Bedded Pack Barns for Dairy Cattle

Posted: February 6, 2006

The basic bedded pack can be a quick and simple way to house a variety of dairy cattle including young heifers, dry cows, milking cows and special needs cows.

A bedded pack housing system consists of a large resting area with a thick layer of bedding and an adjoining concrete travel alley that allows access to feed and water and regular removal of manure and slop that collect in these high concentration messy areas. One or more sides of the pack area should have reinforced concrete or heavy plank walls high enough to accommodate manure pack build up. Excellent natural ventilation is also required.

Pack barns of one type or another have probably been around for as long as there have been confined dairy cattle. Farmers, veterinarians and milk sanitarians usually “love’m or hate’m,” often at the same time. Cow comfort and ease of reclining and rising for awkward adolescent animals, injured animals or just a senior cow with creaky bones are all plusses. Dirty animals, injured animals and problems with udder health are all negative aspects that can usually be traced to too many animals, too little bedding, insufficient manicuring of the pack area or feeding and watering animals in the bedded area. To keep cows clean, dry and comfortable requires regular attention to the resting area including removal of cow pies or other heavily soiled areas and addition of adequate clean dry bedding. The addition of clean dry bedding, manure and urine and animal traffic result in a built up pack that can be comfortable for the animals to live on and also serve as a manure storage area. Common complaints include the high cost of labor and bedding to adequately maintain the bedded area. Ultimately, you get what you are willing to pay for.

Bedded pack and alley design should be coordinated and have gate size and placement so that animals can be confined in either the bedded resting area or the scrape alley during manure removal from the scrape alley or pack maintenance or cleanout. The transition zone from the manure alley to the pack will always require extra attention and likely be messy. The two schools of thought on this are to allow cows to enter the pack area anywhere along the manure alley or to force the animals to enter and exit the bedded area at narrower defined locations and have a barrier separating the rest of the pack area from the alley. Some feel that there is more usable quality resting space by having concentrated “sacrifice” areas for pack entrance while others argue that allowing cows to move between the pack and alley at any point is better. Fortunately there is no “bedded pack law” that must be followed. As with most everything on the farm it’s the combination of design and management that results in clean, dry and comfortable cows and production of high quality milk that is the best.

Most pack problems can be traced to too many animals and too little bedding for the size of the pack. Following are recommended areas for typical bedded pack uses. These areas do not include the space required for the manure alley. The bigger the animal, the more you desire to pamper the animal, the cleaner you want the animal or the less frequent you want to remove manure and add bedding the more space you should provide. For bedded pack idea plans visit the Agricultural and Biological Engineering web site and go to extension and idea plans. The following table lists recommended bedded areas for various animals.

Cow Type
Bedding Space per Animal
300-500 lb.
40 sq. ft.
500-700 lb
50 sq. ft.
700-900 lb
60 sq. ft.
900-1100 lb
70 sq. ft.
1100 lb - pre-fresh
80 sq. ft.
100 - 120 sq. ft.
Early Dry Cow 80 - 100 sq. ft.
Late Dry Cow 100 - 120 sq. ft.
1 week before calving 125 - 150 sq. ft.
Freshening Pack 175 - 200 sq. ft.
Lactating Cow 125 - 150 sq. ft.

Robert E. Graves, Agricultural, Biological, and Engineering Extension