The Sam and Glen Coblentz Farm is a 105-cow Holstein dairy in Guthrie, Kentucky, where cows are housed on a bedded pack and milked twice a day in a double-6 parallel parlor. The farm, 620 acres in total, is made up of 500 acres owned and 120 rented. Heifers are raised on the home farm until weaning and then at 300 pounds are moved to a rented facility. At about 750 pounds, heifers are moved to pasture, bred, and returned to the milking herd to calve at 24 months of age. A new barn, 60 feet by 200 feet, was built in 2007 across the road from the dairy to house the heifers on a bedded pack during the winter.

Cows are housed in an 80 feet by 200 feet bedded pack barn, which is stirred with a chisel plow each day during or after the morning milking. Three, 20 feet diameter fans hang from the barn’s trusses and are equally spaced over the bedded pack housing area.

The fans are used to cool the cows and keep the bedded pack moisture down. Kiln dried shavings are added to the top of the pack when the bedded pack starts to stick to the cows flanks.

Controlling moisture level and stirring the bedded pack are two key factors to keep the pack composting. Increasing fan speeds and adding more shavings are two methods of reducing moisture content that Sam and Glen use to optimize pack composting action. Bedded pack barns are generally stocked to allow more than 100 square feet per cow.

“The barn was built with an east-west orientation which allows almost complete protection from the sun in all but the early morning and late afternoon time periods,” said Sam Coblentz.


Composted bedded pack barns have the advantage of reduced cow density when compared to two or three row freestall barn systems if those barns are stocked at one cow or more than one per cow per stall.

While the lower cow density has advantages in the hot summer months, some other dairymen in Kentucky pick freestall housing because they feel that the cost of housing is lower on a per cow basis.

For Sam and Glen’s housing facility, they think other factors outweigh the financial importance of increased cow numbers in a given barn.

Sam said, “Our hoof and hock health have been excellent with the bedded pack. Also, cow stress is reduced.”

He continued, "With our breeding program, all cows are artificially inseminated (AI) at least once starting in October. We do one or if needed two A.I. breeding before turning in a clean-up bull in December."

Sam does not take all the credit himself for his success. He told the tour group, “There are three key players on the farm. They are our: 1. nutritionist; 2. veterinarian; and 3. financial planner. Decisions about the feeding program, herd health, breeding and financial decisions are made with assistance from these experts."

The herd is fed a total mixed ration once per day in a concrete bunk which is part of a 20 feet drive by alley. The TMR contains corn silage, haylage, hay, corn grain, commodity feeds, some wheat straw and mineral and vitamin supplements, as suggested by the nutritionist.

The Coblentz’s farm uses the herd veterinarian for emergency calls if needed, but also for regular planned consultation on hoof health, metabolic diseases, and reproduction. The financial planner has helped the Coblentz brothers to set up long-range planning tools and has helped them to make decisions, such as building the heifer barn in 2007-2008 when milk price allowed investment in this facility.

The heifer barn has helped them improve heifer weight gain and condition over the winter before turn-out to the pasture in early spring, summer, and fall.

“The winter housing has been very important for the bred heifers and has allowed more heifers to be bred A.I.," Sam said. "Body condition in spring, particularly of the bred heifers, has been improved and can be maintained over the summer on pasture and up to the fall calving season.”

He continued, “We never would have made this decision without the help of our financial planner."

When asked if he had one take-home tip he has learned about managing bedded pack housing on their dairy, Sam said, “The first two years we cleaned the 20 feet fan blades only at spring clean-out. That was not often enough. Now we clean them three times each year: 1. at pack clean-out in spring; 2. in the middle of the summer; and 3. again in the fall. The eclectic costs to run the fans have decreased threefold from our first two years of operation.”

Dr. Jeffery Bewley, University of Kentucky, told the group that there are more than 50 farms in Kentucky that are using the bedded pack housing, which was first developed in the upper Midwest. He and Dr. Joseph Taraba, UK Department of Agricultural Engineering, are currently writing a National Dairy Practices Council publication about bedded pack housing for dairy cattle.

“This publication, which will be published soon, will be a great guide for people planning to build bedded pack housing, and also a guide for discussion among producers already using this kind of housing in the southern U.S.,” said Dr. Michael Schutz, Purdue Dairy Specialist, who is the current president of the Dairy Practices Council.

Mike Schutz and Dr. Tamilee Nenrich, Extension specialists from Purdue University both helped plan and attended this year’s tour.

Mike and Tamilee helped the Kentucky Extension dairy specialists and dairy producers plan the “Kentuckiana Dairy Tour” stops for 2010 in Kentucky.

This same group will also help plan the tour stops for the program in 2011 when the tour stops will be in Indiana. This annual tour alternates between Kentucky and Indiana, and visits five to six different dairy farms each year.

This program is based on seeing and sharing successful dairy management techniques and concerns about modern dairy farming, which add up to make the Kentuckiana Dairy Tour of great benefit to all participants. PD

Article and photo by Timothy R. Johnson, Ph.D., PAS, Dairy and Animal Nutrient Management Services Consulting