Keeping Expansion Costs Under Control

Jack Rodenburg, Dairy Systems and Behavior Specialist

Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs,
P.O. Box 666, Woodstock, Ontario, Canada, N4S-7Z5.

A Changing Industry

In the next decade, the profile of the Canadian dairy industry and of the rural community it supports will change dramatically. For many individuals, these changes will result in the retirement of both the operator and the farmstead from the industry. For others, the challenges represent a call to use their entrepreneurial skills to respond to opportunities and secure a place in the future.

The Council of Dairy Farm Organisations, a group of Ontario dairy industry leaders, has extrapolated existing trends in herd size and producer numbers to project a decline in herd numbers in Ontario from 9560 in 1993 to 4500 six years from now. They also predict growth in average herd size from 43 to 67 cows. These trends were established in an environment of gradual expansion of tie stall herds in a stable market. They are probably conservative if the impact of free stall conversion and declining profit margins are considered.

The G.A.T.T. implemented in 1995 provides adequate tariffs to maintain this stable market through "cost of production pricing" and supply management until 2001, or for another four years. Longer term, most view it as a signal that lower tariffs and increased trade and global competitiveness may be inevitable in future agreements. A decade from now, it is conceivable that Canadian dairy producers may have to compete directly with our largest trading partner and closest neighbour, the United States, for market for their product. Can we compete?

A comparison of Ontario and New York State financial data, taken from similar studies suggests that New York dairymen, particularly those with larger herds produce more milk per cow, manage more cows per man and consequently produce much more milk per man than Ontario herds.

Table 1: Selected Data, New York and Ontario Dairy Farms 1993 (Canadian $)
NY Tie Stall

<60 cows

NY FreeStall

< 180 cows

NY Free Stall

>180 cows

Ont. Ave.


Ont. Top 1/3


# Cows 48 116 386 46 56
Kg. Milk/Cow 7802 8532 8967 6840 7284
Cow/Person 26 34 43 24 24
Kg. Milk/Person 202541 290558 389579 167055 176099
Milk Price $/hl $42.04 $42.66 $42.85 $56.74 $56.66

It would appear that with our present industry profile, and U.S. prices, Ontario dairy producers, on average, would have a very poor income. But the rapid production increase we have experienced in the last 5 to 6 years among better managed herds suggest that on a Per cow" basis, we are closing the gap. These production increases suggests Canadian dairy farmers have excellent management skills, and are supported by genetics, nutrition and health management services from a highly skilled agribusiness sector.

In the area of "production per man", the gap is greater, and h is here that Ontario producers need to focus. Traditionally, labour efficiency has not been a priority. As illustrated in table 2, OMMB survey data shows an alarming trend among Ontario dairy farms to add "manpower" without adding "cow power".

Table 2: Average Number of Cows in the Milking Herd by Full Time People Engaged in the Dairy Operation (OMMB Producer Survey 1990).

Number of Full Time People

1 2 3 4 or more
Ave. No. Cows 36.0 44.9 61.0 82.9
No. of Cows/Person 36.0 22.5 20.3 20.7

Data from New York and Ontario dairy farms listed in Table 1 suggests there are economic advantages to larger herd size in the New York dairy industry.

More recently the OMEN teas supplied me with data on Ontario Daily Farm Accounting Project herds sorted by herd size and housing system. A summary of this in table 3 illustrates clearly that free stall herds tend to be more profitable on a traditional "per cow" analysis. What is more noteworthy however is that income per hour of labour for larger free stall herds is triple that of tie stall systems.

Table 3: Selected Financial and Labour Data. Ontario Dairy Farm Accounting Project 1993 (as supplied by Joan MacDonald, Policy and Economics, OMMB)
Tie stall Free Stall
30-45 Cows 45-60 Cows >60 Cows <60 Cows >60 Cows
Ave. No. Cows 37 48 83 51 80
Kg. Milk Sold/Cow 6020 5859 6071 6646 6795
Cows Per Person 20.5 21.9 25.7 20.8 34.6
Hours of Labour/HI* Milk Sold 2.47 2.22 1.71 1.92 0.86
Gross Farm Revenue $/Cow 4569 3972 4348 5371 4666
$ Net Farm Income/Cow 843 739 605 1057 1105
$ Net Farm Income/hr of Labour $5.70 $5.68 $5.68 $8.16 $18.76

* from daily time sheets, includes replacements and milking herd, but not cropping activity.

Because of this difference in labour efficiency, new technology will further widen the gap between larger free stall herds and the rest of the industry. Clearly technology such as B.S.T., construed as size neutral because productivity increases by x%, increases productivity per men twice as much for the herd milking 40 cows per man than for the herd milking 20 cows per man. Three times per day milking is estimated to earn more then $24 per hour of labour for the 100 cow herd adding 3 hours of labour, but only $7 to $8 per hour for the 40 cow herd adding 2 hours.

Labour efficiency in the U.S. industry has increased dramatically in recent years. It is estimated that from 1975 to 1985, labour per cow declined by 58% and labour per hectolitre of milk declined by 67%. While some of these labour savings result directly from economies of scale resulting from larger herds, most of the improvement results from mechanisation and automation of feeding, handling and milking daily cows. The fact that this mechanisation, and a growing body of new technology is restricted in application to the free stall management system, make free stall housing a clear preference for most dairymen considering expansion.

The CDFO in projecting an average had size of 67 cows eight years from now, adds the qualifier "(will include both small and large herds)". Reading between the lines, this is a recognition that 67 cows is an awkward herd size, too big for traditional tie stalls, and too small for efficient utilisation of free stall technology. Experience in developed countries have shown that dairy herds of 50 cows or less belong in tie stalls as there are no advantages to the free stall management system. When tie stalls expand beyond 50 cows, it becomes apparent that each added cow adds an increment of labour. W her e larger herds predominate, the typical experience has been to abandon tie stall housing somewhere between 50 and 100 cows.

