Debate Continues on Value of Compost Barns for Dairy Cows

MOUNTAIN GROVE, Mo. – The value of housing for dairy cows has been a frequent topic of discussion over the years. Some believe a low cost, low input production system (like blue sky housing), will lead to a more favorable bottom line than a system that invests in an expensive housing structure.

An opposing philosophy is that an investment in a barn for cows is a good one that will solve many herd management problems and result in increased profitability.

One thing has changed in dairy cow housing in recent years that may impact this discussion according to Ted Probert, dairy specialist with University of Missouri Extension.

“The introduction of bedded pack compost barns to our industry is a game changer. A compost bedded pack barn is a housing system that consists of a large, open resting area that is bedded with wood shavings or sawdust. These barns differ from traditionally bedded pack barns in that their management includes mechanically stirring the bedding on a regular basis,” said Probert.

Upcoming Tour

David and Rhonda Gray are area producers who recently completed the construction of a bedded pack compost barn for their dairy herd. A field day is planned to give the public an opportunity to look at the facility and learn what it has done for the Gray Family Dairy.

The field day begins at 10:30 a.m., Tuesday, Aug. 25.

The Gray Farm is located at 1167 Hart Road, Macomb. Directions to the farm are: go east of Mansfield or west of Mountain Grove on Hwy 60 to the Macomb exit. Go south on Hwy K 1.4 miles then turn left on Hart Road. The dairy is ahead on the right-hand side of the road.

“Anyone who wants to learn more about compost barns or is interested in seeing one of these barns in use is welcome to attend,” said Probert.

Value of Compost Barns

For the most part, compost barns offer all the same benefits as more traditional free stall barns when these systems are compared to systems without housing. These benefits include improvements in cow comfort, the potential for higher feed intake, improvement in udder health/somatic cell count, and ultimately increased milk production.

Compost barns also offer some additional benefits. Generally speaking they are less expensive and lower maintenance than free stall barns. Even when a larger structure is required for a compost barn, concrete cost can be less, and there are no stall loops to purchase.

“Because manure storage is largely accomplished inside the building, the need for an additional manure storage structure is eliminated or greatly reduced,” said Probert. “Compost barn housing can lead to improved heat detection, and manure value will be increased compared to some other types of waste handling systems.”

Since the interior of the barn is a large open expanse, a compost barn can be transformed into a storage barn for hay or machinery if a producer decides to exit the dairy business or sell the farm.

“One negative with compost barns is that expenditures for bedding will be higher than would be the case for a free stall barn,” said Probert.

Proper management of a bedded pack compost barn is critical to achieving success with the structure according to Probert. Bedding needs to be stirred twice daily. This can be accomplished with a tractor and chisel plow or rotary tiller.

Additional bedding should be added as needed to prevent wetness. Time is required to haul manure, usually twice annually. Good cow prep procedures at milking time are important in a compost dairy barn system.

According to Probert, there are some southern Missouri dairy producers who have installed feeding floors as a part of a waste management program.

“These facilities have addressed the issue of manure handling and have provided a permanent, hard surfaced area of feeding hay, silage or a TMR. The addition of a compost barn may be the next step for those who want to take their herd management to the next level,” said Probert.

More Information

For more information, contact either of these MU Extension dairy specialists in southwest Missouri: Ted Probert in Wright County at (417) 547-7500 or by email at [email protected], or Reagan Bluel in Barry County at (417) 847-3161 or by email at [email protected]