Compost bedded pack barns as a lactating cow housing system for the Southeast
A compost bedded pack barn is a lactating dairy cow housing system consisting of a large, open resting area, usually bedded with sawdust or dry, fine wood shavings. Bedding material is composted in place, along with manure, when mechanically stirred on a regular basis. Recently, the popularity of compost bedded pack barns has unquestionably increased in the Southeast (at least 80 compost bedded pack barns have been constructed in Kentucky. Because of warm climates, the compost bedded pack barn fits the Southeast particularly well. Galama (2011) suggested that compost bedded pack barns fit within goals of sustainable agriculture because of benefits to the cow (space, rest, exercise, and social interaction), the farmer (low investment, labor-extensive, reduced manure storage costs), and the environment (reduced ammonia and greenhouse gas emissions, odor and dust emissions, reduced energy consumption). Producers report reduced incidence of lameness and improved hoof health resulting from greater lying times and a softer, drier surface for standing. Cows may be more likely to exhibit signs of estrus because of improved footing on a softer surface, leading to improved heat detection rates. Compost bedded pack barns reduce the need for liquid based manure storage systems and provide producers with the option to economically transport nutrients in a dry, concentrated form to areas where there is an off-farm demand for nutrients. The initial investment costs of a compost bedded pack barn are lower than for traditional freestall or tie-stall barns, because less concrete and fewer internal structures (stall loops, mattresses) are needed, This system represents a viable entry option for smaller, start-up dairies. Proper composting increases the bedding temperature and decreases the bedding moisture by increasing the drying rate. Keeping the top layer of bedding material dry is the most important part of managing a compost bedded pack barn. The pack should be stirred at least two times per day. Stirring is typically accomplished while the cows are being milked, using various types of cultivators or roto-tillers. Poor management may lead to undesirable compost bed conditions, dirty cows, SCC, and increased clinical mastitis incidence. Proper management of compost bedded pack barns includes facility design, ventilation, timely addition of fresh, dry bedding, frequent and deep stirring, and avoidance of overcrowding.
housing, cow comfort, compost bedded pack