Ontario diary producers are at the lower "threshold" today, and herd size is increasing. Dairy farm incomes are reasonable and the immediate future appears stable. Longer term, a need for greater competitiveness is predicted Should they consider free stall conversion in the next 3 to 5 years?? Each producer will be master of their own destiny.


Free stall housing systems as we know them today have evolved from 35 years at innovation by dairymen in North America and Europe. Undoubtedly this evolution will continue and what we describe as estate of the art" today will be surpassed by new developments in the future. This evolution in housing and management makes "planning" essential to a healthy farm enterprise. Financial planning, or doing the capital budget requirements, cash flow projections and income projections to ensure the project is both financially possible and profitable is an important element in planning which receives much attention. It is a necessary step which should be undertaken before any project is actually initiated. Farmstead planning, or locating elements in an appropriate place to avoid future conflict is also essential and generally well understood The type of planning which receives the least attention but is equally as important is "operational planning", or considering the functional aspects of new building projects in terms of the defined tasks in your fanning operation. While much of this is done intuitively, it deserves a status at least equal to other aspects of planning. The dairy producer who has a barn plan defined on paper can relate this plan to day to day tasks on the farm and fine tune it to reduce labour. For example while feeding calves you might ponder the steps, distances etc. involved in this task in the new calf area and while snuggling to remove the dead cow you can think on the design of the new treatment area and access to it by trucks and winches.

Michigan State's Bill Bickert lists nine key attributes for a free stall housing system.

1. equipment for weighing and mixing tested feed
2. handling, restraint and treatment facilities
3. adequate access to feed and water
4. air quality conducive to maintaining health
5. skid resistant walking surfaces
6. a clean, dry resilient bed upon which to lie down
7. milking cows divided into two or more groups
8. dry cows in at least two separate groups
9. properly designed installed and maintained milking system

These attributes address the need for a comfortable environment for cows which facilitates management of the herd. Combined with consideration of capital costs, labour, and expandability and flexibility, they form the basis for evaluating current housing systems and for planning.

When financial plans for expansion are evaluated on a least cost, greatest immediate benefit basis it is always more economical to add 20 cobs to the tie stall barn in a single storey extension. In general, experience suggests this will

only lead to abandoning a larger, more costly asset, at a later date. But generating the initial cash flow to finance a complete 100 cow free stall barn is certainly challenging. In the following discussion of free stall housing concepts, emphasis is given to identifying areas where initial costs can be minimised without jeopardising the long term design features of the facility. Specific cost saving suggestions are identified by bold type.

Build New or Renovate

One tempting way to reduce cost is to consider renovating an existing building. Large single story free spas truss style buildings can be well suited for conversion to free stall barns, however these buildings usually already have a well defined and profitable use. There is little sense in converting a machine shed to a cow barn only to discover you needed the machine shed afterwards Two storey bank barns with low ceilings and tie stalls do not lend themselves to free stall conversion and should not be considered for this. Actual cost of such projects end up higher than new construction and the end product is usually quite unsatisfactory. You may consider using the bank barn for temporary milking facilities, treatment area, or calf housing. One excellent use is for maternity pens. (Any function that does not involve a lot of feed and manure handling which is difficult and costly to mechanise in this location.

The Building Site

Particularly for dairymen with a tie stall background choosing the right site involves a change in philosophy. In free stall systems most work is done from the tractor cab so having things close together is of little benefit In fact "not enough room to turn around" is more commonly a concern than to "far to drive". The old barn should not dictate the location of the new, and it is strongly recommended that old and new are not attached. Attaching a new barn to an old bank barn seriously disrupts natural ventilation and pose a large fire hazard Choose a site that requires minimum levelling and fill. In my experience die preparation costs can range from 2 or 3 to over 20,000 dollars on very similar jobs. A 1 to 4 % slope on a building site has several advantages so do not spend money grading a site totally level. One of the benefits of some slope on the barn is that liquids drain away creating a drier environment. With 3% side slope in free stalls nearly all cows lay with their backs up hill, minimizing contact between hooves and udders.

Barn Layout

For free stall barns for more than 60 cows, the traditional layout involves 2 rows of free stalls on each side of, and parallel to the feed manger. This layout requires approximately 100 square feet per stall. With 46 inch wide stalls this plan provides approximately 2 ft. of manger space per cow at/owing all cows to access mangers at the same time. Since there are no dead end alleys problems with "boss cows., moving the group for milking and scraping manure are minimal. Should the need arise, each section of the barn can be subdivided into two groups although this does create dead ends. This plan is readily expandable by extending the barn at either end Crossovers between the two cow alleys are the preferred location for water troughs. Crossovers with water troughs are 10 to 12 ft wide and those without can be as narrow as 6 ft A crossover at each end of the barn and every 20 to 30 stalls is recommended With alley scrapes, locating the crossover at the top of the scraper path 2 stalls from the barn wall reduces traffic in this difficult to clean area, but does create a dead end which makes it more difficult to move cows around this corner.

