Are You Managing Your Pack Barn Correctly?

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Compost-bedded pack barns give producers the ability to maximize cow comfort by offering up more room for animals to move when compared to traditional freestall facilities. This style of housing may also reduce manure storage costs and space, and save in labor and manure handling, according to the University of Minnesota.

However, if not managed correctly, these barns can cause costly health issues such as mastitis, lameness and even respiratory problems.

In the May Virginia Dairy Pipeline, Gonzalo Ferreira, an Extension Dairy Scientist for Virginia Tech University, asks producers these questions to help them better evaluate pack barn bedding materials.

“My best recommendation is for one to walk around the barn and experience the footing,” Ferreira says. “When you do so, are you walking on an irregular surface full of holes and hard bumps? Are you noticing tracks of tractor wheels on the ground? Are you stepping on saturated spots? Most importantly, are you uneasy when walking around your compost-bedded pack barn? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then very likely you are having trouble managing your compost-bedded pack barn.”

If you notice that your bedding material is not up to par, Ferreira offers up these tips:

  • Keep bedding material as dry as possible. This can be accomplished through aeration which can be done using a rototiller, a vertical plow or chisel, or any other tool combining these actions. 
  • Consider switching out the material you use. Different types of bedding materials can be used in compost-bedded pack barns with the most common being wood shavings or sawdust, although wheat or rye straw can also be used.
  • Think about starting from scratch. If bedding materials really start to turn south, it may be time to start over. This may mean emptying the barn and placing a fresh pack about 12 to 18 inches deep. After this, maintaining good aeration will become critical to maintain a dry, warm, and fluffy bedding that ensures a comfortable environment for the cows. 

For more on compost-bedded pack barns, read:

 
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