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His Dairy Cows Love Living On "Compost"
If you want clean, contented cows, try putting them on compost.
Just take a thick layer of sawdust, add cattle urine and manure, and stir twice daily.
"It's just an ideal environment for cows," says Minnesota Extension Educator Vince Crary about "compost pack" dairy barns that have a layer of compost on the floor rather than rubber mats, sand, or other such materials.
"It's a lot less work than cleaning stalls," says Kevin Goeden, Wadena, Minn., who recently remodeled his old tie stall barn into a milking parlor and built a 48 by 128 ft. loafing shed next to it. The floor of the shed is covered by a layer of compost. He spends 10 minutes twice a day on his skid steer stirring it up.
The stirring is what separates the compost pack idea from the traditional use of litter. The manure and urine mixed in with the bedding raise the temperature and make the compost work, killing bacteria and breaking the material down. When litter is added, it's okay to miss a stirring or two, but after that, stirring twice a day is crucial. Good ventilation is also important to keep the bedding dry to prevent bacteria from growing on the surface. Goeden's shed, for example, has 16-ft. walls. The bottom 4 ft. is made of treated lumber. The top section has clear curtains that can be opened or closed, and the roof has a 12-in. peak opening.
While rice hulls and other litter materials may work, sawdust seems to be the best material so far, according to University of Minnesota studies. It heats up faster and is easier to stir. Goeden tried chopped straw, but it kept plugging his digger a tool attached to the front of his skid steer that he made by welding cultivator tines to a frame.
To start, a 1-ft. deep layer of material is spread on the floor. More is added as needed. Goeden adds a semi-load about every two weeks for his 80 cows, when he notices that they seem dirtier. The size of the building and number of cows determines how often sawdust should be added.
Cleaning schedules also vary from operation to operation. Goeden plans to clean out his shed spring and fall. The compost will be spread on crop fields for fertilizer. Other producers clean their sheds once a year.
During the summer, Goeden puts his cows in paddock pastures, but they will also be able to get into the building for shade. He'll open the curtains for good ventilation and add fans if necessary.
Comfortable and clean cows are the main benefits of the system. Because of that and reduced stress levels, U of M reports suggest that Somatic Cell Count levels may drop. The soft floor also has obvious comfort benefits for cows' legs, and there are fewer lameness problems. Many people say that compost bedded barns smell better than most barns.
The pack also seems to be warmer. Goeden explains that he finished his shed late in the year, around Christmas. It took awhile for the bedding to begin composting and he had some problems with freezing. As he kept stirring it and areas thawed out, he observed how the cows crowded in certain areas to lay down. Eventually the whole floor began composting and the cows spread out. On cold days steam rises from areas where cattle are moving.
Goeden recommends starting the compost bed a couple of months before freezing weather begins.
After just a few months with his new barn, Goeden is pleased with the results.
He's milking more cows in the same or less time. Chores are faster. His cows are cleaner. The new building was less expensive than conventional loafing sheds, and if he ever gets out of dairy it will convert easily to another use.
Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Vince Crary, Extension Service, P.O. Box 250, New York Mills, Minn. 56567 (ph 218 385-3000; email: crary002@umn.edu).

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2005 - Volume #29, Issue #2