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N.L. project eyes peat bedding for dairy cows

Federal tax dollars will back a research project to see if peat moss will fit dairy farmers’ needs as a source of bedding for their cows in Newfoundland and Labrador.

“We are exploring opportunities to use Newfoundland and Labrador’s abundant peat moss supply as a more affordable and potentially healthier alternative to traditional bedding materials such as sawdust that are becoming more expensive and difficult to find,” Defence Minister Peter MacKay said in a release Wednesday.

An eight-month project, to see if peat can meet the industry’s standards for dairy cow bedding and whether it could be economically viable in the province, will get $203,000 through Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s Advancing Canadian Agriculture and Agri-Food (ACAAF) program.

The Newfoundland and Labrador Agri-Adapt Council delivers ACAAF funding in a province which boasts “large reserves” of sphagnum peat moss.

Measuring cleanliness

The project will track the health of the dairy cows and the effectiveness of peat moss as bedding material by measuring udder cleanliness, hock sores and bedding coliforms.

Peat moss can hold up to 12 times its own weight in liquid and can absorb about four times more ammonia than some traditional bedding, all of which may contribute to better air quality for workers and cows, the government said in its release.

Furthermore, the government said, peat moss has already been “successfully used” as dairy cow bedding in other parts of the world. A team of farmers from Newfoundland and Labrador recently visited Finland to see how peat moss is used as a bedding source. Methods of harvesting, handling and storage of peat moss were also observed, they said.

The Dairy Farmers of Newfoundland and Labrador have picked three farms for the project: one on the west coast, one in the central region and one on the east coast of the province.

Dairymen’s choices of bedding material are important, the government said, because a cow typically spends 40 to 60 per cent of its time in a barn lying down.

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