Traditionally the rows of free stalls have been placed tail to tail. With a fully curtained side wall which is open in summer the outside row of stalls may occasionally become wet due to driving rain and on at least one side the outside stalls are is in full sun for part of the day. Out of consideration for improved cow comfort there may be a preference to locate the stalls facing toward each other so that the outside stalls are 8 ft. in from the wall This layout also provides open lunging space in front of each free stall shared with the stall across from it. The longer cross alleys with this layout increase the space required to 109 square feet per cow and therefore increase building costs by $100 to $150 per cow. The head to head layout also increases manual labour slightly where crossovers must be scraped manually Recommended alley widths are 8 ft between free stalls and 12 ft. along the manger with stalls facing out, or 8 ft. along the outside wall and 14 ft. along the manger with stalls facing in. For larger herds, adding a third row of stalls increases the building width only 8 ft. on each side resulting in a layout which uses only 81 sq. ft./stall. For barns of 100 cows or more this layout can reduce building costs by $80 - $150 per cow and is the preferred option where cost is a primary concern Critics of the six row barn point to inadequate manger space for all cows to eat at once. Field studies have shown that even in very high producing herds fed TMR free choice there is ample time to eat and space at the bunk is only limited for about 20 minutes midway through each milking in the six row berm There is no evidence that this reduces feed intake or production. The six row layout does mean that self locking head gates cannot be used as effectively since not all cows can be locked up at once.. It is also difficult to crowd all cows in one alley used as a holding area or for scraping. Where this layout is used, frequent feeding of a total mixed ration, a separate group for first calf heifers, and a functional handling facility beside the holding area are recommended.

Increasing the cow density up to 1.1 and even 1.2 cows per tree stall is a common practice in many herds. While not desirable on a long term basis, it is a practical way to grow into larger facilities prior to building. This practice is probably slightly less stressful in a 4 row barn where only free stall space is limiting than in a 6 row barn where both stall and manger space is limited, however this does not really take away from the advantages of the six row barn. Crowding free stalls immediately alters behavior since it is quite common for all cows to lay down at once and cows spend much more time in free stalls than at the manger. Evidence clearly supports lower production in cows crowded more than 5% regardless of the barn layout

For smaller free stall herds of 60-80 cows with no long term expansion plans a 3 row layout as in half of a 6 row bare, works out to 90 square feet per cow in a 60 ft wide building (span with a single scissor truss and no posts ). This is a very economical barn, but has limited potential for expansion since the roof is fixed at this width A few of these barns have been built a true half of a six row barn with a mono slope roof peaking over the drive through feed alley, however construction costs of this design tend to be higher.

A 16-20 ft. wide drive through feed alley has become a standard feature of free stall barns in recent years. This allows for mobile feed delivery using either a motorized feed cart or mixer wagon. Advantages over mechanical feeders include:

- lower capital and maintenance cost for feed delivery equipment, especially if it can be used in several barns
- greater flexibility in feed handling especially from bunker silos, large round bales, etc.
- unlimited capacity to vary ration delivery to different groups and group sizes along the bunk
- facilitates easy cleaning of mangers
- provides an area for human traffic, observations of cows, etc.

An 18 ft. drive through alley adds 12 ft. to the building width, compared to a mechanical feeder but, there is little doubt the additional cost (+/- $13,000 for a 100 cow barn) is readily recovered through improved feeding management and cow observation. Where existing narrower barns can be renovated for free stalls, but not drive through feeding, consider outside feeding at a fence line before mechanical bunks. Outside feeding may represent a low cost option, although a properly constructed roof over the manger, required to prevent feed spoilage may make the space as costly outside as in the barn. The initial decision to go this route is impossible to change later, and may become unacceptable due to the large volume of contaminated rainfall generated by cattle yards.

In each area of the barn it may be tempting to reduce cost by decreasing the space allocated. This has been done successfully with stall width, where the use of suspended partitions has made it desirable to reduce width of stalls to 46 inches from 48, reducing the size and cost of the barn 3 to 4 %. Reducing platform length below 8 ft in outside rows is not advised. Inside stalls open to the alley or the stall in front can work at 7 ft. instead of 7.5. Alleys between stalls can work at 7 ft. and at the manger at 10 ft. Crossovers can work at as little as 6 ft. but require 10 It if there is a water trough. Certainly a drive through can work at 16 ft. If all of these dimensions are reduced to the minimum, the size of the building can be reduced 10% and costs reduced by $100-150 per cow. Before such a decision is made it is essential to recognize that this is a permanent decision which cannot be changed or upgraded later. Extreme caution is advised in practicing this type of cost saving Watch for new developments in this area, since Dutch researchers are experimenting with reduced space used to reduce environmental impact.

In these layouts logical locations for the feed storage and preparations area, and for outside manure storage are usually at opposite ends of the barn and far enough beside the building to allow future expansion. With the drive through feeding system and total mixed rations, low cost feed handling, with bunker silos and "truckload" byproduct feeds stored in a commodity shed become practical and attractive long term alternatives In the short term, mobile TMR mixing permits the new barn to be located far away from existing upright silos with minimal added labour or expense.

Maternity and Handling Facilities

Handling of cows requiring individual attention such as treatment, hoof trimming, pregnancy checking, and calving can be labour intensive unless adequate facilities are provided Standard recommendations include one 12 ft. square maternity pen or one 4'6" x 6 ft. maternity tie stall per 20 milking cows, an additional treatment pen per 40 cows, as well as either self locking head gates in the main barn or a system for sorting cattle adjacent to the holding area. In larger herds it is recommended that handling facilities be incorporated into the holding area and milking parlour complex to facilitate regular observation, parlour milking, and sorting of cows when leaving the parlour. An existing system with dual return lanes, allows sorting of cows into a separate treatment lane with a headgate, or into pens from either the parlour or the holding area. A loading chute with solid sides for shipping and receiving cows should be included adjacent to this area. Self locking headgates in the free stall barn itself will provide an additional option for restraining cows with minimum disruption. Headgates which include a curve on the lower solid bar adjacent to the swivelled bar and those which include a "pinned" upright opposite the swivelled bar allow for easy release of downed cows trapped in a headgate If minimising cost in initial construction is a priority, a single rigid neck rail located at the height of the toprail of the headgate in fig. 5 provides an adequate barrier at the feed manger. If posts are properly spaced, self locking head gates can be added later, reducing initial capital investment by $60 - $100 per cow. Many dairy producers report cows prefer a manger with no selflocks, and with a silage based TMR there is little difference in feed wastage. Selflocks are noisy and do require maintenance. While they are still an effective way to reduce handling labour, some dairy producers are opting for other handling systems.

