Easy Transitions New transition barn has it all

October 12, 2009 07:00 PM

Four 25-cow mature cow groups are housed to the left of the feed alley. A fifth group and an 80-stall heifer group, along with calving pens, are situated to the right.
The new transition barn at Badger Pride Dairy has it all:
  • 54" wide freestalls with no brisket boards for mature, pregnant cows.
  • 30" of bunk space per cow throughout.
  • Twenty-five stall pens for mature cows that enable stable social groups.
  • Drover lanes that facilitate one-person cow handling and allow cows to be moved at any time without disruption.
  • Big, roomy calving pens with in-floor heat and rubber matting.

Lorin Berge and son Matt, of Valders, Wis., started moving dry cows into the naturally ventilated, 205-cow barn last Thanksgiving. Since then, fresh cow problems have dropped dramatically.

"The top, aggressive cows will always do well, no matter what kind of facilities you have for dry cows,” Lorin says. "But the bottom end usually struggles. With the new barn, metabolic issues with fresh cows have really subsided. The difference has been remarkable.”

Displaced abomasums have dropped off markedly, he adds, and milk fevers are rare—maybe one case occurs everymonth or two.

Prior to building the barn, the Berges used a one-pen system for all dry cows and springing heifers. With 700 cows milking, that group easily exceeded 100 animals. And with cows being dried off weekly and new cows being constantly added, the
social turmoil never ended.

The new barn features five 25-cow pens for mature cows. The Berges use a 45-day dry period, with 10 to 20 cows being dried off each week.

Each 25-cow pen is loaded within two weeks, and that group of animals remains in the pen for the duration of the dry period. The goal is to add to that cohort of cows and have the pen full by 28 days prior to calving, allowing for a full month of social stability for the group, Lorin says.

As cows from the group start to calve, they are moved to one of four calving pens. A drover's lane on the outside of the building allows animals to be moved without disrupting the other pens. Once calved out, they're moved down the hill to the main milking facility, where they're housed in the fresh-cow group.

The dry-cow group is then allowed to dwindle to one or two cows without any animals being added. Once the group gets down to an individual cow or two, those cows are moved to the group closest to calving.

"We regroup these last two in a pen because one or two cows by themselves are more stressed by being alone,” Lorin says.

Springing heifers are housed in a single 80-stall group. When they calve, they also move to the fresh pen but then are housed with first-calf heifers through their first lactation. When they're dried off, they move into the mature-cow groups.

The 128'x300' barn has four rows of freestalls, tail to tail. The barn is naturally ventilated, with 14' sidewalls on the north and 16' sidewalls on the south. The north side houses four mature cow pens, with the drover's lane on the outside wall.

The mature-cow pens feature 54" side freestalls with no brisket boards. The large size allows pregnant Holsteins easy access to the deep-bedded sand.

Manure is removed from the pens once a day with a vacuum truck. Sand is topped off in the stalls every seven to 10 days.

Headlocks, at four stalls per 10', line the feed alley. "In our other barn, we have five headlocks per 10', but one of the holes is always empty anyway,” Matt says. The 30" feed space per cow ensures all cows in the pen can eat whenever they wish, he says.

The south side of the barn features the 80-stall heifer group, one mature-cow pen, and four 12'x16' individual calving pens. Each pen has a head catch in case an animal needs treatment.

Each pen shares a waterer with the adjacent pen, and the floor, equipped with in-floor heat, is topped by rubber matting. Calving pens are cleaned after each use and rebedded with shavings for the next calving.

A calf box next to the calving pens is equipped with a radiant heater to quickly dry calves in winter. Adjacent heated rooms house washtubs, a milk replacer and medical supplies for the transition cows and calf hutches.

The facility, with its 54" stalls, 30" bunk space and 25 cows per pen, doesn't come cheap at $4,000 per cow. "Some producers who see it question how we can have so many open stalls as we fill pens and as the close-up pens slowly empty,” Lorin says.

But to create stable social groups and avoid the daily disruption of constantly adding cows to pens, this amount of space is required.

Another option might have been a bedded pack or compost barn with movable gating. That would allow pen sizes to be adjusted as cows calve out of the pens.

"But we're used to working with sand-bedded freestalls, and we really didn't consider any other option,” Lorin says. Besides, he adds, the mature cows are used to free-stalls in the main dairy. And springing heifers get acclimated to them in the new barn before freshening.

Pushing the economics prior to building, Lorin and Matt used information generated by the University of Wisconsin vet school. For reducing transition cow problems, they feel the investment was worth it.

"Even if we get just half of the increase that the university projected, we'd more than break even with this barn,” Matt says.

This 8'x12' custom-built trailer lowers to within inches of the ground for easy on/off cow movement.

The Berges' transition barn is some 200 yards from the main dairy, which means dry and fresh cows must be walked or trailered to and from the barn.

Lorin drew up a plan for a low-rider cow trailer and had it built by a local welding shop. The trailer is lowered using hydraulic cylinders to within inches off the ground so that cows merely step on to the trailer. The square-tube gating that forms the trailer perimeter is open to the elements but creates no dark, foreboding corners to discourage cattle movement.

"Cows easily walk on and off the trailer, with very little coaxing from us,” Lorin says.

Bonus content:

Constant Chaos

Transition Index

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