By Tom Collins
UXBRIDGE — For most farmers, the best part of building a new barn is when it’s done. But for these farmers, building the new compost-pack bedding barn with a double-10 swing parlour could be just the beginning.
Herrelea Farms’ new barn is set up for easy add-ons. It was built for easy installation of stalls if the farmers want to get away from the compost pack bedding and easy installation of robots if there are more cows to milk. He can even T-bone attach another barn to the parlour.
“It has a lot of possibilities,” said Howie Herrema, a third-generation farmer whose family immigrated to Canada from the Netherlands after the Second World War before buying the current farm at Uxbridge in Durham Region in 1961. “That was what really attracted me. It’s the flexibility of what we can do with it over the next 25 years. I saw no downside to starting this way. We can make a change or adapt to what’s needed.”
Son Gerrit, 24, and daughter, Brigitte, 23, are interested in taking over the family farm from parents Howie and Liz. Compost-pack bedding was Gerrit’s idea. There are no stalls in the $1.4-million barn and cows are free to move around the 30-ft.-by-240-ft. bedding area. That’s more than 100 sq. ft. per cow.
The compost-bedded barn uses a combination of sawdust and manure to create a composting system that continually gives the cows fresh bedding. The sawdust bedding is cultivated 10-12 inches deep twice a day with a small chisel plow. This drops fresh manure to the bottom and allows for more air flow, which heats up the mixture to kill bacteria and bugs. The sawdust at the bottom is brought to the top to provide fresh bedding.
The Herremas frequently add sawdust to the mix. In every two-week period they’ll add 400-cubic feet of sawdust five times. Herrema is confident the farm could increase to 110 milking cows in the 70-ft.-by-280-ft. barn.
The cows didn’t want to leave the old 65-ft.-by-120-ft. tie-stall barn when milking began on June 27.
“Tie-stall cows are the worst animals ever,” said Herrema. “They hate everything, other than the old tie-stall barn. The first three days, they stood at the gate bawling to go back to the old barn. Slowly over time they adapted. It was just breaking the cows of their habits.”
Production didn’t immediately dip, but did eventually drop from 32 kilos per cow per day in the old tie-stall barn to 29 kilos in the new barn in October. But signs are positive, said Herrema, who would like production to eventually settle between 34 and 36 kilos per cow.
“We’re seeing now the first cows we dried off after moving in and are calving again are just walking through the parlour like that’s all they’ve ever done,” he said. “It’s good to see that.”
Here are other features of the new barn:
DOUBLE-10 SWING PARLOUR
Also called a highline parlour, the swing parlour’s popularity is increasing in Ontario, said Herrema.
A set of 10 milking units hangs from an overhead pipeline that runs down the centre of the parlour pit. Ten cows are walked into each side of the two sides of the parlour. The milking unit hangs from an overhead metal arm that swings from one side of the parlour to the other. After each cow is milked, the teat cups and tubing automatically detach and the farmer swings the arms to milk a cow on the other side of the parlour.
The cows are milked twice a day. Herrema said the biggest attraction of the swing parlour is the savings cost, which he estimates at least $200,000 or even $300,000 below the cost of two robots.
“People are catching on to the economics of these, because you only have one set of milking equipment to buy,” he said. “We looked at robots and quickly ran some numbers and thought the swing parlour was a good alternative for us. The flexibility it gives us is incredible. We can go up or down 10 cows without even noticing it on your workload.”
Herrema estimated there is a labour savings of six-to-eight hours a day in the new barn, four hours alone on manure handling and bedding.
Milking in the old barn was with a pipeline system with automatic detachers, the farmers had to carry portable milkers to each cow. It took about two hours for two people to milk the 75-cow herd.
“We were pretty tired by the end of milking,” said Herrema. “Our herdsman, Gary Lanoue, is the same age as me. We normally have two people milking. By the time the cows knocked you around and other stuff, you were pretty beat.”
Milking in the new system takes almost half the time. Milking 85 cows takes about 75 minutes, but some days they finish a milking in just over an hour.
They use alley scrapers and a cross-gutter that scrapes directly into a liquid manure pit.
“That’s tricky because we live in Canada and get cold temperatures, but what we’ve done is with the compost pack, we put geothermal heating lines in,” said Herrema. The geothermal unit uses a pump to transfer heat from the ground to the barn. Two glycol-infused lines circulate through the pack, one to heat the shuttle gutter walls and bottom layer (which in essence behaves the same way as a normal stable cleaner) and the other line circulates up to the parlour and milk house as a more efficient source of heating.
The barn is equipped with automatic curtains and five 24-foot Big Ass fans over the pack and a smaller 14-foot fan over the parlour pit. The barn managed to stay cool and well ventilated during the September heat wave and during the barn’s Oct. 16 open house.
“It’s amazing,” said Herrema. “Even on the hottest days, it’s about 6 C cooler in the barn. We had as nice an old barn as is out there. We spent a lot of extra labour keeping it clean and trying to keep the flies down. It was worth it to make it easier to work in, but it was still hot, dirty work on those hot days in July and August. Whereas here in the parlour, you just crank the ceiling fan up a little higher.”