Invited review: Compost-bedded pack barns for dairy cows

L. Leso, M. Barbari*, M.A. Lopes, F.A. Damasceno, P. Galama, J.L. Taraba, A. Kuipers

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)


Compost-bedded pack barns (CBP) are receiving increasing attention as a housing system for dairy cows that has potential to improve animal welfare. This article reviews current scientific knowledge about CBP with the aim of providing a comprehensive tool for producers and researchers using this housing system. In CBP, cows are provided with an open bedded pack area rather than the individual stalls and concrete alleys found in freestall systems. The bedded pack, a mixture of organic bedding and cattle excreta, is cultivated frequently (1–3 times per day) to incorporate fresh manure and air into the pack, thus promoting an aerobic composting process. To function well, CBP generally require a large area per cow. Optimal animal densities over the bedded area range from 7.4 to more than 15 m2/cow depending on several factors, including climate, bedding, pack management, and cow characteristics. Studies have indicated that CBP, compared with conventional systems such as freestall barns, have the potential to improve the welfare of dairy cows. In particular, the main reported benefits include improved comfort during resting, better foot and leg health, and more natural animal behavior. Research has also indicated that adequate udder health can be achieved in CBP. However, because the bedded pack has been shown to contain high bacterial concentrations, proper management is essential to maintain adequate cow cleanliness and reduce the risk of mastitis. Controlling pack moisture is consistently indicated as the most important issue with CBP. Especially under cold and humid weather conditions, large amounts of bedding may be necessary to keep the pack adequately dry and comfortable for the cows. Nevertheless, the improvements in cow health may offset the higher costs of bedding.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1072-1099
JournalJournal of Dairy Science
Issue number2
Early online date16 Dec 2019
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2020


  • animal welfare
  • compost-bedded pack barn
  • dairy cow
  • housing system

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