As winter is just around the corner, planning for housing of pasture animals is likely already underway. Many pastured herds in the northern United States have an indoor housing plan for their cattle, but recent research from the Journal of Dairy Science suggests that outdoor housing through the winter might be cleaner and healthier for the cows than an indoor housing plan.
Researchers from the University of Minnesota compared organic cows housed on an outdoor straw pack with wind protection to cows housed indoors on a compost-bedded pack barn.
Cows housed on the outdoor straw pack had better udder hygiene and abdomen hygiene scores than those housed on the indoor pack. Outdoor housed cows also had cleaner upper and lower legs and lower incidence of clinical mastitis. Of the indoor housed cows, 27.1 percent were treated for mastitis while only 15.1 percent of outdoor housed cows were treated for mastitis.
Perhaps most interestingly, frostbite incidence was not different between the two groups. Indoor housed cows had a slight tendency for more frostbite, but across the board, incidence was only 9.7 percent of total cows and 2.4 percent of total teats.
What the packs looked like
The outdoor straw packs were bedded every two to three days depending on the weather, and cows were provided at least 129 square foot per cow (12 square meters). During the winter, 20 pounds of straw was used per cow. The goal was to maintain a clean and dry pack.
It was a goal shared by the indoor housing plan where cows were housed on organic sawdust that was stirred twice daily and maintained below 60 percent moisture. Cows were allowed 102 square feet per cow (9.5 square meters).