“What would you do differently?” This is a question we were frequently asked after completing construction of our new dairy facility. While you may spend months or even years planning out a new project, you won’t know what you’ve missed until you’re in full-fledge operation.
After a year in our new facility, we have come to learn what works, what doesn’t and what we would do differently.
There is so much to learn from fellow dairy farmers. Before you put pencil to paper, take the time to travel to other farms for insight and ideas. Your construction company and equipment dealers are great resources for connections to their clients who are willing to open their doors. There is no “cookie cutter” dairy farm, each differs and has adapted to what works for them. Piece together aspects that you like from each farm you visit to create your ideal facility.
Back to basics
There’s no better time than new construction to design a facility optimized for cow flow and proper stockmanship. Put yourself in a cow’s frame of mind, and accommodate for what she sees. Wide alleys, elimination of corners and proper gate swings allow for ease of cow handling. Throughout our barn, we have built all cow-handling areas to be a one-man operation in which one person can safely and calmly move animals. Looking back, a stockmanship professional is someone I wish we would have brought into planning meetings while the blueprint was still on paper. Their insight can save costly retrofits down the road.
Smile, you’re on camera
In my opinion, a camera system was one of the best investments we made in our facility. As we only milk twice a day, it allows us to keep an eye on the farm 24/7. We placed cameras in the maternity and pre-fresh pens and one in the parlor. These have been tremendous in aiding us with checking on cows calving, keeping an eye on the pre-fresh pen and observing parlor performance in real-time. Beyond that, the playback recording feature allows us to go back to an exact date and time to evaluate calvings or ensure protocols are being followed, and it is a great training tool for new milkers in the parlor.
Build for the exception
While down cows aren’t something we like to think about, it’s a situation that will happen. Building for these worst-case scenarios can ease the burden of nonambulatory animals and help with a quicker, smoother recovery. Wide alleys, access for equipment and a sound location for animals to recuperate can help make the process easier. One area I would have liked to incorporate during our construction process was a “TLC” pen, where these animals can have an individual area with deep footing and easy access on which to recover.
Don’t forget employee comfort
Cow comfort is always at the forefront of construction planning, but employee comfort is also key. Happy employees equate to happy cows. Throughout the construction process, we sought input from our employees on what features they would like to see in the new facility. This led to the creation of a section of the building that’s dedicated to our staff – with a break room, locker room, full bathroom and laundry on-site.
Each day is a learning experience in a new facility. Take the time to prepare and plan, but know that no project will completely be void of flaws. Focus on your goals for your new facility and what you built it to accomplish. While you may find things you would change, you will also find many things that have changed for the better.