Loose Housed Barn - Soft Bedding Material


3 min read

Benefits Limitations System design considerations Overall likely costs

A loose housed barn with soft bedding is a fully covered facility, usually built with plastic or steel roofing. Soft bedding materials make up the base and allow effluent to drain through into a collection system. Benefits of this style of housing include increased feed and herd management, while limitations include medium capital outlay and increased building repair and maintenance.



  • 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 may be possible, e.g. from reduction of cows standing in mud, or on concrete


  • Opportunities to 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 facilities intended use of facility
  • Sitting in relation to prevailing wind direction and sun to maximise drying of bedding
  • Consenting is reasonably straightforward 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 increasing supplementary feeding
  • Aim for the least traffic movements possible between feed and barn 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 70 cm 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)

Other jobs

  • Weekly "ripping' or turning to encourage drying
  • Associated ongoing maintenance costs (usually annually but depends on amount of use, weekly maintenance routine, and amount of natural drying) such as:
    • Cleaning out bedding from barns
    • Storing and composting bedding materials
    • Applying composted material to paddocks
    • Reintroducing clean bedding

Adviser tips

  • 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

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 depend 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
  • Feed bunkers
  • First year feed inventory (if needed)
  • Additional stock
  • Ripper (to loosen/aerate woodchip bedding)
Last updated: Sep 2023

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