Dairy barns are often build ready at once. Farm has a certain goal for investment and everything is built ready to fullfill those goals. Due to expensive building costs investment to build everything at once can be too expensive, either it makes living with loans difficult or there is no money given to investment at all. Building in steps is a good option.
Instead of going straight to a goal with your investment, could there be milestones to achieve goal?
If we need to go over to a high fence, we need ladders. For a two-level house we need stairs. Why we just cant jump over a high fence straightly or climb to second floor? Because very likely we can´t. Stairs and ladders are certain type of milestones, where too difficult task is splitted to accecsible pieces.
In a dairy farm building projects we are sometimes in the same situation. We want to do something but we can´t. For example a farm with cows in tie stalls wants to invest to a new robot barn. Bank says "no" because investment excees farms ability to pay investment back. Something should be done anyways. Cows are good genetics but in tie stalls and with bad ventilation milk production / cow remains too slow.
Start with a housing barn
What if as a first step cows would have a new facility but milking would happen in an old tie stall barn?
For example: if tie stall barn has 40 stalls, other side, 20 stalls, is used as a milking parlor and the other side for separated cows. Milking equipment remains the same
Cows will be moved to be milked via connection alley between new housing barn and old barn twice a day. New barn with top cow comfort increases production and keeps cows more healthy. For people labour remains pretty much the same though.
In the same way an old free stall barn with poor stall and alley dimensions can be used. Take an advantage about your milking parlor, create a holding area and move cows to a new housing barn. Milking happens in the old milking parlor.
Invest to robots in a next phase
In the next phase, you can focus on reducing the need for labour. Newly built housing barn designed with milking robots in mind. Robots and gates will be added and structures will be modified. A new milk room may have to be built. But now the investment is far more smaller than just building completely new robot barn. Cows are also used to their environment, transition time to robotc milking is also easier.
Can I invest in robots in the first phase?
Sometimes the biggest problem on farms is the milking system and the labour it requires. Milking parlor can be small, old and in the end of its usage time. If remodelling an old barn to robots is not an option,then the focus is on milking as many cows as possible with robots.
Building a new housing barn just for milking cows and having rest of the cows in an old barn can be an option. Calving area and treated cows remain in the old barn. This can save 20-30% of the cost compared to building a completely new barn.
In this situation 2nd phase is
- either to expand a new robot barn with calving and separation area or
- remodel an old one later to have for example all transition cows (dry, close-ups, calving, fresh) in an old part with an additional robot.
However, building is a long-term project. Building in steps allows for expansion when it is possible. In some areas expansion is limited due to site or lack of land for the feed. Anyway the cheapest cow place to build is in expanded part.
Building in steps needs farmstead plan
Developing your farm site buildings in small steps needs a goal. You have to have a certain vision of what things might look like in 20-30 years' time. Therefore a building future map, farmstead plan must be developed.
If you don't have a map, building step by step can even lead you in the wrong direction. A good farmstead plan takes account of future buildings and expansions. It will help your farm develop in an economically and operationally productive way.
Smaller building projects – less risk to economy
Small steps mean smaller investments at time. Loans from bank are smaller and between phases, as production and efficiency increases, You are able to pay loans back faster. Having less loans at time from bank, Your economy is more durable in times when costs are high and milk price is down. Farms also often face situations where there will be non-planned investments and therefore some “moving space” in farm economy is useful.
Take subsidy system limitations into account
Almost in every country there are subsidies available for modernizing of dairy buildings. The subsidy system and regulations vary from country to country. Phased building can mean building at short intervals. Sometimes it may be necessary to modify and rebuild a recent project. This may be in conflict with the rules of the subsidy system. Before you start building, find out about the subsidy regulations in your country and talk to the local authorities.
Well designed – half done
This is a saying in Finland. A good plan makes building easier. We in 4dBarn can help you to develop a farmstead plan and also in projects which you plan to do in phases. Whether you are thinking to do something now or in the near future!
Jouni Pitkaranta, MSc Architecture
This article has been published in Dairy Japan in 2022.