Maternity pens are best located out of sight of the holding area to eliminate the distraction caused by a calving cow. In expansions, part of the old barn may be effectively used as maternity pens. In new construction, a corner of the barn close to the parlour but not adjacent to the holding area is preferred.

With the current trend to parlors with sloping holding areas and double return lanes, the handling facility can be diverted to an optional holding lane, or directly to an area behind the crowd gate for transfer to the treatment pen. To avoid conflict with the sloping holding area, access is at the barn end of the return lanes. When the pen area is not directly visible from the holding area it becomes more acceptable for use as maternity, however calving healthy cows in the came place sick cows are treated may not be an appropriate way to address disease control. One disadvantage of the area beside the parlor as a handling facility where cows are housed between milkings, is the large temperature and humidity changes associated with crowded cows at milking and no cows the rest of the day. Treatment facilities can be located inside the barn but this does restrict future expansion in this direction.

The Shell

The building shell can be constructed with wooden poles and rafters or trusses, or with steel or laminated beams and purling. Adequate structural design to handle local snow loads is essential and engineer stamped plans are required in most jurisdictions. The use of concrete foundation walls increases cost compared to pole-frame construction, using pressure treated posts. Some contractors are placing posts in a tube of concrete, but this also increases cost. If a pole frame system is used the concrete free stall platform should be poured free from the posts to permit independent movement with frost . Pole frame buildings constructed 20 years ago are still standing and in good repair. There is a philosophical issue here of how long we want buildings to last. Dairy housing technology will change a great deal in the next 30 years. A building with a longer life expectancy than this will very likely outlive its usefulness. It may be adapted to another use for a further 20 yea", but if some structural repair is needed by this time this could be tied in with renovation. In Ontario, our 80 year old bank barns have been a liability for at least the last 30 years Where it is possible to reduce building costs by decreasing life expectancy the merits of this should be carefully weighed.

Greenhouse Barns

In recent years barns using a greenhouse construction or variations of it using canvas coverings, have drawn a great deal of interest as a low cost alternative to conventional construction. In practical terms the application of this technology to larger free stall barns is somewhat limited. Buildings wider than 40 ft. involve multi-arch, gutter connect construction. This is more expensive than the single span arch which can be used very effectively for calf housing. In multi-arch construction, make sure the structure is strong enough to handle snow loads as a cold environment (most greenhouse applications involve a heated area for which snow load calculations are different) and that posts can support free stall partitions, self locks etc. if this is to be attached. When greenhouse barns are designed in this way, cost estimates for a contractor constructed greenhouse are coming in at close to $7.00 per sq. ft. By way of comparison, an uninsulated pole frame shell with full curtain side walls and a steel roof costs approximately $10.00 per sq. ft. Greenhouse barns require slightly more labour to apply and remove the shade cloth spring and fall and additional operating cost of replacing plastic after 7 to 10 years. Compared to other uninsulated barns, greenhouse barns do increase natural light and they are warmer on sunny winter days. The $30,000 difference in capital cost on a 100 cow barn is attractive for a producer prepared to make a long term commitment to cold housing. A producer with a philosophy of starting low cost, and cold, with a goal to upgrade as income permits, will opt for the uninsulated pole frame shell built with a scissor truss and the potential for a ceiling and insulation to be added later.

In either cold barn the operator needs to realize that the system he plans has to be able to withstand freezing conditions. While cows will compensate with slightly higher feed intake and no other detrimental effects, mechanical manure handling systems and water systems cannot handle more than 2 to 3 degrees of frost for any length of time. Options such as tractor scraping and heated water bowls must be part of the package.

Ventilation and Insulation

Reduced building costs, more daylight, and noise free, non-electric operation make natural ventilation the only choice for modern dairy cattle housing. These systems depend on thermal and wind forces to move sufficient air through the barn. Particularly for summer ventilation, a location perpendicular to prevailing winds, and at least 100 R. preferably 200 ft. away from trees and other buildings is essential. Depending on the amount of insulation, temper res normally range from 3-5°C cooler than outside in hot weather. In minimally insulated barns, cold conditions in winter do require a manure handling system and water bowls which can cope with occasional freezing. Experience has shown that dairy cows thrive in a cold and dry environment, and problems are nearly always the result of inadequate barn openings, insufficient air flow, and attempts to keep the barn too warm in winter.

Summer ventilation of these barns is largely the result of a cross flow of air in one side wall and out the other. Barns with full side wall openings and a 12 ft side wall height will provide the most comfortable environment on hot summer days. Full wall curtains offer both the lowest cost side wall construction, and the greatest cow comfort Building costs can be reduced several thousand dollars by attaching the curtain material without controls. In summer the curtain is rolled up and attached to a horizontal 2 x 4 -18" to 24" down the wall. For spring and fall the top flap can be left open with the remaining curtain nailed down with nailing strips on the posts and on a bottom nailer. In winter the top flap is also nailed closed so that the only air admitted enters through a 6-10" opening under the cave. Cables and winch controls can be added to turkey curtains to allow daily adjustment. Windy conditions causing winch controlled curtains higher than 6 ft. to flap makes them difficult to adjust, noisier and may cause quicker wear. Because of these factors it has become common to construct the curtain in two halves, separated by a frame. The upper half is winch controlled and the lower is rolled up manually in spring and down in the fall. More costly automated controls are a convenient but unnecessary extravagance. Sliding wall panels or windows are more costly, increase sidewall construction cost and offer less maximum opening in summer. Since virtually all of the heat loss from a building is through the top, insulating a portion of the side wall does little to increase winter temperatures. While unnecessary an insulated curtain in the lower wall section can slightly reduce winter heat loss without reducing the open area in summer. Full wall curtains can also be employed across end walls, along holding areas, etc. to further improve summer ventilation. With the full sidewall open, it is recommended that the building have a 3 ft overhang at the eave to protect the outside rows of free stalls from summer sun, and driving rain. Eave troughs, which can be added later if necessary are also helpful in keeping free stalls dry.

