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CAB Reviews

A reviews journal covering agriculture, global health, nutrition, natural resources and veterinary science

CAB Review

Compost barns - an alternative housing system for dairy cows?


Cultivated compost housing systems for dairy cattle are reported in the literature from Israel, the USA and the Netherlands. A deep-bedded pack is commonly supported by large amounts of wood shavings and sawdust to enhance microbial activity and evaporation. Aerobic composting processes are maintained by cultivating the bedded pack once or twice daily with a heavy harrow. Existing studies indicate that cultivated compost housing systems can be an alternative to free-stall housing systems for dairy cows, which improves animal welfare in terms of low prevalence of lame cows, high cow comfort with low prevalence of hock lesions and unrestrained lying comfort. Udder health and milk quality appear to be acceptable, but high bacterial counts in the bedding emphasize that a high level of hygiene at milking is vital to keep the incidence of mastitis low and maintain a high milk quality. Ammonia emission from a compost barn with slatted floor in the feeding alley may be comparable to levels of a free stall barn with slatted floor aisles, but results are conflicting. Cultivated compost housing systems may potentially pose challenges in relation to emission of ammonia, carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and methane, but the literature is sparse. Feasibility of sustainable bedding material is essential to develop and spread the system among farmers in different geographic locations, and therefore we need to know more about potential bedding materials, their effect on mastitis pathogens and emission of ammonia and greenhouse gases.