Ohio State University Extension Fact Sheet

Ohio State University Fact Sheet

Community Development

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Myths About Using Newspaper Bedding for Livestock


Patty House
Jacqueline LaMuth

This fact sheet, one in a series, reports data from a study that examined newsprint as an alternative bedding material for farm animals. The study was funded in part by the Ohio Department of Natural resources, Division of Litter Prevention and Recycling.

The study addressed newsprint with black ink and examined the supply of newsprint in Ohio, as well as the effects of the paper as bedding and its absorption and decomposition. The bedding was evaluated in terms of management and disposal, animal behavior and aesthetics.

For the purpose of the study, the newsprint bedding was shredded into small bales. Evaluators commented on the ease of use, stall maintenance, storage and disposal of the newsprint. They also observed animal behavior such as grazing on the newsprint, grooming of the animals and insulation qualities. The general appearance of barns and fields were qualitatively assessed as to dust levels and stall and barn appearance.

Ohio daily newspapers used 330,000 tons of newsprint in 1991. Nineteen percent, or 62,700 tons, contained recycled fiber. The potential exists for more newspaper to be recycled in the form of chopped or shredded bedding for animals. Newspapers have been used by veterinarians and animal shelters for years with domestic animals. However, there is a growing interest in using newspaper with animals such as cows, horses, sheep, pigs and poultry.

This fact sheet will address some of the myths of using newspaper as animal bedding. This is not meant to be a detailed educational piece, but one to get you thinking about the potential of using newspaper bedding in your area. Either as a farmer or a consumer, you could have a great impact on helping reduce the amount of paper that reaches our local landfills.

Myth #1: Newspaper is a New Idea for livestock Bedding

Using newspaper for animal bedding and/or as a feed substitute is not a new idea. In the late 1960s, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and several land-grant universities conducted experiments using paper with animals as a dietary supplement and for bedding.

Even when favorable results were documented, newspaper did not become a popular bedding material like other conventional bedding such as straw, sawdust, shavings and peanut hulls. Paper use was minimal because conventional bedding prices were generally low, with large amounts of straw and sawdust available in a readily usable form.

In the mid 1980s, paper was again considered for animal bedding. The large volume of paper on the market and the decline in availability of conventional bedding because of dry weather increased interest in paper as a bedding material. The wet spring of 1992 made farmers consider it once again.

Myth #2: Newspaper Bedding Costs More

In New York and Pennsylvania, shredded and baled newspaper commonly sells for $10 to $75 per ton. Farmers use paper bedding both from a centralized processing center and on-farm processing.

While the price for newspaper may fluctuate, it generally stays below the price of other bedding materials, and when the higher absorbency of shredded newspaper is factored into the price, paper is very competitive. Another economic benefit to all citizens is the reduction of newspaper reaching landfills.

Recent legislation requires counties to reduce the amount of material being placed in landfills. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency statistics show that newspaper accounts for 6 percent of the solid waste stream in landfills. Developing ways to permanently divert newspaper from landfill disposal can lower this figure.

Myth #3: Newspaper Bedding is Less Absorbent

In an Ohio State University study, the absorbency of conventional beddings and newsprint were compared. Chopped and shredded paper were used to determine which size provided greatest absorption. Newsprint chopped between 2 " x 3 " and 6" x 6" absorbed more water than the shredded paper. Newspaper is two to three times more absorbent than all other conventional beddings.

Myth #4 Newspaper Ink is Toxic to Animals and Humans

One major concern for livestock producers and consumers is the safety of livestock bedded on newspaper containing inks. Until 10 years ago, lead, cadmium and other toxic heavy metals were commonly used in paper inks.

Now, however, most publishers use organic pigments. Most of these pigments are the same as those used in tattoos, lipstick, hair coloring and other cosmetics.

You may have seen the "soy ink" symbol on a newspaper, which tells the reader that the newspaper company is using soybased inks for printing. Soy inks are derived from soybeans, one of Ohio's largest cash crops.