For winter air flows in at the side wall and exhausts from the barn at the ridge opening. Although various forms of continuous opening were used in the past, less snow and rain in the barn and better control especially of down drafts in low animal density areas have made chimneys the norm today Rectangular chimneys should be evenly spaced along the ridge at intervals no greater than 30 ft to provide an open area equal to 1 percent of the floor area. Chimneys also make it possible to establish proper exhaust for attic ventilation in barns with a ceiling and attic space. No satisfactory solution exists for this problem in barns with a continuous open ridge.

Construction details of the ventilation system will hinge on how much insulation is used and the desired air temperature in the barn. Experience demonstrates cows are able to function effectively in low cost, uninsulated barns. Such barns should have a minimum eave opening and continuous ridge opening to ensure adequate airflow to remove moisture with little increase in air temperature. Even with good airflow, some moisture will freeze to the roofing steel on cold days, causing dripping when it melts off later.

While this uninsulated option is lowest cost, long term the structural integrity of the building may be compromised by moisture on the steel and trusses. In one 100 cow barn in the Woodstock area, styrofoam insulation was retrofitted under the rafters 3 years after construction at a cost of $20,000, proving that with suitable roof construction, such as a scissor truss a ceiling and insulation can be added later. Unless the plan is to retrofit more insulation within a few years of construction, new barns in Ontario should include at least a drip barrier under the steel roof. The lowest cost systems involve rolling flexible insulation onto the trusses before the steel roof is applied directly over it. Insulation materials applied this way include Astrofoil, (two layers of bubble plastic and a layer of foil) which provides a drip barrier only, and a plastic lined fibreglass batt with a respectable R12 insulation value. Compression of the batts by the roofing steel does reduce the R value somewhat. Rigid styrofoam used in this way in the past had to be covered or the trusses blocked to prevent damage by birds. Where a frost free barn environment is to be maintained, a system which permits greater amounts of insulation is recommended. By applying a ceiling of steel, rigid fiberglass (both about $1.00 per sq. ft.) or Fabrene (a textile vapour barrier, about $0.50 per sq. ft.) to the bottom of a scissor truss, a smooth continuous sloping ceiling to the chimneys is created, along with an attic space above it. Inexpensive blown in insulation can than be added toe sufficient depth to provide R20 to R40 throughout the entire ceiling. Since the greatest heat loss is through the roof insulation here has a greater benefit than in end walls. A low cost drip barrier may be all that is needed in the gable ends of the building, or as an alternative, clear plexi panels can add to the natural light, especially at the south end.

Due to the high cow density at milking time, holding areas should be particularly well ventilated with open side walls and sufficient ridge opening. Full wall openings in this area also ensure minimum interference with ventilation of the barn itself. In winter, preventing freezing between milking may be impossible. A rolling or folding door between the holding area and parlour may be needed if the parlour is to be kept frost free with supplementary heat. In Ontario there will still be a few summer days when hot windless conditions cause heat stress in the cows. Since cows ability to cope with heat is very poor, barns which focus on cow comfort will include some large box fans in the holding area and perhaps every 20 to 30 feet along the manger in the barn itself. These fans will only be used a few days per year, but if they can prevent the 2-3 liter per cow production drop which often occurs in hot weather, they are a good

Manure Handling

As with most design aspects, there are several options for handling and storing free stall including tractor scrape, mechanical alley scrapers, flush systems and slatted floors. While tractor scraping is viewed as a low cost option, assigned tractors or bobcats are seldom used for other applications, making the capital invested similar to alley scrapers or flush systems. When labour is included, tractor scraping becomes the most costly system of manure handling. It may be a practical way to deal with temporary freezing conditions or to minimise initial capital investment But it is not a practical long term way of handling manure. Alley scrapers running several times per day result in less disruption, cleaner, drier alleys and cleaner cattle with fewer hoof problems than tractor scraping. Where alley scrapers are used, floors should be sloped 1-2" toward the centre of the alley to encourage liquids to flow away from the curbs. Despite high maintenance costs, alley scrapers combined with low cost outside earthen manure storage, is a practical and economical option for handling manure.

In recent years flush manure systems have proven to be well suited to Ontario conditions and have gained in popularity. Where earthen storage can be used capital cost is slightly lower than scrapers, and while handling 10-15% more liquids increases operating cost flushing remains an efficient option that results in very clean floors, and minimal equipment maintenance. While it appears to be of no health concern some producers object to manure odour which is very evident immediately after an alley is flushed.

Elements of the flush barn include a 30 ft. high header tank, with 20,000 to 30,000 gallon capacity, 10" underground lines connecting the tank to a pneumatic flush valve at the high end of each alley a 1.5 to 3 % slope on the alley and a trench across the low end of the barn to carry flush liquids to a collection point. Manure is stored and separated in a three stage earthen storage with a capacity of 30, 30 and 80 % of the total storage used with other systems in the first second and third stage respectively. Stages are connected by an inverted "u" shaped pipe drawing liquids from the middle depth of each stage so that floating and sedimented solids are left behind. Liquid from the third stage is used to flush the alleys by pumping it to the header tank with a small water pump, and releasing about 2000 gallons per flush with the valve. Extending the free stall with a lip to create a 3" by 3" channel under the curb is very helpful in flushing away manure laying against the curb. Sites which require concrete manure storage add dramatically to the cost of flush barns since they involve three storages.

