded (not sharp) 0 Clay 0 silt sand can be found on farm in other areas of the UK and providing the Organic matter content is very low is suitable for deep sand bedding at higher usage rates of 25Kg per day.  

Concrete bed cubicles 

a 2" lip at the heelstone can help retain sand, but if the rear of the cubicle is not kept clean and dry - mastitis levels will assuredly rise. A mechanical dispenser of sand is preferred to ensure bedding is changed every 3 days or so if sea sand is not the medium used.  A lip can be formed in 2" by 4" rounded cement, chamfered 2" x 3" wood.

If a good 2" layer on the bed is not maintained, hock abrasion and rejection of cubicles will increase substantially. Sharp desert type sand may well increase the problem. Cubicles without a lip will need sand spread every 3 days to maintain a 2" non abrasive comfortable layer.

Sea Sand has been successfully used over roll type mats, but tends to lift of individual mats.

Samples sand can be checked for organic matter, abrasiveness, permeability and stickiness by emailing Dairy Technology Consultant Eddie Bromwell or telephone 01392 832836.

Cubicle & Deep Bed Design

Should be a minimum 5-6 inches deep, no concrete & no fall, A brisket board is essential at 5'6" to 5'10 dependant on cow size measured from the outside edge of the heel stone.

Newton Rigs adapted with an angle grinder & rope are suitable but the headrail needs replacing with a thick tensioned head rope. 


The Hughes Consultancy style rope cubicles must be operated with a head rail or rope. the above diagram is in effect a Newton Rigg type but with all the internal steel cut out.


The Cornish Comfort cubicle if installed over 3'9" wide without brisket board and head rail / rope will be dirty because of excessive sideways movement of cows sideways when lying down.

Cantilevered loop cubicles work well but the design should be one with the bottom rail of the loop more level than angled to the rear as per the diagram attached - but without the 3-4" fall in the bed shown by William G. Bickert Michigan State University  This design is applicable for heavy use of glacial and river washed rounded sand.  

Excess Sea Sand application to land.

With the exception a few well-defined soil types or localities, a soil pH at 7 to 7.5 will not be an issue for a majority of dairying and mixed arable systems.  Indeed farming at high soil pH is practiced regularly without problem naturally and by design in many areas.

Normal liming practice is designed to raise soil pH in an arable mineral soil rotation initially to 7 reducing over 3 or so years to 6.5.  Naturally calcareous soils such as those over chalk, limestone or marine silts albeit mostly absent in Cornwall, typically show a pH above 6.5 - 7+. 

A high arable soil pH need not be considered crop threatening although in well-defined localities crop dependant low cost manganese boron copper or zinc treatments sometimes are required. Crops grown on Sandy or peaty soils can be very sensitive to excess liming.

Soil phosphate lockup at hi pH is only considered to be considered a potential problem in very extensive or organic farming systems.

For potatoes a high pH on calcareous soils can mean disfiguring scab if not irrigated - more of a problem the later the crop is lifted.  Early potato and broccoli rotations require a pH 7+ to prevent club root and sometimes molybdenum deficiency (whip tail in brassicae).  Some fields have grown these two crops back to back since the first steam train in Cornwall.

Cornwall's soils & ground water supplies derived from granite, shale, slate, and sandstone ground rock, are predominantly naturally acidic containing high Iron levels antagonistic to copper absorption by cattle and sheep.  Zinc Copper Selenium and Cobalt herbage levels are at borderline to deficient levels so it is normal to supplement with these minerals in the diet.

An excessive pH in grassland (above 6.5) does little to reduce plant uptake. High protein legumes and clovers take up more trace elements and prefer a good pH and for the most part are to be encouraged. 

Molybdenum, a real problem for fertility is rarely if ever found in critical excess in Cornwall, unlike Teart pastures to the east.     

Dont forget the off lying grazing areas or slopes.

Of lying grazing only pastures need 10-20 Units P and 15-30 K / ac annually - together with approx one third ton seasand (one ton per 3 years) . Annual applications of sanded slurry at 1500 gallons / ac at normal 1/2 dilution (750-1000g neat) will supply sufficient P & K.

Steep slopes are more difficult to cope with.  As a rule cows grazing slopes should not have access to any part of the field which is flat. To reduce poaching, grazing time should be restricted by temporary fence to a few hours before movement to other paddocks / areas. Sand slurry can be pumped by umbilical onto the slope, but for every slope there is a water coarse.  Calcareous sea sand applied in this way can be of great benefit to white clover - essential to maintain a productive palatable hill sward.


