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Develop a plan for barn construction

Whitney Davis for Progressive Dairy Published on 31 March 2021

Benjamin Franklin said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” Achieving any significant accomplishment is not the result of luck or chance. The winning Stanley Cup team is not surprised they won. They know their reward is the result of great teamwork, good communication and, most importantly, from having a plan that was followed exactly as practiced.

Their plan included a study of their opponent and a response to any and all possible moves the opponent might make by developing numerous “what if” scenarios. The Stanley Cup winners chose to not be caught by surprise by employing good planning practices, and they achieved their goal by doing so.

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When planning a farm construction project, whether it is retrofit or new construction, good preparation is critical. This is your practice for the upcoming project. It allows you to develop a reasonable budget by identifying all expected costs and options, and it also provides a realistic project timeline. A good plan is well-thought-out and well-executed. Develop your “what ifs” list and your plan to resolve each situation. When the concrete has already dried is not the time to realize what you should have done (or not done). It is sure to be an expensive lesson when it’s learned too late.

Think things through and consult with others that are well-experienced with the project you’re undertaking (construction and equipment professionals, dairies that have done a similar project before, etc.). Most likely, they will be willing to help you avoid some common mistakes and also share successes so you can benefit by a project well done. Experience pays back very well, so leverage this opportunity to do things right. While many dairies have multitalented people, it is important to be up-to-date on the latest methods and materials available, as well as the many options and the pros and cons of each.

I have seen and heard the experiences of dairy producers, construction professionals, equipment installers, etc., and they often relay how projects have taken longer than originally expected. For your project, plan ahead by starting the process early so all parties involved can have the time they need to properly focus on your project. Be sure to allow more than enough time to consider and evaluate every facet of the project, and overestimate how long everything will take. The cause of delays can be due to the limited availability of desired skilled professionals involved, weather, lead times for materials, and other unforeseen or uncontrollable circumstances. So to be safe, you might want to plan that everything will take longer than expected. A good “cushion” of time allows for delays to not become catastrophic. If everything does go exactly according to your plan, there’s no downside to being done ahead of schedule.

Once all aspects of a project are identified and detailed, the parties involved (excavators, builders, equipment providers, etc.) should be able to offer their input to develop a realistic timeline for the entire project. To set a start date, I encourage people to “work backward.” If you want to be operational Jan. 1, and you determine the project is estimated to take five months of work, plan for a seven- to eight-month project (leaving a two- to three-month cushion of time), and you arrive at a project start date of April 1.

Time of year considerations

In Northern climates, such as where our business operates in central and western New York, April 1 is typically the earliest time to start spring excavation work. Your cushion of time will accommodate for weather delays if project work must be pushed back a few weeks due to frozen or wet ground. On the opposite end of the calendar, it is not advisable to start a project too late in the season. Winter projects cost more because they always take longer. Both people and equipment don’t work as well or as efficiently in very cold weather, and snow and ice will cause added problems which can bring added expenses and more delays.

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If you have no option other than to start your project in the fall, be sure to get concrete in the ground before freezing temperatures are common, and get your building walls up before temperatures are likely to remain much below freezing. If it gets so cold that you need to warm the ground to pour concrete, that can become very expensive, so this should be avoided. With your walls and roof up, chilling winds are blocked and temporary heating can be utilized in smaller enclosed areas to placate workers (they’re more productive when they’re comfortable) and also offer better conditions for some materials to set properly.

One key area of concern: If your project leads into fall or winter, your plan should be well-evaluated before proceeding to consider winter weather conditions common in your area. I have seen situations where the barn roof was put up very late in the season, when the ground below was still bare and very wet. In this situation, the ground may not dry out enough to pour concrete until warm air and winds reappear sometime in the spring. I have seen several projects come to a standstill due to this factor alone.

Another big advantage of planning ahead is you are much more likely to meet your project’s desired target completion date. Builders, in particular, can book up far in advance of your desired goal, so it is best to contact them well in advance to make them aware of the target date of your significant project. Ask your prospective builder and others involved what they require from you as a commitment to hold a specific time period open.

In summary, a good building project plan is one that is very well-thought-out, involves skilled expertise and allows a cushion for the time required to build in order to address delays and unforeseen circumstances. The payoff will be a successful project in terms of the budget, quality work and materials, time to completion, cow comfort, labour efficiency and a building that meets your goals for years to come.  end mark

Finger Lakes Dairy Services has been a Lely robot dealer since 2007. Whitney Davis has more than 25 years of experience in milking equipment, project design, systems management and investment economics.

Whitney Davis
  • Whitney Davis

  • Robotic Systems Specialist
  • Finger Lakes Dairy Services
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