Tom Barley tries to give his fresh cows “the best of both worlds.”

He offers them a choice between free-stalls and bedded pack. That way, “a cow that needs the room gets a chance to have it on the bedded pack,” he says. Yet, about 40 percent of the cows end up choosing free-stalls.

Barley, co-owner of the 1,050-cow Star Rock Dairy in Conestoga, Pa., says it is probably cheaper to build a barn like this because only one row of the three-row barn has to be outfitted with free-stalls. But, having a bedded pack in the remaining portion of the barn is more expensive to maintain than free-stalls, he acknowledges. The sawdust-bedded pack is maintained on a daily basis to keep it dry and clean. 

He believes the tradeoff is worth it from a cow-comfort standpoint, especially during the critical post-calving period.