Speed of handling

The larger unit copes with a 3-10 day sand filling frequency with the converted Howard 100 rota spreader, or front bucket.  

For ease of handling in tight spaces the AG Engineering Sand Spreader 2300 rear mounted hydraulically driven belt hopper is superb.  

AG Engineering Sand Spreader - For further details click here

For the very large herd the US imported trailed "McLanahan Stall Filler" beds 70 cubicles in 2.5 minutes accurately delivering to 15ft in head to head's.

Slurry Handling

Lagoons: the sand usually separates to a solid bottom layer - it cannot be pumped and must be guzzled or rota spread. I do not know of any UK Slurry Flushing systems in the UK , however for large dairy Herd Management US style Flush facilities are considered a priority for UK conditions complete with a "sand trap" facility,  "sand separator" for reuse of sand, and further solids separator prior to aerobic aeration by "pond mill" ( not by diffuse bubbles)

Tower Slurry Stores usually sediment-requiring side opening and emptying on a 1-3 year basis depending on volume of sand and dilution of slurry. There is much higher wear and tear on pumps - difficult to put a figure on it - but producers tolerate.

Weeping wall pits: - concentration of sand can be such that it cannot be pumped by umbilical.

Slurry Channels:  where yard or gutter water enters the channel,  sand separates & the channel blocks.  Always have removable lids over the entire length of the channel - preferably in weld mesh reinforced concrete.

Umbilical or slurry irrigation systems will usually not handle neat-sanded or drained slurry.   Separation either by long term weeping wall or mechanical separator prior to pumping the liquid fraction resolves this issue.

Parlour Washdowns if running to drains will block, standings are best hosed into the main scraped passages.  In the pit itself, a small mesh grid over the drain will prevent the little sand that enters.


Sand Separation: 

A US innovated sand separator is available for import for reuse of sand.  Designed By Bill Bickert of Michigan State University & Andrew Wedel of McLanahan Pennsylvania it may be applicable on the very large dairy unit seeking to minimise excess Seasand / sand applications or reduce machinery abrasion elsewhere.  Particle size and density of sand source is critical for Mechanical separation.  Sugar bag sized samples can be sent for examination to McLanahan.  


Farmer Contacts: for deep sand cubicles in practice

Martin Whell

Lower Greadow Farm

01208 872749 Fax or Phone


300 cows 8000L ave  mostly deep sand bedded in mostly sleep feed buildings. Bucket loaded sand lagoon store

Hayden Wallis

Penventon Farm
Sand Dispenser from A G Engineering  Click to buy

180 cows 7000L ave in Kennels and Cubicles - deep sand.  Weeping wall slurry - belt driven hopper sand distributor from A G Engineering

Roger Derryman  

Lower Croan

400 cows 9000L in kennels and cubicles - some deep sand some shallow over concrete. Howard 100 filling and lagoon slurry.


Evaluation of Sand for Use in Cubicles

Eddie Bromwell

Dairy Technology Consultant
Dairywise Technology

+44 (01392) -832836 Fax or Phone


Cornish Supplies of Seasand & Lime

David Williams

DGW Sand Company
Hayle & Padstow
Tel / Fax 01736 752191
Mob 07769 711087

Calcareous Seasand is available from the storm swept west coasts of the UK and Ireland.  It should not be a silted sand or  organic matter content above 2% for deep sand beds


UK designed & Built Sand Spreader  

soon with scoop action. List 2250. Rear Tractor mounted gets in every corner - superb machine.

Andrew Garnett  

AG Engineering
Claysbank Farm
WA16 9NE
Tel 01565 722357
Fax 01565 723303

For Sand Augers, Separators, and Cubicle Fillers

Separators start at 11250 List before import / transport charges and Augers 6875.

Andrew W. Wedel, P.E., M.S.

Agricultural Engineer
McLanahan Corporation
200 Wall Street
Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania 16648
814.695.9807 (voice)
814.695.6684 (fax)


Researcher Contacts

William G. Bickert

Agricultural Engineering Department
Michigan State University
East Lansing, MI 48824-1323
Ph: 517.353.8643           
Fax: 517.432.2892  

MSU Website