Alternative Bedding and Management of Composting bedded Pack Dairy Barns

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2006: $150,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2008
Region: North Central
State: Minnesota
Project Coordinator:
Jeffrey Reneau
University of Minnesota

Annual Reports


  • Animal Products: dairy


  • Animal Production: general animal production

    Proposal abstract:

    Project Outcomes: Dairy farmers will be provided information to help choose bedding materials and manage the bedded pack in “compost barns”. Other farmers or enterprises will be provided with information that adds value to crop residues or wood processing waste which can be sold to dairy farmers with compost barns. Marketers of compost products will acquire a new material resource for a finished compost product. Dairy farmers and/or potential farmers will gain confidence in the possibility that moderate sized farms with modest investments can flourish economically, environmentally and socially. Approach/Methods, Evaluation plans: Small to moderate sized dairy farmers have been seeking economical and healthful housing for their herds. Innovative farmers in southern Minnesota have developed “compost barns.” They report enhanced cow comfort, reduced lameness and reduced mastitis affecting the cows. Compost barns are similar to loose housing barns that lost favor because of animal health concerns and high bedding requirements. Compost barns differ by utilizing sawdust bedding that is tilled twice daily changing microbial dynamics such that the bedding material partially composts while it is used as bedding by the cows. Saw dust supplies are limited, consequently alternative bedding sources need to be identified for compost farms to become a major movement. We will monitor and survey a sample of successful compost barn dairies and initiate replicated small scale test composts of agricultural residuals and blends of these materials to identify effective alternative composting bedding materials. These materials will be evaluated in a replicated trial in cooperating dairies. Outreach activities include field days, publications, and development of a composting barn website. The project will be evaluated by farmers that adopt compost barns, participation in outreach activities, and acceptance of research through scientific peer review. Summary: Compost dairy barns (CDB) are a new housing option. This new housing system is perceived to improve cow comfort and longevity. There is a need to collect data on cow comfort, health, behavior and bedding management in these facilities. Data are needed on the chemical and microbiological characteristics of the bedding material and air quality. Currently, fine wood sawdust is the primary bedding materials being used. Unfortunately the demand and price has increased. Consequently, producers are interested in alternative bedding sources that may work in CDB facilities. Research is needed in finding alternative bedding materials, particularly crop residues.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Objectives/Performance Targets

    •To assess by surveying farms using CDB what their needs are and experience has been in managing these facilities;
    •To determine using a micro-composting laboratory which crop residue materials possess the necessary chemical and physical characteristics to be prime candidates for use in the CDB;
    •To conduct a pilot study at the Morris West Central Research and Outreach Center with the most promising crop and wood byproduct residues identified by the micro-composting experiments;
    •To extend the use of the most successful alternative bedding to be used by cooperating CDB farms to determine the effectiveness in a commercial setting;
    •To explore the use of the CDB end product as a value added media source for the commercial composting industry;
    •To develop an Extension education program to provide this information to the general dairy farm public.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.