Slatted floors barns are more costly to construct when the alternative of earthen storage is available. On sites where outside storage of manure requires a concrete tank the difference between scrapers and slats is smaller and especially on sites requiring a lot of fill slats become competitive. Where bedding and feed wastage can be kept out of alleys, properly designed slats with a slightly textured surface, provide an excellent environment for cows. Slatted floor barns with 8 foot manure pits below them provide approximately 200 days storage for manure and milkhouse washwater and eliminate unattractive outside storage from the farmstead. To prevent injury from manure gases below, barn pits should not be agitated or pumped unless side wall openings are wide open and there is a reasonable breeze. Compared to outside storage manure volume and handling costs are reduced since no rainwater is added to the system.

All three manure handling systems have comparable difficulty dealing with freezing conditions. Scrapers can be run continuously in mild frost and flushing more frequently will also prevent build up of frozen manure. When it gets to cold, slats freeze over, scrapers quit and flush systems ice up, at similar temperatures, so in cold barns provisions should be made to permit tractor scraping in extreme weather. This is probably simplest in a flush barn. Both alley scrape systems, and flush systems are most economical when combined with earthen storage. Although many people express concern about earthen storages, research data shows that properly constructed, they pose no threat of seepage. Earthen storage can reduce costs of manure storage by $30-50,000 for a 100 cow free stall barn.

Floor Finishing

Good footing is essential for cow comfort, reduces injuries and increases mounting activity. Concrete alley floors should be finished with a slight texture, and 1/2" deep grooves 4-6" apart forming a diagonal diamond pattern. In flush barns grooves should be parallel to the flow of flush liquids. A second groove from the centre of the alley angled toward the stalls on the downslope will encourage more flow of flush liquids along the curb and better cleaning. Grooves can be floated into the concrete using a float fitted with 1/2" copper tubing. A pattern should also be applied between the grooves. This is commonly rolled on with a expanded metal mesh roller. Once the floor is dry, rough edges can be removed by buffing with concrete blocks on edge dragged over the new floor. Floors which were initially to rough have cost thousands in lame cows so it is critical to do this job well. If in the process of floating in the grooves it becomes obvious the results will be unsatisfactory, grooves can be cut in the floor after it hardens.

Feed Mangers and Barriers

Recommended dimensions for the manger walls and feed barriers are as follows. The manger should be elevated about 4" above the cow alley to promote a comfortable eating position and minimum wastage. The post and rail barrier teas posts at 8 ft. intervals, supporting a top rail 48" above the cow alley. This design is low cost (d $5/cow) and offers maximum freedom to cows while at the manger. Feed wastage is slight with silage diets but greater if hay is fed, to the point where slatted floor systems are incompatible with the design. Barriers with angled bars or tombstone feeders are more costly ($30-$40/cow) and lack the handling benefits of self locking headgates ($60-$80/cow). With each system it is recommended that the barrier be angled 20° or about 8" at the top rail over the manger to provide greater reach and a more comfortable eating position. Wherever barriers are used to restrict livestock movement, (gates, return alleys, holding areas, feed manger, etc.), consideration should be given to making human movement easier by providing gaps 14-16" wide at convenient locations. Ideally eating surfaces should be smooth and easily cleaned. Good concrete finishing in the manger will provide this for at least 4-6 years and is more practical than costly, slippery ceramic tile which are easily damaged by mechanical equipment.


Provide at least one watering space or 2 ft. of tank perimeter for every 20 cows, and a minimum of two waterer locations per group of cows. Several designs of waterers which prevent freezing available, but cows do show a strong preference for open drinking surfaces. Tip tanks provide a simple and effective way to keep water clean and fresh. Since there is a great deal of evidence that cows consume more feed when it is presented at a height of 3-12" above the floor, I am convinced water consumption is also higher when tanks are designed to have an edge no higher than 20" above the floor with the water level at 14-16". Systems which use warmed water from a plate cooler distributed by gravity to the barn tanks can significantly reduce milk cooling cost

Free Stall Design and Bedding

Undoubtedly, free stall size, design, and bedding play a greater role in cow comfort and health than any other aspect of the housing system. In recent years, consideration of cow movement when rising has lead to major improvements in free stall partitions. Recommended designs all include increased space at the front of the stall for cows to lunge their head forward and to the side while rising. In further consideration of this movement it is also recommended that where stalls do not face an outside wall, the space from approximately 10" above the stall surface to the neck rail, be left open in front of the stall. The suspended partition is most adaptable to installation and maintenance of new bedding concepts such as mattresses, and combines design strength, good lunging space minimal interference with the cow.

Many successful free stall designs include a 'floating' or hinged neck rail or cable to keep cows back in the stall while standing so that the rear of the stall stays cleaner. It is thought that injuries to the neck and shoulder area are reduced when this rail is not fixed, however a clamped neck rail significantly increases the strength of the partitions. With proper location of the neck rail 46" - 48" above the platform and 70" - 72" from the rear curb and the use of a brisket board, a fixed rail causes minimal interference for the rising cow. A diagonal distance from the rear curb to the neck rail of 80" - 87" should be maintained for lower neck rails. The above range is intended for cows from 1300 to 1800 pounds.

A brisket board 8" - 10" high and 70" - 72" from the rear curb of the stall haps to define body space and head space. By keeping the cow back in the stall while resting it, prevents entrapment and reduces the lisle of injury. Brisket boards can be made of firmly anchored lumber or of concrete and should be smooth edged and sloping forward 4S° to follow the contour of the neck and brisket.

