Compost bedded pack barns offer cow comfort, higher production

MACOMB, Mo. – Happy, healthy cows give more milk.
Southwestern Missouri dairy farmers find that cows housed in compost bedded pack barns are healthy, happy and produce more milk, says University of Missouri Extension dairy specialist Ted Probert.Bedded pack barns are structures used to house livestock by continually adding new bedding to the living area. Large, open-air bedded barns provide comfortable resting and walking areas instead of individual stalls and concrete alleyways typically used in freestall operations.

Probert says southwestern Missouri’s many sawmills give livestock owners an ample supply of finely ground sawdust for packing. The sawdust provides livestock with soft, safe resting and walking areas. Livestock operators till the sawdust, which contains animal waste, and it builds into compost over time.Sawdust prevents foot and leg injuries commonly associated with concrete and hard dirt surfaces, Probert says. Compost bedded pack barns tend to create less odor than other manure storage systems. Farmers clean barns once or twice yearly and apply the nutrient-rich material to cropland.

Cow comfort is king, Probert says. Most farmers equip their barns with curtains that lower during rain, snow and windstorms. Ceiling or side fans circulate air and cool cows. Some barns have sprinkler systems to cool cows during periods of excessive heat. The barns allow animals to walk freely to feeding, watering and grazing areas.

These barns offer great value at a low cost, Probert says. He says cost sharing for pack barns is now available through the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s EQIP program. For more information, go to nrcs.usda.gov.

One southwestern Missouri dairy producer received advice on compost bedded pack barns from numerous MU Extension specialists, including Probert, Joe Zulovich, Bob Schultheis and retired dairy specialist Barry Steevens. They guided Mountain Grove dairy producer David Gray through the decision-making for his pack barn. Gray Family Dairy includes David, wife Rhonda and three children.

Gray says he has seen improved milk production of 15-18 pounds daily per cow since building his 60-by-140-foot pack barn in 2014. His entire 78-cow Holstein herd has access to the barn. Gray uses sawdust from area sawmills for bedding. He tills the compost daily and spreads it on 55 acres of cornfields used for silage twice a year. “We’ve seen a big benefit in organic matter and fertility,” he says. Gray’s barn features large overhead ceiling fans that cool cows and ventilate the barn. He raises or lowers side curtains as temperatures change. Lights are on a timer. They provide extended “daytime” for cows. Research shows that this increases milk production.

He also has seen lower somatic cell counts, a main indicator of milk quality. Milk buyers pay higher prices for low herd SCC. Buyers also refuse to buy milk with levels above targeted amounts. Cows also eat more when comfortable, Gray says, and his herd has increased feed intake significantly. Increased comfort reduces feed intake lags during heat stress. Cows also have ready access to feed in nearby feed barns.

Gray notices other signs of improved cow comfort. He sees fewer foot injuries, and improved udder and teat health. Their relaxation level is so strong that he is sometimes unsure if cows are relaxing or dead when he walks into the pack barn. Another benefit is improved heat detection. Comfortable cows and better footing improve mounting. Producers can better monitor breeding because animals are located in a central area. Cows are free to roam to other areas but they return to the pack. “What do they choose? They choose to go to an open gate but they choose to come back to where the comfort is,” Gray says. The barn provides comfort for dairy herd owners too, he says. He sleeps better on cold winter nights knowing that his cows are not lying on snow-covered pastures.

For more information on compost bedded pack barns, contact Probert at 417-547-7545 or probertt@missouri.edu, or dairy specialist Reagan Bluel at 417-847-3161 or bluelrj@missouri.edu.


Women in Dairy


Missouri Holstein cow produces nearly 24 gallons of milk per day
Owner 'grazes' the bar with quality forage.

Source: Reagan Bluel, 417-847-3161

MOUNT VERNON, Mo. –  Missouri Holstein Dezi is a moo-ver and a milker.

The Lawrence County cow outperforms most of her regional counterparts, producing just short of three times as much milk per day, says University of Missouri Extension dairy specialist Reagan Bluel.

Dezi, owned by farmer Karl Wilke, churns out 201 pounds of milk per day. That’s the equivalent of about 24 gallons—15 gallons more than the average Holstein.

The 200-pound-plus achievement through peak production is not uncommon in dairy states, but it is rare in Missouri’s Ozark region. “She’s a superstar,” says Bluel.

Dezi’s efforts earned her nomination as the Missouri Holstein Association Cow of the Year. The winner will be named at the Heart of America Expo, Jan. 19-21 in Springfield. More than 500 producers from 15 states plan to attend.

Bluel says Wilke uses solid dairy management practices to achieve outstanding herd performance.  

Wilke is “graze-ing the bar” for other dairy producers by growing and feeding quality forage. “They do a phenomenal job of putting up great forage,” Bluel says.

Wilke feeds Dezi and the rest of the herd corn silage and high-moisture cereal rye bales – 60 percent moisture – and pastures the herd on cereal rye. There is no alfalfa in the Wilke herd diet. Wilke says he quit growing alfalfa after the 2012 drought and bought it for a few years when fertilizer prices increased. He saw some production loss but profits increased.

Wilke also uses the services the Dairy Herd Improvement Association testing and record-keeping.  Bluel also points out that Wilke studies and then amends management based on the results of DHIA tests and records.  

Dezi was born and AI-bred on the Wilke farm. As a first-lactation heifer, she showed promise, Bluel says. The 5-year-old is being flushed to maintain multiple offspring.

A bred heifer is scheduled to freshen this fall to carry on the cow family name. Wilke is eager to see if she will shine among her peers in the 165-head herd. He hopes her genetics will carry on to her progeny. Third-party testing confirms her milk for protein and butterfat quality.

Dezi feeds on partial mixed ration and is turned out to graze on rye. Part of her superb performance may be attributed to rains in the fall of 2015 that created optimum lush pastures.

Advantages of feeding a partial mixed ration (PMR) include more uniformity in nutrients reaching the cow and therefore less disruption of rumen function, Bluel says. Supplementation allows for an improved control of dry matter intake and reduced rumen digestive problems. “When supplementing pasture with PMR, the rumen is prepped for dietary changes to continue to support lactation even when the pasture gets short,” she says.

Research at Penn State University shows that grazing cows supplemented with a PMR had higher milk fat and protein, better body condition and produced 8 pounds more milk per day than those not fed a PMR.

Wilke and his parents moved their dairy operation to Missouri from Wisconsin in 1979. Missouri’s milder climate appealed to them. Wilke family members have been dairy farmers since coming to the United States from Germany in the 1860s.

Wilke family members are strong supporters of MU Extension education. Karl serves as president of the Lawrence County Extension Council. His family donated some of the foundation heifers in the University of Missouri grazing herd.  

Wilke believes in passing along his dairy knowledge to MU Extension 4-H members and others. He provides scholarships for 4-H camp and offers to host dairy judging clinics at his farm. Wilke helps 4-H dairy judging teams prepare for competitions. “He is someone who always asks how he can help others and our activities,” says 4-H youth development specialist Karla Deaver.

Wilke, Bluel and others interested in the southwestern Missouri bovine phenomenon plan to follow Dezi and her offspring.

“You pour your heart and soul into your passion for milk production,” Bluel says. “Day in and day out, there is never a dull moment. Every once in a while, there is the unexpected in the herd. The outlier cow that makes you proud. Those are the moments—those are the cows—that keep you passionate about your love of making milk.



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