The base is a soft bedding material such as straw, sawdust or woodchips, which will absorb some effluent. Effluent also drains through the bedding into a collection system.
Most have no or few walls to aid ventilation and drying. Feed lanes can be located centrally, outside with access from the lying area or be located outside where cows will leave the facility to eat from a feed face or a self-feeding silage stack.
Loose housed barns are usually intended to house animals for longer periods of time such as over winter or during calving. When bedding is well maintained and stocking rate is correct these facilities are suitable to milk from.
- Minimise pasture damage when soils are overly wet or prevent overgrazing (eg when pasture is insufficient to meet full herd demand). This should increase pasture production
- Better feed utilisation compared with paddock feeding of supplements.
- Minimising pugging or overgrazing may increase pasture production
- Better herd monitoring may be possible, e.g. heat detection, animal welfare, BCS.
- Reduction in herd lameness possible, e.g. from reduction of cows standing in mud, or on concrete
- Opportunities to reuse used bedding and apply to crop land or pasture
- Reduce farm maintenance costs (associated with paddock renovations following pugging, herd or machinery traffic)
- Minor to medium capital outlay to establish
- Increased building and machinery repair and maintenance
- Business more reliant on quality supplements being grown or purchased. (vulnerable to season price changes)
- Supplementary feed costs typically greater than pasture.
- Consents required.
- Effluent management requires additional activities (to compost and dispose of the bedding).
- Potential for increased regulatory attention with odour emissions (compost) and community complaints if bedding not handled well
System design considerations
- Location In relation to herd access - close to dairy (milking shed) is convenient but also dependent on location of feed storage areas and intended use of facility.
- Siting in relation to prevailing wind direction and sun to maximise drying of bedding.
- Consenting is reasonably straight forward so long as leachate captured
- Roofed structures require structural engineering to take in to account wind, snowfalls, etc.
- If being used for feeding part, or all of feed requirement, as most are, then a separate feed area should be added and a supply management plan required.
- Allow for increased feed bunker area and machinery if increased supplementary feeding.
- Aim for the least traffic movements possible between barn and feed storage area
- Provide correct stocking rates and feed space per cow. Minimum 9m2/cow for use over extended periods of time eg used for weeks during winter. Minimum 70cm of feed face per cow.
- Liquids leaching through bedding should enter effluent system
- Concrete area to store and compost bedding material once used should allow leachate to enter effluent system.
- New bedding material storage (and requirement to keep dry)
Overall likely costs
Barn only at 9-11m2/cow $500-$1000 Facility including feed bins/alleys, water, bedding, machinery $1200-$2400 Basic, Loose housed operational facility only for 400 cows, (no shares or stock) $400,000 - $960,000
Ranges dependent on roof type, foundation type, bedding type, amount of concrete, including for feed areas, etc
Significant component costs of infrasturcture:
Site preparation earthworks
Base materials (eg clay, rock)
Roof and trusses
Concrete feeding area/s (for cows to stand on and/or feed to be fed out on
Bedding (woodchip annually) plus storage area
Concrete storage pad (for composting bedding)
Possible additional Costs
Dairy Company shares
First year feed inventory (if needed)
Ripper (to loosen/aerate woodchip bedding)
- Case studies and analysis indicate that once built, many farmers increase cows and levels of supplementary feeding.
- Costs of feeding supplements is typically 1.5x per purchase cost of feed per kg.
- Consider putting alongside a feedpad if this already exists.
Weekly "ripping" or turning to encourage drying.
Ongoing maintenance costs such as:
- Clean out bedding from barns
- Store and compost bedding material
- Apply composted material to paddocks
- Reintroduce clean bedding
Usually annually but does depend on amount of use, weekly maintenance routine and amount of natural drying
Off-Paddock Systems Resources
These resources will help with decisions around investment, planning, design, construction and management of off-paddock facilities.
Making the right choice
Investing in off-paddock facilities?
This booklet will help you to make an informed decision by assessing the benefits of various off-paddock facilities.
Build it right (Technical information)
IPENZ Practice Note 29 Dairy Housing
Note: IPENZ Practice Note 27 - Farm Dairy Infrastructure (above) offers industry guidance in the design and construction of key farm dairy infrastructure components. The Feed Pads section can be downloaded separately here.
Managing off-paddock systems
Dairy Cow Housing Guide
A good practice guide for dairy housing in New Zealand.
Dairy Cow Housing Assessment
This assessment tool will help to identify any cow comfort issues that may impact on welfare and production.
Stand-off pads booklet
Your essential guide to planning, design and management.