The rear curb of the free stall should be at least 6" high in slatted barns and 8" in scrape and flush barns to prevent overflow from the alleys. Higher curbs may cause low uddered cows to drag their teat ends over the curb.

A smooth stall base with a gradual slope of approximately 4% from the front to the rear of the stall is recommended for drainage and to keep cows back in the stall. It is noted that with a lateral slope of 3% or greater, most cows lie with their backs upslope. When cows lie in the same direction, teat and udder injuries may be reduced since there is less exposure to the hooves of adjacent cow s. On a suitable site it may be practical to incorporate this slope in barns with solid floors, thereby also making them adaptable to flushing. Lateral slopes are not practical in slatted floor barns.

Table 4: Recommended Dimensions for Free Stalls
Cow Size Stall Width Stall Length
kg. lbs. mm. in. mm. in.
400 880 975 38 2000 78
500 1100 1050 41 2100 82
600 1320 1125 44 2200 86
700 1540 1170 46 2300 90

Locate the neck rail 46" to 48" above the stall surface and 70" to 72" from the rear curb.

The "black creek" free stall partition, consisting of a single 2 x 12" board mounted on a wooden frame of brisket board, neck rail and posts, with a smaller support nailed at 45 degrees from post to partition is promoted in some areas as a lower cost option. Using purchased lumber in Ontario, this partition is not cheaper, but might be if there is special access to low cost lumber.

Design criteria for the base of the free stall and choices of bedding material should provide a soft bed, non-abrasive surface, and should keep stalls clean and dry for maximum animal comfort and health. Convenience, ease of maintenance and cost are additional considerations.

Earth based free stalls using clay or stone dust provide good footing and reasonable comfort but require weekly maintenance to keep them level and sloping to the rear. If minimising initial cost is the objective this may be a logical first step despite high labour and bedding requirements. Tires packed in an earth base reduce the amount of hollowing, help hold bedding in place and improve cow comfort, however they will lift out unless installed with great care. Rough sawn hardwood planks, installed in a firm base, horizontal to the alley with 1" spacings to allow drainage also result in an acceptable stall base which is not readily hollowed out. The addition of 2" x 4" perpendicular 'cleats' beneath the stall partitions help hold the planks in place and reduce bedding movement.

Concrete stall bases are the easiest to maintain, but least comfortable for cows. Studies have shown that cows will spend only half as much time (7.2 hr.) resting on unbedded concrete, as on a deep straw pack (14.2 hr.) Rubber placed on top of or embedded in concrete improve the cushion of concrete stalls and increase the time spent resting (9.8 hr.), but many types of mats have led to disappointing results due to rapid wear, buckling and elongation.

Experience with the above systems has shown that while tires, wood and concrete reduce stall maintenance, large amounts of bedding are required to cushion and reduce abrasiveness of these improved surfaces, in order to prevent knee and hock injuries. Even rubber mats which do cushion the stall can result in hock abrasions which subsequently become infected. A 2"- 4" bedding layer of chopped straw, hay, sawdust or shavings, are typically used to cushion the stalls and keep them dry. These materials are costly, difficult to handle in some manure systems, and require daily maintenance. Rapid growth of bacteria in damp bedding, specifically strep. non ag. organisms in straw or hay and coliform organisms in wood products result in increased mastitis incidence unless all damp material is removed at least once daily. A 6" layer of sand has been shown to be an ideal bedding material from the standpoint of minimising both mastitis and leg injuries' but approximately 20-40 lb. of sand per stall per day will be incorporated in the manure. Since this is unmanageable in liquid manure systems, sand bedding is not practical in any system involving manure storage.

The search for an ideal free stall base requiring minimal bedding has taken a giant leap forward in recent years, with the development of cow mattresses. In these systems the base of the free stall is finished with 5% slope from front to back to provide good drainage. A concrete base is preferred because dirt may settle resulting in an undesirable finished surface. The covering material is attached under a nailer near the rear of the stall. A 3 to 4" layer of crumbed rubber is placed uniformly over the stall base. Field reports suggest that longer rubber shavings from new tire manufacturing are less likely to shift than recycled crumbs. The covering textile is then turned over the rubber and attached to the brisket board with a second nailing strip. Care should be taken to retain adequate rubber fill near the rear curb. When installed in this way mattresses cost $20-$40 pa stall. Shifting of the rubber fill may require loosening the cover once pa year to rake out the material.

Commercial mattress systems cost $80-90 per stall and include a preformed mattress of crumb rubber sewn in a liner, covered on site with a geotextile layer. Non woven textile coverings provide good footing, retaining bedding, are less abbrassive, and are proving to stand up better than woven material. In a research study of cow mattresses at Alfred College, cows given a choice of unbedded free stalls chose mattresses 2 to 1 over rubber mats. A field study has found a decrease in hock damage from 24% of cows on rubber mats to 9% of cows where mattresses are used. Cows were also cleaner and had lower somatic cell counts. While mattresses add a major expense to barn construction, experience has shown that bedding use of 2 to 3 kilograms per stall pa week is adequate with this system. The saving of $20-40 per year in bedding costs readily justifies this expense.

