Alternatives To Traditional Cubicle-Based Housing

What do cows, dairy farmers and society want? This question formed the background to the study carried out by Wageningen UR Livestock Research into alternatives to the traditional cubicle-based housing for cows which became popular in the 1960s with the goal of improving efficiency.
calendar icon 30 August 2011
clock icon 4 minute read

Recently, due to animal welfare considerations, there has been a greater focus on providing cows with more space and reducing the amount of concrete and ironwork in their housing. The bedded pack barn offers dairy farmers the opportunity to achieve this on the condition that the requirements for a hygienic and dry top layer (on the ground or floor) are complied with. The project resulted in a book ‘Prospects for bedded pack barns for dairy cattle’, which clearly and concisely describes the perspective offered to dairy farmers by bedded pack barns.

A bedded pack barn does not contain cubicles for the cows to lie down in, and the area in which the cows can lie down and move around is generally one and the same, i.e. a large area covered with a layer of soft material that is permeable to moisture and/or absorbs it. The layout of a bedded pack barn therefore resembles that of a free-stall or loose barn. The biggest difference is that a bedded pack barn provides much more space per animal for lying down and moving around and can also use a greater variety of materials for the bottom layer. In some bedded pack barns, proactive measures are also taken to manage/control the processes taking place in the bottom layer and the resulting environmental effects. Providing more space in combination with a soft bottom layer can reduce the incidence of foot problems and result in more natural behaviour.

Inspiration from US and Israel

Project manager Paul Galama explains: ‘The idea of a bedded pack barn was inspired by a congress held in June 2007 in Minnesota (USA) on compost dairy barns and a study trip with dairy farmers to Israel in 2008. Wageningen UR Livestock Research and NIZO food research BV then carried out a preliminary study into the feasibility of a bedded pack barn in the Netherlands and did some experiments at experimental farms. In 2009, a few Dutch dairy farmers also set up bedded pack barns and have been experimenting on a small scale. Developments have therefore moved quickly, and we now want to determine whether broad-based application of this concept is feasible in the Netherlands.’

Focus on the environment

The environment is an important aspect to consider within the framework of sustainability, and it should be noted that the bedded pack barn cannot yet be considered a low-emission housing system. The results of preliminary measurements carried out by Wageningen UR Livestock Research on three types of floor coverings at experimental farms are presented in the booklet and make it clear that emissions are still a problematic aspect. Measurements of ammonia and greenhouse gases are currently being carried out at operational farms and researchers are also focusing on other aspects such as odour and fine particulate matter.


The book ‘Prospects for bedded pack barns for dairy cattle’ by Paul Galama is a timely response to the desire felt by many to realise an integrated, sustainable and practical dairy farming system. As such, it highlights the opportunities offered by a housing system for dairy cattle that complies with modern-day requirements. The booklet presents the results of sustainability assessments as well as plans for new barn designs and also identifies aspects that need to be worked out further. The results realised at the experimental farms are also described, and seven Dutch dairy farmers talk about their initial hands-on experiences with the bedded pack barn.

The book specifically aims to provide dairy farmers who are interested in a bedded pack barn with information on the current state of affairs in terms of the research being carried out and the results achieved in practice. It also aims to serve as a source of inspiration for consultants and policymakers for the further development of the bedded pack barn into integrated and sustainable dairy farming systems. The research carried out at the experimental farms was financed by the Dutch Dairy Board (PZ) and the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation (EL&I).

The book was financed by Transforum within the framework of the Dairy Adventure project.

August 2011
© 2000 - 2024 - Global Ag Media. All Rights Reserved | No part of this site may be reproduced without permission.