The Right Plan, The Right Barn

What goes into the perfect building? Figuring out your needs plays a big part in solving that puzzle.

U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower once said, “Plans are worthless, but planning is everything.” Although his words were referencing military defense, Ike could have well been talking about barn construction. Whether you’re renovating or starting from scratch, having a solid plan is necessary.

Take your time

Before you start with the drafting pencil, take into consideration your most important and initial hurdle: time.

“The more time a farmer allots to planning and designing his new facility, the more efficient and economical that facility can be,” said Joe Hess, east region sales manager, EPS Buildings. “When a builder can schedule work and has time to negotiate pricing for his materials, the better price he can give so he is better able to pass some of that back to the farmer.”

Kathy Benoit, a livestock specialist with FarmTek, explained that farm owners should focus on changes and innovations that would make for a more efficient and profitable operation. If there’s an immediate facility issue, then there should be a plan to address it. If a barn is considered for renovation, then owners should address their future goals.

“For example, if they are looking to increase their herd size in the next two years through breeding, look to have construction complete as those newer animals are at breeding age, instead of calving age,” Benoit said. “This way, you can prepare for a few things. If building takes longer than expected, you still have time before expansion, and you are not trying to overcrowd the existing herd.”

Ample amount of time is also needed, she added, when it comes to new facility transitions. Having your staff and existing herd adjust properly – and doing this without new animals in the mix – can relieve stress within your operation.

Read more: Dairy barn construction: it’s all in the planning

Talk to your builder

Planning is one thing, but it doesn’t matter without the right execution and relies heavily on selecting the right builder. Owners should always consider experience and reliability when selecting one, Benoit said.

“There are many good builders out there, but not always ones with dairy experience,” she said. “Structures can be suggested that may not work with your situation, due to lack of experience on the builder’s side. This may not be apparent for years down the road, when you have finally hit a peak herd size.”

Hess added that reputation as well as knowledge should play a part in an owner’s decision-making.

“Will that builder be able to engineer the facility to provide a safe environment for both the animals and people that will enter?” he said. “Does that builder own enough equipment and have enough qualified [workers to] help to erect this structure in a timely fashion?”

Communication is key, Benoit noted, and a good builder will possess that trait, especially when you dive into designing specifics.

“All aspects of design flow into a single factor more than any others,” she said. “No matter what style of structure you are planning (freestall, tie stall or bedded pack), your builder should be able to help guide you to choosing a successful facility.”

Cow comfort, according to Benoit, is one of the biggest factors when farmers discuss their design plans. For instance, she recommends making sure aisles are sized properly for the breed you are working with. “Pertaining to cow flow – during movement to the parlor, appropriately sized aisles reduce stress to the cows and less slippage during travel,” Benoit said. “Appropriately sized feed aisles assure cows are undisturbed when eating and others are traveling behind.”

Owners should also take into consideration barn climate, she noted. To keep cows’ core temperature at a comfortable level, ventilation systems should be correctly sized.

Financial Considerations

Finances are always a factor for members of the dairy industry. Benoit recommended that owners research the programs available from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) that will allow for extended payment plans or even matching grants in some states. Here’s a list of some examples.

Agricultural Management Assistance (AMA)

AMA helps agricultural producers use conservation to manage risk and solve natural resource issues through natural resources conservation. NRCS administers the AMA conservation provisions while the Agricultural Marketing Service and the Risk Management Agency implement other provisions under AMA.

For more

Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP)

CSP helps agricultural producers maintain and improve their existing conservation systems and adopt additional conservation activities to address priority resources concerns. Participants earn CSP payments for conservation performance—the higher the performance, the higher the payment.

For more

Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP)

EQIP provides financial and technical assistance to agricultural producers in order to address natural resource concerns and deliver environmental benefits such as improved water and air quality, conserved ground and surface water, reduced soil erosion and sedimentation or improved or created wildlife habitat.

For more

Everyone makes mistakes

In planning, one of the other common missteps is when owners and operators undersize the structure.

“A new facility can increase herd production and cow comfort, which in turn will promote cows to live longer, more productive lives,” Benoit said. “Always try to give yourself a little extra space in the building – the cows will pay you back.”

On the flip side, you shouldn’t risk the danger of overdoing it with your future needs either.

“We have been asked many times to expand the barn even before its totally erected,” Hess said. “If that might be a consideration down the road, the building can be designed to be easily expanded without disturbing the original facility.”

Hess also recommended that owners choose a builder that applies top-grade methods or uses superior materials that will impact the design integrity of a building. Plus, when it comes to quality, cheaper isn’t always better. Often, better pricing can be the result of better planning.

“Once all of these items are on paper, the building should be engineered to adapt to take all of these factors into consideration,” he said. “Occasionally, it may not be possible to safely engineer some of these items into the plan and these issues must be addressed to overcome them and move forward with a safe building.”

Read more: Money-saving tips for pouring a new barn floor

Expect the unexpected

Most owners can provide a suitable assessment of their needs when planning for barn construction, however, despite our best attempts, no one is able to predict a certain future for their business.

“The best way to handle the unexpected is to give yourself some extra time between when the building is supposed to be done and when you need to start using it,” Benoit said. “With any project, communication is the No. 1 priority. When working with a builder, if changes happen to your plan, let them know as soon as possible.”

Great communication should be expected when dealing with a builder. With the advancements in messaging, schedule changes and construction shifts should be dealt with quickly.

“Communication is key to having a well-designed, safe finished product,” Hess said. “With cellphones now capable of providing instant answers through digital photography, emails and communication, there is no excuse for the builder, farmer or engineer not to know exactly what needs to be done and how.”

Read more: Design barns for today’s animals