Dairy farms emit vast quantities of carbon dioxide and methane, making them one of the leading agricultural industries contributing to greenhouse gas emissions. Composting has long been known to help reduce emissions and turn organic waste into more beneficial products.
Research in New Zealand determined the feasibility of using composting shelters to house cows, a practice becoming popular among smallholder farmers. To reduce methane emissions and use animal and plant waste for fertilizer production, farmers typically compost organic waste in composting shelters. However, some farmers noticed that many cows seem to love the environment inside the composting shelters.
The research showed that the heat from the composting process inside the shelters provided cows with a more regulated resting environment, especially during cold nights. During blistering summer days, the wood chips and sawdust bedding inside the shelters also provide cows with cooler ground to rest on compared to concrete flooring or being out in the fields. The better environment resulted in overall improved cow welfare, body condition, and higher milk production.
In terms of environmental impact, the development of integrated compost shelters also resulted in a 45% reduction in nitrogen leaching, largely due to reduced urine on pasture. However, further studies are needed to determine the impact of integrated composting shelters on greenhouse gas emissions.
While remodeling composting shelters may mean additional costs to farms, the study showed a great return on investment through reduced maintenance costs, improved milk production, and minimized environmental impact.