COBDEN — An outsider’s perspective can make all the difference in the world. In the case of first-generation dairy farmer Donald Russell, it gave him perspective enough to invent a new type of barn.
The pasture barn, now patented in the U.S. and Canada, is the result of 20 years of research to answer one nagging question: Is there a better way to build a barn? It’s probably the first new type of barn patented in the U.S. in over a century, he said. He hates stalls and his barn doesn’t have them.
Russell freely admits that with the time, effort and money spent designing the new barn, he could’ve been milking more cows, probably on robots. “But would I be happy? I wouldn’t be. I’d still be sitting here thinking: ‘Can I do something better?’ And that question would’ve haunted me for the rest of my life.”
That’s, of course, not to say he entirely reinvented the wheel. Much of his research saga was spent digging into the pros and cons of the three barn types: tie-stalls, freestalls and pack barns. But improvements up to this point have been focused on improving the existing model, rather than starting from scratch.
Russell credits an outsider’s perspective and a lifelong fascination with dairy cattle with his novel approach. A first-generation dairy farmer who milks 40 cows in a 75-head pasture barn of his own, he’s also a certified hoof trimmer (he took a course in Wisconsin) and worked for years in feed sales. With no upbringing to instill assumptions about what could or couldn’t be done, he set to work breaking down exactly what the pros and cons of each barn structure were and how to make them better.
And he’s convinced he’s got every other type of barn beat. Compared to a tiestall, with his design cows get more exercise, have fewer swollen hocks, fewer injuries, it’s easier and safer to move cows, there’s financial savings on the stalls, less cost for bedding, better heat detection, and no need for cow trainers. Compared to the freestall, his pasture barn boasts a shorter distance to get feed, water or to lay down, fewer stall injuries, less foot disease with a different flooring system, price savings on the cost of stalls, and less labour. Even compared to the pack barn, he says his pasture barn comes out ahead thanks to lower capital costs, lower costs on bedding and easier management.
For proof, look no further than his herd testing. His herd is in the 99th percentile according to CanWest DHI, he said. He’s got three cows producing over 62 kilos of milk per day for 100 days on two-times-a-day milking. Last year his kilos of butterfat per cow ranged from 1.33 to 1.55. Really solid herds in a robot barn milking three times per day might get 1.6, he said. “ A happy cow is a productive cow.”
Now he’s looking to share what he’s learned with other farmers. He’s not in the barn-building business himself but he’s encouraging dairy farmers who are building a new barn to come visit and have a look at his. $300 gets you a three-hour tour of the barn and a breakdown from Russell about the advantages of his type of barn.
Visit pasturebarndesigns.com for more info.