Dairy Shed Design to Amplify Safety, Comfort, and Economy
Your dairy shed layout needn’t be complex, even if you’re running a large initiative. A little planning and plenty of knowledge go a long way towards keeping your animals happy. Comfort translates directly into profits. Every part of your shed must be well ventilated and protected from extreme weather conditions. This creates a paradox: cattle must be exposed to the environment, but not so much that they’re unprotected from it when the weather gets windy or wet.
Animals shouldn’t be left to trample their feed, and their troughs must be raised for comfort and reduced wastage. Flooring plays a more important role, though: slipping can be catastrophic for cattle, and lameness needs to be guarded against equally well. Trauma to the sole of the foot is caused by cows being left to stand on concrete for long periods and overcrowding that leaves them twisting and turning excessively. Farm tracks used to be designed to minimize movement, but these days, farmers prefer their cows to have some freedom, which will wear less heavily on your track. Infections can also cause lameness, but that’s easily taken care of by designing for excellent drainage. Some production farmers have taken to using woodchips to improve dryness and comfort, but if you have a big herd, you’ll need something more substantial.
An Optimized Track
The way cows move through the track has a drastic effect on their health. Your patience with your cattle will pay good dividends, as will building a track wide enough to allow cattle to move easily without any slowing or shortening of stride. You’re looking to avoid unplanned movements and encourage your cows’ own natural speed. This should bring you a marked decrease in lameness.
Your track and yard need to be carefully cleaned because sand and stones are heavily corrosive on hoofs. Sheds with a high prevalence of lameness are almost 14% more likely to have a biting dog and lower population densities. Each cow should have a minimum of 1.5 square metres, and tracks with sharp angles must be eliminated entirely. Exits must allow cattle to move through the race without turning. Rotary sheds will thus serve you better.
Solutions for Small Scale Housing
A small operation lets you exploit the improved drainage of soil in your handling facilities. You can use hutches to house your calves and provide plenty of feeding space. Hoop barns are an economical way to house lower densities, but they don’t allow for much ventilation, especially on hot days. You will only thrive with this kind of barn if your cattle are grazing freely in summer. Most use an open sided shed with a single slope roof for its simplicity and economy. Pole barns are partitioned to keep large and small heifers separate, and headgates are used to control movement.
Calves and Layout
Dividing your calves according to their needs automatically takes care of size divisions. Large pens are needed for group rearing, weaning, and calves older or younger than 12 weeks.
Cattle act instinctually on their needs and in response to their senses. Sight is their most prominent sense, and fear is their dominant response, so your shed must be designed to provide a sense of safety. One of the most costly problems dairy farmers face is caused by cattle’s silent response to pain. Their welfare will be compromised for some time before you notice the cause, so your housing design must pre-empt problems and prevent injury. If cows are overly controlled, they may become aggressive towards staff, and if they’re bored, they will over feed. Their tendency to stay in herds is best encouraged. Staff behaviors directly impact upon cattle behaviors, with patience being the most important trait for happy herds. Learning to recognise signs of frustration will help you to prevent lasting problems. Look for tongue rolling, abnormal walking patterns, tucked tails, and kicking.
Dairy shed layout will be far more effective if you’re proactive about avoiding common health and behavioral problems. Any farmer who has a thorough understanding of their animals will improve their welfare and, in so doing, improve their production.