You've reached the Virginia Cooperative Extension Newsletter Archive. These files cover more than ten years of newsletters posted on our old website (through April/May 2009), and are provided for historical purposes only. As such, they may contain out-of-date references and broken links.

To see our latest newsletters and current information, visit our website at

Newsletter Archive index:

Virginia Cooperative Extension - Knowledge for the CommonWealth

The Composting Bedded Pack Barn

Dairy Pipeline: May 2006

Tina Horn
Dairy Extension Agent
Augusta County
(540) 245-5750 email:

This is not your conventional bedded pack! A composting bedded pack is a deep bedded pack actively going through a rapid decaying composting process. It is a natural biological process carried out under aerobic conditions. In the process, various microorganisms break down organic matter into simpler substances. The essential elements required by the composting microorganisms are carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, all of which are present in a properly managed bedded pack. Optimal composting conditions will convert organic matter into stable compost that is odor and pathogen free. Achieving high temperatures within the pack is important to kill pathogen and keep the surface dry. Maintaining a temperature of 130 degrees or more for 3 to 4 days favors the destruction of weed seeds, fly larvae, and pathogens.

A composting bedded pack should be bedded with at least one foot of fine dusty wood shavings or sawdust. The fine particles are easier to handle and mix and will speed bacterial growth and increase temperatures sufficient to inactivate pathogens. This space should be well ventilated to remove heat and maintain a dry bedding surface. Sidewall curtains and fans are recommended. The current recommendation is 100 square feet per cow if used for the milking herd. Less space is needed for dry cows and more is beneficial for transition and calving areas.

Once begun, the pack must be stirred twice daily to a depth of at least ten inches. This removes manure and urine from the surface and incorporates oxygen into the pack allowing for faster aerobic decomposition. If the pack is not aerated, it will become anaerobic causing the decomposition rate to slow and temperatures to drop. The pack will lose the ability to kill pathogens and may also create unpleasant odors. Fresh bedding should be added every three to six weeks, but will vary depending on the weather and surface condition. Hot and humid weather requires more frequent application of bedding.

It is also important to remember that bedded pack barns are most effective if used in a loafing lot system. It is very difficult and costly to maintain a bedded pack barn that is the sole source of housing for a dairy herd. Cost of bedding and the potential for mastitis is greatly increased in these situations.

Visit Virginia Cooperative Extension