Barn For Tomorrow

Consider your future needs when building barn infrastructure.


Barn For Tomorrow

Consider your future needs when building barn infrastructure.

By Lorne McClinton

Dale and Karen Hofstra’s dream is finally coming true. The Millet, Alberta, couple are milking cows with Dale’s father, but they’ll be milking cows in their own barn in May 2019 if construction stays on target.

A decision to build a new dairy, hog or chicken barn isn’t one that can be made lightly; it’s one of the single biggest investments a producer can make. Structures are so costly that they have to meet your needs for at least 25 years to make economic sense. So, it’s critical to take time to research which designs will best meet immediate needs and fits into a long term strategic plan for the operation.

“We’re building a 125-by-182 feet free-flow, two Lely robot structure with a 30-by-50 (lean to) on the side,” Dale Hofstra says. “The walls are vinyl with concrete inside. The design is fairly straight forward; it has a center drive-through feed alley barn with a robot on either side of it, in line with the milkhouse which is set off to one side. That way we aren’t tracking through manure to get to the robot and have clean access to the robots. There’s an adjoining herd health treatment area set aside for animals, too.”

No magic design. There is no magic barn design that will work for everyone, says Kate Norman with Stonecrest Engineering in Shakespeare, Ontario. A design that is ideal for one person might not fit another’s style or comfort level at all. Producers should try to stay knowledgeable about what the current technology and design options are available whether they’re imminently planning to build or not. Ask farmers what they like about their new barns and what they would have done differently. Get input from your vet, the milk truck driver, and your feed and equipment suppliers too.

“I wish clients would come to me five years before they want to build so I could help them formulate their ideas,” says Patrick Verkley with Verkley Design and Modeling in Kerwood, Ontario. “That way there’s time to work together to come up with a structure that will meet their needs. It’s important to get it right the first time because you might not have the money to do it a second time if you get it wrong.”

Patrick Verkley says 3D models help producers visualize cow flow.

The first step in the planning process is to determine whether building a new facility makes financial sense for the operation or not, Verkley says. This requires solid analysis of the business fundamentals of your operation. There are lots of questions to be considered: What are your long-term goals? How will your proposed new construction improve your operation to make it more profitable? Will it allow you to use your labor force more efficiently? Will it reduce your cost of production? How big of an investment can you afford with your cashflow? Are you planning to build a 100-cow barn, a 500-cow barn or a bank of 500-cow barns? Do you have the money to build everything at once or will you add more stages over time?

The next step is to determine the most suitable site, Verkley says. Will your current location work or should you look at somewhere entirely new?

There are many other factors to look at, Verkley says. These include: How close are you to your closest neighbors? Will you need to worry about urban encroachment within the barn’s economic lifespan? Will the site be able to meet all the environmental regulations and does it have room for future expansion?

Good drainage. “We started with nothing but brush and a big hill on an acreage we subdivided off of my father’s land,” Hofstra says. “The only thing I knew for sure when I started was that I wanted the site to have good drainage so we wouldn’t constantly be dealing with mud. We picked a spot where our closest neighbor was one quarter mile away. It makes it much easier to get all the environmental permits and documentation if your neighbors aren’t right in your backyard. We have lots of room for expansion; you can’t stay the same size forever if you want to make any progress.”

Kate Norman recommends keeping the design as simple as possible to make it easier to make future changes.

“It’s important to consider how the building is going to be oriented on the site; it shouldn’t be positioned in a way that prevents future expansion,” Norman says. “Don’t place your manure tanks directly behind the barn so you can’t expand lengthwise. There is biocontamination to think about too. You don’t want to be driving through manure when you are preparing your feed. Also position it to take advantage of the prevailing winds for ventilation.”

Stacking multiple barns too close together will impact how the air flows through them, Verkley says. This makes it harder to maintain good air quality and keep the barns in the right temperature range.

Once you’ve determined where you should be building, you are ready to work on what you should be building. Dairy farms have to decide whether they intend to install a milking parlor, a rotary, or use robots very early in the design process. Verkley uses 3-D models to help producers visualize how their cows will flow through the facility and how they’ll move feed from the storage area into the barn. All the components have to work together to prevent building inefficiencies into the barn that increase the labor it takes for everyday tasks.

“While the actual structure will vary by the type of operation and the individual operator’s preferences, always keep things like ease of efficiency and animal health in mind,” Norman says. “I’d advise keeping the design as simple as possible to make it easier to incorporate new technology in the future.”

Biosecurity can’t be overlooked either, Verkley says. It’s becoming more important to control who comes into your barns all the time so your design should give clues that tell salesmen and the public where to they should go when they arrive at the farm.

“Finally, consider the overall aesthetics of whatever you build,” Verkley says. “You and your family will have to look at it for a long time. A good-looking building also says to the people that drive by your facility that you care about your animals. It’s becoming more important all the time for the industry to maintain its social license.”

“I’m sure we have a barn that will meet our needs for at least 25 years,” Hofstra says. “Call me in 2045 and we can chat about how well it worked out.”

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