Build a Barn With construction costs down, this Minnesota dairy will double facility

March 4, 2009 06:00 PM
Building costs are at their lowest in years, making 2009 the perfect time to build a new barn, says Greg Jans.

When other folks zig, Greg Jans likes to zag. The latest misdirection play Jans has in mind is to build a 400-cow cross-ventilated barn this spring or summer, doubling capacity to more than 800 cows at Cojo Dairy, just north of Grove City in south central Minnesota.

Greg and his son, Joe, have been planning this expansion for more than a year. In fact, last year the Janses applied for and received one of Minnesota's coveted 10% livestock improvement grants to expand their silage pad. Nearly 600 applied for the grant; the Janses were one of 20 dairy operators to qualify.

So they're not letting a little thing like a recession slow them down.

"The last three months of 2008 were a little tight,” Greg acknowledges. "But overall, 2007 and 2008 were good years for us.”

In fact, the recession is one of the main factors pressing the Janses to move forward now. "Steel has come down 20% since last year. Lumber is down even more, and copper has dropped 60%,” Greg says. "Contractors are eager to bid. In fact, after they learned I was putting in a silage pad last year, they were calling me. I've never had that happen before.

"The only thing that hasn't dropped is cement. We're waiting for it to come down before making our final decision to go ahead,” he says.

The 204' x 320', eight-row cross-vent barn will be just to the northeast of Jans' current freestall barn and parlor. Earthwork for the new barn was done last fall when the silage pad was expanded. But Jans left the pad about a foot below grade because he's still working out the details on his manure-handling system.

He knows he wants to bed with sand. But he is not sure what type of sand separation system he'll use in the new facility. Plus, he wants to convert part of his existing barn to sand as well. (Part of the older facility will also be converted into a compost bedded pack for the farm's lame and special-needs cows.)

He's also upgrading his double-12 parallel parlor, doubling up on equipment such as receiver jars to build redundancy into the system. The parlor will have to operate 24/7 with 400 more cows coming through each day once the new barn is up and filled.

The Janses have been in expansion mode for the past 15 years. Greg built a 200-cow freestall barn in 1995. He doubled it five years later when Joe came back to the farm after finishing his vo-tech degree. Since then, they've added a sand-bedded dry cow barn and upgraded heifer housing.

Now, as the Minnesota winter slowly thaws into spring, the key thing is to finish up the permitting process for the new barn. Once permits are in place, the Janses will be ready to call in their next play. As other dairy producers grind it out with a conservative ground game, hoping not to lose any real estate, the Janses plan an end around for a big gain.

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