As does most every other farmer during the dreaded winter months, we’ve spent countless hours attempting to maximize cow comfort by trying to find the best bedding possible. One thing I’ve learned is every group of cattle is different. A bedding that works for calves won’t work for cows, and a bedding that works for yearlings won’t suffice for calves. It’s a tricky game of trial and error until you find just the right fit to maximize happiness among the herd.
For the past couple of years, we’ve been fortunate enough to be able to get several tractor trailer loads of wood chips to be used in our pack barn. These chips create an enormous “mountain” next to the barn. They work well because the chips allow moisture to drain and for the pack to heat correctly for compost. We use the chips in the hutches during the summer months to keep the calves cooler but still provide them with a nice place to lay down. Wood chips tend to be the best bedding for our operation; however, this year, we had to switch it up.
We ran out of chips in late December and scrambled to figure out what to do. We had attempted straw in the past on the pack with complete failure. Our hutches are bedded nicely with straw during the colder months to keep the calves warm. So, this time when we considered straw, we thought about how we do the hutches and have attempted to replicate that on a much larger scale.
Before, we put just enough straw to cover the pack, and it became a mess within a couple of days. Now, like the calf hutches, we line the pack to aid in moisture absorption and we chop the straw up to avoid large patches of wet, matted straw. We also use anywhere from six to eight round bales to bed the pack instead of one or two. So far, this has been working okay. We wish the cows could be even cleaner than they are, but this is our approach until we can get wood chips again.
Sometimes, we have to do what we have to do in order to make the cows happy, healthy, and comfortable. As much as we don’t entirely like using straw for bedding the pack, we can make it work when needed. At the end of the day, we spend countless hours to make sure the cows are happy. As farmers, we all know that a happy cow is a productive cow, and we will do all we can to provide the comfort they need. Stay safe y’all.
The author is a sixth-generation farmer and fifth-generation dairy producer in southwest Virginia, where she and her family own and operate a 145-head Holstein dairy. Courtney is involved in agriculture organizations throughout her community and is a graduate of Virginia Tech.