The concept of the composting barn is not entirely new in Germany and in line with the emergence of this topic, this barn system has also been discussed in detail elsewhere. In March 2022 there was an interesting webinar on the topic of composting barns in dairy farming hosted by the Landwirtschaftkammer of Hamburg / der Innitiative Fokus Tierwohl. Here the principle was explained from the Innovationsteam Milch Hessen / Frau Möcklinghoff-Wicke and a dairy farmer presented his way (of approval) to a composting barn in Germany.

The construction concept of the composting barn is quite simple, there is a large lying area, with about 10 square meters per animal, and a paved feeding aisle. The lying area is then not littered with straw, but mostly with wooden materials such as sawdust or wood shavings or also with spelt husks or miscanthus. A composting barn is not a deep litter barn! In the composting barn, the organic bedding material is stimulated to biological oxidation by specifically influencing the environmental conditions.

This means that feces and urine of the animals are incorporated into the mattress. By working the bedding (several times) a day, e.g. with a cultivator, carbon (bedding), N-sources (feces and urine) as well as water (feces and urine) and oxygen (air) are brought together; this ensures good and rapid composting.

The heat generated during composting of the litter ensures a dry surface as well as a reduction in bacteria. The goal is a clean, dry and soft lying surface for all cows. And here lies the difficulty, the management of the compost mattress places high demands on the farmer. With optimal processing, evaporation and absorption should ensure continuous drying of the bedding.

In addition to high animal comfort, which is reflected not least in a reduction of lameness and clean animals, this type of barn also offers advantages for the entire farm. This is because the manure produced promotes soil life and humus formation on the areas where it is spread.

The main conclusion during the webinar was that the procurement of suitable litter can be a problem with which the whole concept stands or falls. Nevertheless, we decided to plan a demonstration for BovINE on this topic. The search for a farm that keeps beef cattle on compost turned out to be more difficult than expected and it became even more difficult to find a volunteer for a demonstration. Finally, through various contacts, we came across a farm in the Bergisches Land (North Rhine-Westphalia). The farmer used to have suckler cows on compost, but now keeps pension cattle in this barn. The farmer agreed to an exchange of experiences, which took place via Zoom due to the great distance.

He told us about his compost barn, how it came about, how he manages the barn and why he no longer keeps suckler cows on compost. He also provided us with many pictures and some video material directly from the barn.

The knowledge gained was compiled into an informative talk and presented to other farmers. They were very enthusiastic about the concept of the Höller farm. Everyone agreed that the animals are really incredibly clean. But after the demo, it was clear that not everyone has the suitable conditions to implement the compost barn system on their farm. Nevertheless, some farmers are now thinking about taking a look at this barn concept and possibly using it as a winter barn for their suckler cows.

  • Some information about compost barns can be found under the following link from Wageningen UR Livestock Research: