A carrier rail system allows Austin Zimmerman to move pipeline milker units between cows with east.
A carrier rail system allows Austin Zimmerman to move pipeline milker units between cows with east.

For young dairy farmers with limited capital, a modern freestall facility and milking center are often a dream beyond reach. But sometimes a new facility isn’t necessary. These young farmers can still milk cows in facilities like their dad and grandads did, but with amenities that maximize cow comfort, air flow and ventilation.

Gone are the days of “bank barns,” tucked into Pennsylvania and Wisconsin hillsides that kept the farmers warm, but were often hot beds of pneumonia in winter and night-mares to ventilate in summer.

Now, tunnel ventilation and curtained sidewalls are opening up these barns to create cow environments as good as any freestall facility. And with each cow having her own stall, over-stocking and competition from boss cows is a non-issue.

Ventilations to fit the season

Austin Zimmerman, 22, Richland, Penn., moved his cattle into a new, 100-stall tiestall barn in July 2015. Zimmerman had been milking 50 cows in a rented barn with his dad, Earl, since 2009. The two had never milked cows before.

When the rented farm was sold, they opted to build a state-of-the-art tiestall barn. “We got used to managing cows in tiestalls,” Zimmerman says. “You can see how much each cow is eating every day, and if you need to treat her for some reason, you know exactly where she is and take care of it.”

The new barn features both sidewall curtains for spring, fall and winter ventilation and tunnel ventilation and evaporative cooling for summer.

Set on a north-south axis, the single-story barn is positioned to take advantage of prevailing west winds for natural ventilation close to seven months of the year. It also has two, 36" fans to provide at least minimal air exchange in the winter when the curtains button up the sidewalls.

It has automated controls that lower curtains when outside temperatures reach 65°F and power up the eight 52" tunnel ventilation fans. The cooling pads start operating when temperatures reach 70°F. Pennsylvania’s humid summers often pose a challenge, especially during the heat of the day. The cooling pads help at night to give cows a break, Zimmerman says.

Feed alleys are wide and curtain-sided walls provide floor to ceiling ventilation, much like open-sided freestall barns.

Ceilings in the barn are 10' high which creates a good “tunnel” effect when the big fans kick on. They generate wind speeds about 7 mph.

The curtain sidewalls are open 7 ½'. There are also 4' roof eave overhangs to provide additional shade for cows, because cows face outward and are only about 7' from the sidewalls.

Stalls are 4' wide, with stalls on one side 68" long and 70" long on the other. That allows the Zimmermans to place heifers and smaller cows in the shorter stalls to help keep them clean.

The stalls have mattresses which are bedded twice a day with finely chopped straw. “The bedding keeps the stalls dry and keep hocks from getting skinned up from the mattresses,” Zimmerman says.

Milking is done with DeLaval equipment and a Sturdy Built “milking track” or carrier rail system, with two milking units on each carrier. The carriers have turntables which spin in toward the cows, and side-by-side cows are milked simultaneously. The carrier units eliminate most of the lifting and glide right into the milk house for cleaning.

They milk 2X with 12 DeLaval units equipped with automatic takeoffs. “The barn is built on a 2.5% slope to ensure proper milk f low,” Zimmerman says.

Two people can milk the 100 cows in less than two hours, he says. That’s about the same amount of time and labor used to milk 50 cows in the old barn using 6 units, he says. Current production is running between 80 lb. and 85 lb. per cow per day.

The total costs, for the barn, ventilation and milking system, were about $5,000 per stall.

Tunnel ventilation all the way

High, smooth ceilings and sidewalls allow for unimpeded air flow through the 240' tiestall barn.

Tom Brenner’s story is much the same as Zimmerman’s. Brenner’s dad, Gary, has stopped milking cows in 2000, but Brenner had a passion for bovines. He started milking a herd of 50 to 60 cows in 2011 in a conventional tiestall barn he rented from his uncle.

Having no farm equipment of his own, he borrowed what he needed from his dad who was still crop farming about six miles away just outside of Durand, Wis. In return, Brenner helped his dad with the crops as well.

The arrangement worked, but it wasn’t convenient, and Brenner wanted to milk more cows. “If I was going to build a barn, it had to be sand bedded and comfortable for cows,” Brenner says, now 32. “But I couldn’t build a freestall barn and parlor within my budget. I could build a freestall barn cheap, maybe $2,000 per stall, but then I still needed a parlor and holding area.”

A tiestall barn with a pipeline was about $3,000 per cow. So construction began on a 100-cow tiestall barn last year, and cows moved into the facility on April 18, 2016.

The barn is a tunnel-ventilated facility with 14' ceilings, designed to convert to a milking parlor/holding area if Brenner ever decides to go that route. Six 52" fans on the barn’s east side pull air through the barn’s 240' length. Because of the high ceilings, Brenner will likely add fans over the cows to direct air down from the ceiling for better summer time cooling. The barn also has 12 smaller sidewall fans for winter ventilation.

Tom Brenner says he could have built a freestall barn for less money, but he'd still have to bild a parlor to milk.

The barn has 8" thick, 4' high concrete side-walls topped by insulated, pole barn walls. The inside walls and ceiling are white, plastic-clad to provide a bright interior for easy cleaning.

The barn is sloped 1.4% east to west, and the 18" gutters are f lushed automatically every four hours. Manure f lows into a manure storage pit adjacent to the barn.

The slope of the barn is also designed so the 2 ½" milk pipeline is the same height above cows the entire length of the barn. To save money, Brenner’s milk equipment dealer found him a used pipeline in a barn that had ceased milking. For now, Brenner milks with six units. His wish list includes automated takeoffs.

The tiestalls are 49" on center and 6' long. The stall beds are underlain by sand and crushed rock, topped by 2' of sand to optimize cow com-fort. Brenner beds stalls twice a week.

Milk production is about 70 lb. per cow 2X. But he’s milking a fair number of first-calf heifers as he fills the barn to capacity.


Note: This story appeared in the November 2016 issue of Dairy Herd Management.