A Pennsylvania State University study of beef steers bedded on newspaper for 140 days revealed no detectable traces of heavy metals in the blood or liver tissues of the animals. It was noted that the paper used was primarily "blackon-white" newsprint and contained a very limited amount of colored inks. Cornell University researchers fed pelletized newspaper at rates of up to 10 percent of the total diet to dairy cows and found no significant risk to human or bovine health.

The newspaper industry has made great efforts to generate a non-toxic waste stream. Printed matter from advertising inserts, catalogs and magazines, however, is not subject to the same voluntary controls of ink quality. Unregulated paper products for bedding of animals that provide meat and milk should be used with caution.

Myth #5: It Takes More Newspaper Bedding to Keep Animals Clean

Compared to other forms of bedding, less newspaper is needed to bed on a daily basis. A comparative study in Pennsylvania with dairy cows revealed a need for 28 Ibs./ day of sawdust compared to 4.2/ Ibs./day of chopped newspaper.

Cleanliness scores were also given to cows on this trial showing that cows bedded on sawdust were only slightly cleaner than those bedded on newspaper. The average scores for an eight-week period were 2.7 for sawdust and 3.1 for newspaper. The scale used 1 for very clean and 5 for very dirty.

Myth #6: Machinery is Not Available to Do On-Farm Processing of Newspaper Bedding

Bedding machines that are capable of processing newspaper as bedding are available, but careful considerations must be given to:

  1. the type of animal housing;
  2. the output of the machine;
  3. the power required to operate the machine;
  4. the amount of fuel required to run the machine; and
  5. the actual bedding time.

The following machines have excellent potential for on-farm processing according to Pennsylvania State University agriculture engineers:

Myth #7: Newspaper Bedding Does Not Decompose

We have read stories about old newspapers dug up from a landfill that were still completely readable. Well, that is not true for newspaper used in livestock bedding facilities and then applied to fields. Newsprint tends to decompose rapidly when it is saturated with livestock manure and applied to farmland at normal rates.

Barn management practices will determine, to a great extent, the amount of exposure of bedding materials to animal manure. In lagoon systems, paper bedding was observed breaking apart within six hours; in pack barns, paper bedding is virtually indistinguishable before removal, according to an Ohio State University study.

Myth #8: Newspaper Bedding Looks like Litter in the Barn

Conventional beddings like straw have become an expected visual component of barns and fields. Paper, in the same use and amount, is often viewed as litter. Management practices for use of newspaper as animal bedding must incorporate efforts to control excess paper. Allowing paper bedding to be further incorporated into manure may prevent problems when applied to land.

As newspaper bedding becomes more widely used by farmers, it will be viewed less as litter and more as "environmental bedding." Farmers have always prided themselves on being good stewards of the land and continue to grasp new technology to assure economic and environmental efficiency for their farming enterprises.

Myth #9 Newspaper Bedding is a Greater Fire Hazard than Other Bedding Material

Fires are often the result of carelessness. Reported cases of fires in barns using chopped newspaper are the same as for other bedding material. The common scenario has been a freshly bedded barn ignited by a spark from a welder, electric dehorner, space heater or another tool, which resulted in a fire. Make sure you have a water hose connected to a water source nearby. Water is the best fighter of paper and wood fires (Class A fires).

Regardless of the type of bedding, you should follow these simple guidelines:

Myth #10: Newspaper Bedding Causes Animals to Slip and Be Fearful

The type of bedding used by livestock producers is typically not the culprit in animals' unsureness. Slick surfaces in barns and trailers can cause animals to slip and fall, especially in wet weather. Consider selecting surfaces that provide better footing or adding matting for cushioning and safe footing regardless of bedding type used.

Animals are a lot like people and are fearful of new situations and changes. Introduce newspaper bedding in combination with other bedding, gradually converting to total newsprint. It can be helpful to have bales of newspaper bedding setting around for animals to see. Animals typically adjust like people to change, given the opportunity, time and patience.

All educational programs conducted by Ohio State University Extension are available to clientele on a nondiscriminatory basis without regard to race, color, creed, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, gender, age, disability or Vietnam-era veteran status.

Keith L. Smith, Associate Vice President for Ag. Adm. and Director, OSU Extension.

TDD No. 800-589-8292 (Ohio only) or 614-292-6181

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