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Veterinary Handbook Contents

7.2 Bedding And The Manure Pad

Bedding is used to absorb moisture on decks and reduce humidity. It also provides comfort and traction for the livestock, improves air quality and reduces coat contamination. Suitable bedding material for use on livestock export vessels must be portable to enable loading, storage on board and distribution between decks to the pen areas. It must be absorbent, of a particle size that is suitable for pumping through the bilge, and not compost when mixed into the manure pad. 

The manure pad forms over the top of the ship’s flooring in pen areas. It is comprised of bedding material and a build-up of faecal matter, urine and environmental moisture. Urine and faecal matter will blend with the bedding to form the manure pad, and in most environmental conditions the ship’s ventilation system draws moisture out of the pad allowing a firm to tacky layer to develop. For cattle on medium to long-haul voyages, the manure pad may require removal by washing the decks. Sheep produce less liquid waste than cattle, (and wetting sheep in warm-hot conditions has adverse health and welfare implications) therefore the manure pad on sheep decks is maintained for the duration of the voyage. The stockpersons, veterinarian and ship’s crew will be required to ensure that the provision of bedding and the management of the manure pad provides a suitable layer of material between the livestock and the ship’s floor. 

Routine pen inspections will include assessment of the manure pad in all areas of the ship. Thought must be given to the following factors when considering the management of the pad:
  • Moisture content - dry and dusty, firm, tacky, high moisture, sloppy or flooded.
  • Depth of the pad.
  • Components - i.e. contamination with fodder waste may lead to composting and heat production.
  • Flooring - abrasiveness or traction of the ship’s flooring beneath the pad.
It is unlikely that the manure pad will be uniform across the whole ship as various factors will influence the depth and composition of the pad and will affect how the pad must be managed. Of the many variables that affect the manure pad, the most important are:
  • Stock density.
  • Stock type - heat tolerance, size, age and agility, coat length, pregnancy.
  • Water consumption – especially in hot conditions when stock drink more water and produce more urine.
  • Feed intake.
  • Water leaks and drainage issues.
  • Ventilation or Pen Air Turnover (PAT) – speed and direction of air flow.
  • The presence of kickboards and walls around pen areas.
Although sheep decks are not washed down, it may sometimes be necessary to hose the manure pad lightly in dry, dusty conditions. A dusty manure pad affects air quality and can cause ocular and respiratory irritation. The pad should only ever be hosed down if it can be done without wetting the livestock and consideration is given for up-coming weather conditions that may lead to excessive pad moisture later in the voyage.