The aerobic fermentation barn is one of the most interesting cattle housing solutions to emerge in recent years. It is known around the world as the compost barn. It is a barn with a large, permanent bedded resting area, which involves frequent processing of the bedding by harrowing. This aids the aeration of the material and allows the mixing of the manure with the bedding, resulting in a drier, cleaner resting area and creating an aerobic process that generates heat and increases the temperature of the substrate. 

This type of barn represents a new concept in animal husbandry, revolutionizing both the layout of the building and the management of the farm, and is attracting a lot of interest from farmers in many parts of the world. The advantages of this housing system can be summarised as follows: improved animal welfare; reduced foot and limb lesions; better heat detection; simpler buildings and smaller or no manure storage stalls. In order to verify some of these aspects, this innovation is proposed by applying the compost barn system in beef cattle farms in the Val di Vara, Liguria, Italy to proceed to the following phase of verification and control of the adaptation of the system (in more widespread use in dairy cattle breeding) to beef cattle farms.

The main objective of the compost barn is to improve animal welfare, as it is undeniable that cattle can benefit greatly from the availability of a large-area bedded resting area in which they can walk comfortably, express their typical behaviour naturally, have normal social interactions, lie down and stand up without constraint and rest in the desired postures.

This solution for beef cattle is still under investigation and is not yet adopted at large scale. The Operational Group INNOVABIOZOO in Italy is studying in practice this research innovation in collaboration with beef cattle farmers in the research areas (Val di Vara, Liguria, Italy)

The main benefit of the compost barn is the improvement of the welfare of beef cattle. The stocking density can vary depending on the type of cattle housed (suckler cows, beef finishers), the climate of the area, the presence or absence of forced ventilation in the resting area, the availability of outdoor areas for the animals (paddocks) and the presence of a paved feeding lane clearly distinct from the resting area. An examination of the literature, which mainly refers to compost barns in Europe and the United States, reveals great variability in the unit values of surface area in the resting area. In contrast to solutions with a small area (7-8 m2 / cow) , which are very similar to traditional permanent bedding systems, there are barns with areas varying from 10 to 15 m2 / head shed, up to completely bedded solutions with very large areas (20-30 m2 / head).

In order to ensure adequate oxygenation of the mass, regular tilling of the top layer of litter (15-30 cm, depending on the total depth) is necessary, which is generally carried out with a tractor-mounted tine harrow. To level the surface after tilling, it is advisable to combine a cage roller or wooden board behind the operating machine. To limit compaction of the litter, it is preferable to work with a light tractor with tyres that are not too narrow.
 Another important aspect is the type of bedding material; sawdust and fine shavings are preferred, especially those derived from softwoods, both coniferous and deciduous. In some countries, due to the high prices of these wood by-products, other substrates such as chopped straw are preferred.

Key success factors of this innovation are:

  1. improvement of animal welfare;
  2. improvement of cattle cleanliness; 
  3. suitable for heifers, older cows and cows with podal problems, beef finishers; 
  4. resting in natural and unconstrained positions); 
  5. improved limb and foot health; 
  6. increased heat detection rate


Lessons learned are:

  1. Improvement of welfare of beef cattle
  2. Significant reduction of lameness
  3. Increase of the longevity of suckler cows and higher reproductive performance through better heat detection

The fact that some beef cattle are also required to use pasture makes the adoption of the compost barn even more attractive, as the load of animals on the litter is reduced compared to continuous housing. The advantages could be seen in less labour for processing and litter management. The fact that a share of the manure is stored in the barn together with the bedding material leads to a reduction in the need for external works for the storage of livestock manure.


EIP Operational Group INNOVABIOZOO

Galama P. (2014). Bedded pack barns for dairy cattle in the Netherlands. Wageningen UR Livestock Research 

Bewley J.M., Taraba J.L. (2012). Compost-bedded pack barns design. University of Kentucly, Cooperative Extension Service, issued 11-2012

 Rossi P. (2017). Una nuova stabulazione per le vacche da latte. Agricoltura, settembre/ottobre

Author: Kees de Roest - CRPA