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September 2008 Archive for Dairy Talk

RSS By: Jim Dickrell, Dairy Today

Jim Dickrell is the editor of Dairy Today and is based in Monticello, Minn.

Net $100 more per cow

Sep 16, 2008
By Jim Dickrell

I thought a headline like that might grab your attention. It did mine, after hearing Kevin Dhuyvetter’s cost and return analysis of the new cross-ventilated barns springing up from Texas to North Dakota.

Dhuyvetter is an agricultural economist with Kansas State University. K-State has been a leader in developing the new cross-vent barns. By default, Dhuyvetter was called upon by John Smith and Joe Harner to run the numbers.

Smith is the K-State dairy specialist who sketched out the first cross-vent barn on a, um, bar napkin three or four years ago. Harner is the K-State ag engineer who had done a lot of ventilation design work to make these barns cow comfort heaven. (Click here for a primer on cross-vent barns.

What Dhuyvetter found caused about 130 folks attending a two-day conference and tour of cross-vent barns sit up and take notice in Sioux Falls last week. Though the barns are no less costly to build and are more expensive to operate and maintain, $100 net return per cow over a naturally-ventilated barn is entirely within the range of possibilities.

“We don’t have a lot of side-by-side comparisons [because the barns are so new,] but the economics are worth looking at,” says Dhuyvetter.

First and foremost, you won’t save capital cost building cross-vent barns. Initially, that was the thought—especially at larger herd sizes because more cows can be brought under one roof with a smaller total land-use footprint.  Plus the low profile building (you don’t need the 4/12 pitch for natural ventilation) should save on roof sheeting.

But the low pitch, ½/12, means steel girders replace wood trusses to carry the roof load. Ceilings and walls need to be insulated to prevent condensation. Plus, water-cooling pads are needed on the inlet-side of the building, and walls of baffles are needed inside to keep air movement down over the cow beds.

The other misnomer is that cross vents require much more fan power for ventilation. Surprisingly, the cross vent barns require about the same amount of fan capacity per cow as a naturally-ventilated barn properly equipped for summer cooling.

So in his analysis, Dhuyvetter assumed the facilities—whether naturally- or cross-ventilated—cost $4,650 per cow to build.  He assumed a 20-year life, 10% salvage value and 8% interest.

He also calculated that the cross vents cost more to operate because some fans must run 24 hours per day seven days per week 365 days per year. In winter, that means 10% to 20% of the fans must run, even when temperatures dip well below zero in North Dakota, to ensure a continual fresh air supply. At 6¢/kwh, Dhuyvetter estimates the cross-vent barns use about 50% more electricity per year than naturally-ventilated barns. “But even if electricity doubles, electricity costs jump just $23/cow/year,” he says.

The big benefit to cross-vent barns is they provide a more consistent environment year around. They can keep barns warmer in winter and knock anywhere from 10° to 20°F off the hottest days of the year. By doing so, Smith and Dhuyvetter say feed efficiency will improve 3% on average since cows won’t spend quite as much feed keeping warm in winter or cool in summer.
If cows keep eating in summer, they should breed back better, average less days in milk and be less lame. And with the enclosed cross-vent barns, long-day lighting can also be achieved. Taken together, cross vent barns should push a 23,000-lb herd up to 24,000.

“Bottomline: I’m making about $115 more per cow or I can produce milk for about 50¢/cwt less,” says Dhuyvetter. “And at any level of production, return on assets is always better with the cross-ventilated barns because of better feed efficiency.”

The biggest wild card: Cross-vent barns are different. Like mechanically-ventilated tie stall barns, managing cow comfort becomes fan dependent—and all that entails. Dhuyvetter’s question: Are you up to it?

Jim Dickrell is editor of Dairy Today. You can reach him via e-mail at

This column is part of the Dairy Today eUpdate newsletter, which is delivered to subscribers biweekly and includes dairy industry analysis, dairy nutrition information as well as the latest dairy headline news. Click here to subscribe.

Jump-starting school milk

Sep 03, 2008

Today marks the first day of school for thousands of kids here in Minnesota. It also is a renewed opportunity for the dairy industry to meet the nutritional needs of kids who don’t get enough milk or calcium in their diets.

Our daughter is a senior in college. So I’ve forgotten the chaos and angst that goes with the first day of school. This year, though, my wife and I are hosting an 8th grade exchange student from Guadalajara, Mexico. 
I was thrown into the maelstrom of Middle School Open House last Thursday as Mariana, her aunt and I nudged our way through the hallways to meet teachers, pre-pay school lunch and purchase her gym suit. If it wasn’t pure chaos, it came close. When you get nearly 1,000 middle schoolers and their parents in one place at one time, all looking for class rooms and lockers, it’s bound to be raucous.

I image school lunch is a little like this. It has to be a barely-controlled free-for-all as kids converge on the cafeteria to fill their bellies while sitting with their friends and sharing the latest drama. Eating right is the last thing on kids’ minds.
Studies show that fewer than a third of middle school and high school boys and only one out of eight girls in this age bracket consume the recommended three-a-day of dairy. Virtually all girls 9 to 18 do not get enough calcium.   

So anything the dairy industry can do to increase consumption will help kids inch closer to meeting their dietary needs.

A 2002 National Dairy Board study shows that improved packaging, flavored milk, and use of chilled cases and vending machines can increase milk sales 18%. That’s where the dairy industry’s New Look of School Milk program comes in. Launched during the 2002/2003 school year, the program is now in 9,600 schools and is feeding 5.7 million students. That’s good, but the industry is only 10% of the way home with some 55 million kids attending school each day.
The National School Lunch Program (NLSP), which provides subsidized or free lunches to some 30 million students each year, is another opportunity to meet these students’ nutritional needs. Yet the program has come under fire because critics claim it contributes to child obesity, in part because it forces too much meat and dairy onto school lunch trays through USDA donations. 
But a new USDA analysis released in July suggests higher milk consumption by NSLP participants “likely accounts” for much lower sugar consumption because it substitutes for juice drinks and soda. While NSLP participants consume more meat and milk than non-participants, their caloric intake is not significantly higher. Having lost that battle, vegan critics of the program say more meat and dairy still contribute to higher fat and saturated fat consumption. 

And so it goes. While inroads to improve kids’ diets are being made, some well-intentioned and some not-well-intentioned critics continue to throw up road blocks. It’s imperative that each of us do our part to ensure students of all ages get the milk their bodies need.
If your school district is not yet participating in the New Look of School Milk, go to this Web site to arm yourself with background and facts. The site even provides a calculator to show how districts will profit by getting with the program. Feeding kids better—while reducing costs—is a win/win for everybody.

 --Jim Dickrell is editor of Dairy Today. You can reach him via e-mail at

This column is part of the Dairy Today eUpdate newsletter, which is delivered to subscribers biweekly and includes dairy industry analysis, dairy nutrition information as well as the latest dairy headline news. Click here to subscribe.


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