In terms of cow housing and stall design, there are many lower cost options which may have application in certain situations. Minimal capital cost would involve a barn with no free stall partitions at ale Several barns have been constructed with the dimensions of a 4 or 6 row centre drive through barn, laid out with a tractor scrape alley manger, and a fenced bedded pack bedded\ the remaining space. The pack should be fenced with a 8-10 ft. access to the manger area every 80 ft. to minimise the tracking of bedding and manure between the two areas. In this system, the pack area should provide at least SO sq. ft. per cow. Cows will be dirtier since they are unrestricted from laying in manure, but an adequate dry base can be maintained with 25-40 lbs. of straw bedding per cow per day. In Ontario bedding costs of this barn make it uneconomical in the long run, but there is no doubt cow comfort is high if this system is well bedded. For close up dry cows which are less mobile, this is an ideal type of housing. If this system is selected as a short term option as a step toward free stalls, a dirt floor at the level of the scrape alley, or concrete finished with the free stall platforms, are appropriate base" for the pack, but this will mean removing the pack monthly. If there is a hag term commitment to the pack system, stepping the floor of the pack down to 1 ½ ft. below the scrape alley with two 9" steps 7 ft. apart will provide more manure storage space in the pack. Even with this difference in height a pack 2 ½ ft higher than the scrape alley will build up in 4-5 months. A 4 ft. concrete outside wall around the pack and along the holding area will be needed if the barn is to provide manure storage for this length of time.

The Milking Parlor

The scope of this paper does not permit detailed discussion of parlour design, however in view of the focus on cost and phased in expansion, the parlour cannot be ignored For the smaller free stall herd, parlor selection is a major dilemma, since this is a classic area of conflict between capital investment and labour efficiency.

With the degree of automation available today, an efficient parlour which fully utilises the time of one operator would be a double 12 or double 14 rapid exit parallel or herringbone parlour, with a holding area, and crowd gate, capable of milking 100 cows per hour, and involving a capital investment of $100,000 to $150,000. This parlour could milk 700 cows 3x per day. With a 100 cow herd, it is in use less than 15% of the tone, but smaller parlours will mean labour efficiency is sacrificed

There are many systems to choose from for the smaller herd expanding to free stalls. One very logical one, considering the high cost of a parlor building and equipment, is to continue milking in tie stalls for an initial period in which some of the debt from building the barn is repaid. This can be done by setting up gates that allow easy group handling for cows into a section of 10 to 12 tie stalls and moving the cows in groups. In some cases dairymen have automated these stalls as "flat parlours" but the improvements in cow throughput seldom justify the expense. In fact, where a larger number of tie stalls is available, and a pipeline is already in place, using all available stalls may be as efficient as the flat parlour. A second alternative is to relocate the pipeline from the tie stall barn to the self locking head gates and milk in the free stall barn on a temporary basis. When a parlor is added a low cost approach is to locate an inexpensive parlor such as a 2 x 5 or 2 x 6 herringbone in a corner of the barn, using the free stall alley as the holding area and returning milked cows to the alley at the manger, to fresh feed. A very inexpensive parallel parlor exists with no turn gates or rapid exit features which is common in Ireland and New Zealand With 10 milking units in a high line swing formation and a double 10 parlor of this type, one producer in Manitoba is milking 60 cows per hour with an investment of less than $20,000. Since this parlor location interferes with expansion and because a holding area becomes a major labor saving asset in the larger herd this is not the right spot for an expensive parallel with a long term commitment attached to it. The parlor in the corner of the barn should bee low cost system which can be replaced entirely if and when greater capital investment can be justified. The alternative approach is providing the building space for future expansion to a double 12 parallel or herringbone, but including only half of the stabling and milking equipment in the initial plan. In any of these smaller parlours, investment in automation should be carefully considered since the operator will have time available to complete most activity manually. No parlor automation including detachers is really cost effective in parlours smaller than 2 X 8.

Two parlour designs popular in Ontario are of concern in terms of their efficiency. Time studies of 2 x 3 and 2 x 4 automated side opening single stall parlours do show they can achieve a good cow throughput but this is achieved by walking around, and working around cows with variable milking speeds. This parlour has no defined "routine" for cow handling, will require more walking and better management by the operator. Furthermore, one operator is busy in a 2 x 4 of this design, so future expansion is not practical. Of even greater concern is the inefficiency of a one sided parlour. A number of single sided 6 to 10 stall parallels have been sold recently, but in operating these you will find a heavy work load when groups are changed, and nothing to do while cows are milking.

Attributes of the ideal parlor include a holding area with 4-5 % upslope towards the parlor. This encourages cows to face the parlor since they prefer to stand up hill, permits easier washing, and allows a level entry to the pit from the milk house. Greater slope may cause problems with refusal to use the downsloped return lanes and is not recommended. The parlor should be wide open to the holding area so there are no obstructions to visibility or cow flow at the parlor entrance. Footbaths the width of the return lane (30") and at least 5 ft long and 4" deep should be located at the barn end of the return lane.

Planning Your Free Stall System

Undoubtedly the material presented here is incomplete and outdated already. Dairymen somewhere are already working with better design, or have found new solutions to housing and management problems.

There is no cheaper or less damaging place to make design errors than on paper. Experience has shown that the best facilities are redesigned several times before they are built. In planning a new free stall system or expansion, solve the existing management problems in your present operation first, and improve your record keeping so that new problems can be identified and dealt with quickly. Then design a system based on your present knowledge and preferences, giving particular attention to visualising how daily management activities will be performed in the new facility. Visit many other farms on your own and with organizations such as the Ontario Large Herd Operators, talk to engineers, management specialists, suppliers and contractors about your plans. Be sure to include all the people who contribute to your ongoing operation such as employees, feed suppliers, A.I. technicians, veterinarians, etc., as each may have ideas which make their involvement with your operation more efficient Redesign your system along the way and visit many more farms. Be sure to share details of your plans with people you talk to since most people find it easier to react to a specific proposal than to deal in abstracts. Finally, develop a complete financial plan and cash flow forecast for several years and arrange complete credit. Then implement the plan rapidly so that invested dollars can start to show a return.