Certified-organic dairy cows (n = 268) were used to evaluate the effect of 2 winter (December to April) housing systems on milk production, somatic cell score (SCS), body weight, body condition score (BCS), and economics across 3 winter seasons (2013, 2014, and 2015). Bedding cultures from the housing systems were also evaluated. Cows were randomly assigned to 2 treatments (2 replicates per group): (1) outdoor (straw pack, n = 140) or (2) indoor (3-sided compost bedded pack barn, n = 128). Cows calved during 2 seasons (spring or fall) at the University of Minnesota West Central Research and Outreach Center, Morris, Minnesota, organic dairy. Milk, fat, and protein production and SCS were recorded from monthly milk recording. Body weight and BCS were recorded biweekly as cows exited the milking parlor. Bedding cultures from the housing systems were collected biweekly. Costs for key inputs and the price received for milk production were recorded for the study period and averaged for use in the profitability analysis. Energy-corrected milk and SCS were not different for the outdoor (15.1 kg/d, 2.64) and indoor (15.7 kg/d, 2.57) housing systems, respectively. In addition, cows in the outdoor and indoor housing systems were not different for body weight (528 vs. 534 kg) and BCS (3.22 vs. 3.23), respectively. Daily dry matter intake was 19.1 kg/d for the outdoor cows and 19.6 kg/d for indoor cows. The total bacteria count from bedding samples tended to be lower in the outdoor (13.0 log10 cfu/mL) compared with the indoor (14.9 log10 cfu/mL) system. Milk revenue and feed cost were not different for the 2 housing systems. Labor and bedding costs were lower and net return was higher for the outdoor housing system. The outdoor straw pack system had a $1.42/cow per day net return advantage over the indoor compost bedded pack barn. In summary, lactating cows housed outdoors on straw-bedded packs did not differ for production or SCS, or for body weight, BCS, or dry matter intake, but had greater profitability than cows housed in an indoor compost bedded pack barn.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
The authors express gratitude to Darin Huot and coworkers at West Central Research and Outreach Center (Morris, MN) for their assistance in data collection and care of animals. Financial support was provided for this project by The Ceres Trust (Chicago, IL) and this work is supported by Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative [grant no. 2012-51300-20015/project accession no. 0230589] from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (Washington, DC).
- compost barn