Bedded-pack barns are an alternative type of dairy housing for producers wanting to upgrade or modernize their milking herd facilities while minimizing capital costs. These barns provide cows with a large bedded pen for resting rather than individual stalls (Figure 1). Bedded pack refers to the mixture of bedding, usually wood shavings or kiln-dried sawdust, and manure on the pen floor. A properly managed bedded pack provides a healthy, comfortable surface on which cows may lie.
The lower capital costs for bedded-pack barns may be offset by higher annual costs for bedding. Approximately three to four times more bedding is used in a bedded-pack barn as in a freestall barn. Labor requirements are similar for both types of barns. Properly maintained bedded-pack barns require more daily labor; packs must be stirred twice daily and must have dry bedding added. However, less daily labor is required for manure handling.
Studies have indicated that certain types of lameness occur less frequently in heifers on bedded packs than in heifers in freestall barns.1 Decreased lameness may lead to increased milk production and longevity. Many producers have a bedded-pack barn for cows with special needs including cows due to calve and lame cows because of the increased cow comfort provided by the bedded pack.
Bedded-pack barns may be ideal facilities for small herds. These barns provide flexibility in housing different groups of cows in varying stages of lactation while consolidating feeding and manure handling. Furthermore, cows can be added to these barns without additional capital costs until the recommended space per cow is reached.
1 Webster (2002) and Livesey et al. (2002)
The bedded pack must provide 100 sq ft per cow. However, 140 sq ft per cow is recommended for close-up dry or convalescing cows. The bedded pack should be enclosed by a 4-foot high concrete wall to prevent feed and water from spilling onto the pack and to limit access points. The wall that separates the feed alley and the bedded pack should have a fence to prevent cows from walking over the wall.
Sizing a Bedded-pack Area - Example
A dairy producer plans to build a bedded-pack barn for 60 cows. The bedded pack will be 33 feet wide because it is based on the freestall barn in Figure 2. Determine the length of the bedded-pack barn using the recommended space of 100 sq ft per cow.
Bedded-pack area = 60 cows x 100 sq ft/cow = 6,000 sq ft
Length of barn = 6,000 sq ft ÷ 33 ft = 181 ft
Actual barn dimensions will be 61 ft by 181 ft.
Good ventilation is essential to maintain a dry bedded-pack surface. Sidewall height should be 14 to 16 feet to enhance natural ventilation. Sidewall curtains are recommended to control ventilation throughout the year. Mixing fans should be installed over the bedded-pack area to increase surface drying. These fans will also provide a cooling draft over cows during hot weather. A 3-foot overhang will minimize the amount of roof runoff and rain that may be blown onto the bedded pack. More information on natural ventilation of dairy barns is available from Natural Ventilation for Freestall Dairy Barns, Virginia Cooperative Extension publication 442-763.
A sufficient amount of dry bedding is essential to keep cows clean and SCC (somatic cell count) low. Daily bedding requirements can range from 10 to 35 lb of bedding per cow depending on the size of the cow. Lactating cows produce more manure than dry cows, so will require more bedding. Hot and humid or wet weather will require more frequent application of fresh bedding than dry weather. Fresh bedding should be added when the bedding becomes moist enough to stick to cows after they rise from laying on the bedded pack.
A minimum 100 sq ft per cow must be provided to maintain the integrity of the bedded pack. Bedded-pack barns are easy to overpopulate because there are no stalls. These barns should look like there is room for another cow. However, it is important not to exceed the number of cows for which the barn is designed.
Many freestall barns have started out as bedded-pack barns until enough capital was saved to add freestalls and freestall alleys. Freestall barns evolved from bedded-pack barns to reduce bedding costs and the amount of labor spent on bedding management.
Bedded-pack barns require careful and consistent daily management to create a healthy and comfortable cow environment. Poorly managed bedded packs can quickly degrade to a mire of wet manure and bedding. Effective pre-milking cow preparation is also required to maintain low bulk tank SCC.
On Site Selection
Site Selection for Dairy Housing Systems, Virginia Cooperative Extension publication 442-096
To order MWPS or NRAES publications, contact your local Virginia Cooperative Extension office.
Publication Modified from
Janni, K., Reneau, J., and Schoper, W. 2005. Composting Bedded Pack Barns for Dairy Housing. Accessed: 6 December 2005. Available at: http://www.extension.umn.edu/dairy/Publications/compostbedded.ht
Kammel, D. 2005. Design and Maintenance of a Bedded Pen (Pack) Housing System. Accessed: 6 December 2005. Available at: http://www.uwex.edu/ces/cty/marathon/ag/modern/documents/DesignofBeddedPackHousing.pdf
Webster, A.J. F. 2002. Effects of housing practices on the development of foot lesions in dairy heifers in early lactation. The Veterinary Record 151(1): 9-12.
Reviewed by Bobby Grisso, Extension Specialist, Biological Systems Engineering
Virginia Cooperative Extension materials are available for public use, reprint, or citation without further permission, provided the use includes credit to the author and to Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech, and Virginia State University.
Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension work, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Virginia State University, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperating. Edwin J. Jones, Director, Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg; M. Ray McKinnie, Interim Administrator, 1890 Extension Program, Virginia State University, Petersburg.
May 1, 2009