Made in the Shade

February 3, 2009 11:54 AM


Inside the Saudi barn at the new Texas dairy, Rocky Gingg (right), Chris Reed and the milking herd find shelter from sun or rain.

When Arizona's Rocky Gingg decided to expand his dairy operation into Texas in 2007, he brought something new in cow housing to the High Plains.

Saudi-style barns—open corrals under roof—typically aren't part of the Texas landscape. Specially designed for desert climates, they're frequently found in Arizona, where Gingg's operation has used them for years. On High Plains dairies, drylot and freestall housing are the norm.

That didn't deter Gingg and his dairy manager, Chris Reed, from sticking with the housing they knew best for their new 3,300-cow Del Rio Dairy near Friona, Texas. Even though Reed estimates that the Saudi barns are 20% to 30% more expensive to build than typical open-lot housing, they're worth it.

"Saudi barns are more comfortable for cows and people to work in,” Reed says. "Freestall barns are more labor-intensive because they have to be bedded with sand.”

The corrugated tin roofs of Del Rio's Saudi barns shade cows from extreme sun. They also protect animals, people and feed managers from rain and snow.

The dairy's Saudi barns have no curtains or fans. The dairy saved $1 million in equipment and installation costs, plus more in energy expenses, by not installing fans. "Summer temperatures here rarely break 100°F,” Reed says. "That's nothing compared to Arizona.”

So far, Del Rio's cows have weathered the winter cold in the open-sided structures. "The first year, we were hit with the cruelest winter, including a blizzard,” Reed says. "We saw 5' snowdrifts. But our cows were protected.”

Each barn has downspouts that allow water to run out to a nearby pond, not into the corrals. The pond water is used to irrigate crops.

The dairy cleans the slabs under the roofed structure daily with a Honey-Vac machine. A pin, or corral, scraper is used to clean the bedding from shaded areas. Excess manure is removed three times a year and sold to local farmers.

Gingg and Reed plan to build four rows of calf hutches under Saudi roofing. They also expect to install a waste milk pasteurizer to feed the calves.

"We've had no permitting challenges here,” says Reed, who formerly worked for United Dairymen of Arizona.

One challenge the 50-employee dairy does wrestle with is labor. "There weren't a lot of dairies here, so getting experienced people has been hard,” Reed says.

The dairy is also learning to be more self-sufficient than the Arizona operation. "We're two hours out from most service people,” Reed says. Hereford, an hour away, has limited dairy-related businesses. New Mexico's Roswell, Portales and Clovis supply most of the dairy's supply and transportation services.

The new dairy includes its own replacements and 3,000 acres used to grow corn forage, wheat and alfalfa. The dairy ships out five tankers of milk a day through Dairy Farmers of America.

Bonus content:

Click here to read "Which Dairy Facility is Right for You? Drylot vs. Saudi vs Freestall."

Click here to read "Issues with Dairy Facilities Located in the High Plains."


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