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Composting Bedded Pack Barns - Q & A

Wayne Schoper

Published in Dairy Star August 27, 2005

Compost bedded pack barn

Compost bedded pack barn

For the past couple of years the composting bedded pack barn has been the talk of the dairy industry in the Upper Midwest . Cow comfort has always been a major issue on most dairy farms and this new kind of barn seems to address this major concern. In fact, it almost seems too good to be true. Dairy producers who have constructed these barns report that cows have responded almost immediately with higher milk production and lower somatic cell counts. They are telling us again and again that these barns really work.

Just a quick review of the compost bedded pack barn concept. It is basically a loose housing type of facility bedded with fine, dry sawdust. The cows rest on the bedded pack between milkings when not at the feed manger. While the cows are being milked, the bedded pack is stirred to incorporate the urine and manure that has accumulated between milkings. Stirring is accomplished by using a skid steer loader equipped with some sort of incorporating tool like a section from an old field cultivator. Manure handling on a daily basis takes very little time, only about ten minutes to stir the pack and just another few minutes to scrape the feed alley where the cows stand when they eat, for a total of less than half an hour per day.

So, is there a downside to this type of facility? It seems too good to be true. The following are some answers to common questions about this new concept in dairy housing.

At present, dairy producers with this type of housing system are spending 35 to 50 cents per head per day. If milking 100 cows, this would amount to $35 to $50 per day just for sawdust. However, this cost will be more than offset with increased milk production and with more longevity for some cows. If the herd average goes up 10 pounds per cow and the milk price is $14 per hundredweight, this 100-cow herd would be adding another $140 per day which would more than offset the cost of the sawdust. In free-stall barn systems, many producers are already spending close to that amount for bedding. So, take into consideration all factors when making a decision on whether or not a composted bedded pack barn is for you.

Adding up all the benefits contained in the answers to these questions along with increased milk production, lower somatic cell counts, and a good environment in which to work, it is easy to understand the enthusiasm for the composting bedded pack barn type of dairy housing that is taking place across the state.

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