Ask us: Your Cows Live on What?
Welcome to "Ask us" -- a series of posts designed to answer some of our most frequently asked questions. It took over an hour to get to the nearest dairy farm from the house I grew up in. While the local nursery had a few goats and the occasionally pig, animal agricultural was very distant from where I grew up. My life has changed significantly in the last decade and I now boast skills like being able to milk a cow, drive a tractor, and bottle feed a calf. When I go home to visit, I get asked some really interesting questions. I thought I would take a crack at answering some of those questions here
Cows can be housed in any of a number of different ways. When one thinks of a dairy farm, one most often pictures a tie-stall or stanchion barn. When we started milking cows, that was the type of barn that our animals lived in. A more modern way to house cows is in a free stall. This type of barn allows cows free movement between the feed bunk and their stalls. An alternative way to house cows is in loose housing; we chose this final way --specifically a composted bedded pack barn -- because it fits with our management objectives very well.
We chose a bedded pack barn for a number of reasons
- it boasts of spectacular cow comfort: the animals can lie down just about anywhere and the time they spend on concrete is limited
- the housing is relatively low cost since we don’t have to invest in individual stalls and the infrastructure that goes along with the stalls
- the housing is flexible because we aren't putting infrastructure into the barn. Down the road we can choose to convert to a different style of barn or use the barn for a different type of animal without having to do serious retrofitting
- the pack composts the manure for us and allows us to hold onto nutrients until the optimal time for field application. Nutrient management is so critical to the health and well-being of a farm.
A composted bedded pack barn is actually really simple. We have a feed alley where the cows are able to access their food and the rest of the barn consists of a lounging area. Twice a day we add bedding to the lounging area and aerate the pack to encourage microbial activity. The pack is dry and clean, but underneath there is some serious composting going on.