A couple of weeks ago while on a farm visit a producer asked, “My new barn is now 12 years old, what things should I be looking at to update for cow comfort?” That question kind of caught me by surprise, but also got me thinking about how many ‘new’ dairy housing facilities in PA and the Northeast US are just like his, 12 years old. So what is the difference between a barn from 2014 and one from 2002?

The first thing I thought of was that in 2002 a big freestall was 48 inches wide and 8 feet long, even 7.5-foot head-to-head stalls were long stalls. Today, that is a heifer stall and standard cow stalls are 9 to 9.5 feet long. So what can be done to make these 12-year-old stalls longer? Well you can either move the rear curb backwards or the front wall forwards, it’s as simple as that. Moving the rear curb means the scrape alley will be a little narrower, but often the added cow comfort is worth more. On outside rows, the curtain wall can often be leaned forward 18 to 24 inches at the bottom to gain lunge room. Along with the freestall length, take a look at the other stall dimensions of neck rail position and brisket locator placement. The neck rail should be 48 to 50 inches above the stall bed and 68 to 70 inches from the rear curb. The brisket locator should be 68 inches forward of the curb and no more than 4 inches high. What does that stall surface look like? Would adding some more bedding make the stall more comfortable? Maybe a bedding retainer is the answer.

The next thing that came to mind was what does the walking surface look like, or feel like, to the cow? Many 10-plus-year-old concrete floors will be in need of some resurfacing. All those trips with scrapers are bound to smooth off the floor, leaving it slick. Would sawing new grooves at a 45 degree angle to the existing ones improve traction? Perhaps the grooves are fine but the area between the grooves has become slick. Then maybe using some type of milling or scarifying procedure will return that broom finish. Finally, take a look to see if there are areas where resilient flooring such as rubber belting could be used. Often this is a good option for holding areas and milking stalls where cows will be standing for some time.

Is the ventilation and heat abatement system up to the job? The goal is to provide 11 square feet of windward opening (one sidewall and one endwall) per cow within a naturally ventilated shelter. Are there things that could be done to open more of the endwall or sidewall? Increasing the opening of a shelter is going to increase the air exchange rate for summer weather. Next look at the fans within the shelter, are they 10-plus-years-old, just like the shelter itself? For heat abatement the goal is to get the air velocity around the cows in stalls over a minimum of 3 to 5 mph. Studies and experience have taught us that fans spaced approximately 10 times their diameter, over each row of stalls, can achieve this goal. Can evaporative cooling be added with the use of sprinklers or misters in the holding area or at the feed bunk?

If your new barn is 12 years old, or maybe even just 5 years old, think about how you would design and build that shelter today. Are there things that can be done to get closer to the stall design, ventilation, or flooring that would be used today? As we strive for healthier, more productive cows with greater longevity, achieving better cow comfort is an area that will need continued focus.

For more information of dairy housing take a look at the list of recorded Technology Tuesday Webinars.