Performance and welfare of dairy cows in an alternative housing system in Minnesota

A. E. Barberg, Marcia I Endres, James A Salfer, J. K. Reneau

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

111 Scopus citations


The compost bedded pack dairy barn is an alternative housing system for lactating cows that has received increased attention in the last 2 yr. No descriptive data were available about this housing system. Therefore, a study of 12 compost dairy barns in Minnesota was conducted between late June 2005 and September 2005. The objectives of this study were to describe the housing system, identify management practices used in these herds, observe cow welfare, analyze herd performance and udder health prior to and following the change in housing system, and measure producer satisfaction with the system. Producers were interviewed on various aspects related to the housing system and herd management, samples of milk were collected, and cows were scored for locomotion, body condition, hygiene, and hock lesions. In addition, historical bulk tank information and Dairy Herd Improvement Association data were collected when available. At the time of the visit, the Dairy Herd Improvement Association somatic cell count (SCO was 325,000 ± 172,000 cells/mL, rolling herd average was 10,457 ± 1,138 kg per cow, and herd size was 73 ± 35.5 lactating cows. The body condition score was 3.04 ± 0.11, the cow hygiene score was 2.66 ± 0.19, and 7.8% of all cows were clinically lame (locomotion score ≥3 on a 1 to 5 scale). No hock lesions were present on 74.9% of the cows; 24.1% of cows had a mild lesion (hair loss), and 1.0% had a severe lesion (swollen hock). Historical analysis of the bulk tank SCC showed that 3 out of the 7 herds analyzed had a significant reduction in bulk tank SCC when compared with the previous housing system. Mastitis infection rates decreased significantly by 12% on 6 of the 9 farms analyzed. Reproductive performance significantly improved for 4 out of the 7 herds analyzed, with 25.9 and 34.5% improvement in heat detection rates and pregnancy rates, respectively. The main reasons producers reported for building this type of housing system were for improved cow comfort, cow health and longevity, and ease of completing daily chores. The largest concern was the cost and availability of bedding, especially as additional compost barns are built. Overall, all producers were satisfied with their decision to build a compost barn.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1575-1583
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Dairy Science
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2007


  • Alternative housing
  • Lameness
  • Udder health
  • Welfare


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