Are compost bedded pack barns are a viable stepping stone for smaller dairy operations for every climate. Is this an option for your dairy farm operation? Learn more about the pros and cons with the latest research from Kentucky U.S.A. using the webinar video. This viewing is highly recommended, with qualified first hand information. 

On December 11, 2012, Jeffrey Bewley and Joseph Taraba from the University of Kentucky led a webinar on the topic of compost bedded pack barns. Throughout the hour-and-a-half long presentation, the presenters covered different areas relating to this type of system, such as the benefits, design considerations and costs.

Click here to view the compost bedded pack barn webinar video.

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The idea.
Bewley explains the idea behind this type of system came from Virginia dairy farmers looking for a different way of managing their animals. The concept of this system is that it provides a loose housing environment where the animals have a large, open resting area and a softer lying surface. At the same time, the system also follows an intensively managed compost process.

It’s important to recognize upfront that the management of the system is the most important part to its success,” Bewley, assistant professor in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences, says.


The research.
He explains that when he first looked into the idea of a compost bedded pack barn system, he was hesitant that it would work for dairy cows. “I’ve changed my mind in the last few years, having worked with farmers that manage this system and manage it very well,” he says. “Like every housing system, it can be managed properly and create a great environment for cows and farmers, but I also think that if it’s mismanaged, it can be a very poor environment for cows.”


Summary of some factors that can contribute to the failure of compost bedded pack barns:

  • Flaws in barn designl
  • Stocking density
  • Inadequate or ineffective stirring
  • Insufficient bedding volume
  • Type of material used
  • Compaction from tractors


Management Considerations.
To start a compost bedded pack, Bewley explains that 1.5 to two feet of bedding are required. The total amount of sawdust used to start a pack will depend on the size of the barn. It’s a significant investment just to get the sawdust in these barns in the beginning, he says.

Bewley recommends for producers to add new bedding every, one to eight weeks, or when the pack starts looking moist. More pack is added when it is wet and during the wintertime, as less heat is generated in the compost in these instances. He explains that the pack should also be cleaned out at least one to two times per year.

“A lot of the success of the barn hinges on the availability and the cost of bedding,” Bewley adds.


Alternative bedding.
Taraba reviewed alternative sources that could be used in a compost bedded pack. Sawdust is one the most commonly used bedding sources due to its ability to absorb more water. Taraba explains that a mixture of sawdust and shavings is ideal for a compost bedded pack.

When stirring the bedding material, Taraba explains that it is better to pull the tillage tool rather that push it, if a front-end loader is used. This reduces the compaction of the bedding and helps avoid lower temperature in the bedding.

“One of things we want to do is generate sufficient heat,” Taraba says. The heat generated in the compost helps dry the bedding, controlling the moisture level of the pack. Three factors that can influence moisture level are the stirring of the bedding, the type of bedding used and the particle size of the bedding. He adds that the pack needs to have a high porosity, in order for the oxygen level of the bedding to sustain the compost process.

Bewley also provided details from a compost study conducted from October 2010 to March 2011 on 43 dairy farms in Kentucky. He explains that feedback received from producers on compost bedded pack barn systems includes that the barns improved cow comfort and cow cleanliness, and that it was a low-maintenance system. PD

Written by PD Editor Dario Martinez
Friday, 18 January 2013

> Click here to view the compost bedded pack barn webinar video.