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Is your new barn working for you?

Jeff Prashaw for Progressive Dairy Published on 31 March 2021
Talking about barn improvement

When making a change as big as a new barn, you’ve been planning for years before even breaking ground.

Where to put the barn, what to put in it and how it’s designed have to work together for an adequate financial return, improved cow comfort and flow, labour efficiency – the list could go on.

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And now that you’ve moved into the new barn with new equipment up and running, how can you tell if you’ll be getting that return, or if your cows are truly more comfortable, or flowing through their daily routine any better than they were in the old setup?

A progressive architect firm or individual follows up after conceptual design and completion of construction with services that address the next steps in turning good work into excellent results. We call this a post-occupancy evaluation (POE): a formal process for gathering data and obtaining feedback on a building that is currently in use. Different types of buildings will have different indicators of success in their POE. For example, in a dairy barn we primarily focus on the qualitative data gathered by observing cow behaviour and getting honest feedback from the team working in the barn each day.

In any dairy barn, there are three end goals with a POE: Highlight immediate and long-term issues we can address and solve, provide lessons learned and benchmarking.

Highlight immediate and long-term issues

No matter how much we plan, there is always a chance to make an improvement after we see how things are working in real life. The best window to really see what’s going on is between three and 12 months after start-up. We wait three months so the cows have time to adapt to their new surroundings and the behaviours we are looking at are their new normal, and we want to get in there within a year so we can catch any bottlenecks or issues before they’re simply worked around or have become part of a routine that’s costing the farm time and resources.

Issues are identified by simply observing what’s going on. The cows are going to be the most honest, and their comfort is priority number one, so we start by taking a long look at their behaviour. We also spend time interviewing the owners, managers and herdspeople to elicit as much honest feedback as we can about the day-to-day in the new barn.

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Provide lessons learned

We then combine our cow behaviour findings with feedback from the staff to identify and prioritize anything that could help improve cow comfort, cow flow and overall efficiency. The report could reveal action items as simple as changing a setting on a robot or sort gate, or as complex as making changes to pens or the location of equipment. After these factors are identified, we work with the farm to prioritize which items are going to provide the greatest return for the least additional investment.

Some solutions we might identify at this point include adjusting floor surfaces or finishes and floor levels to improve locomotion, adjusting fences and gates to improve cow flow and improving air turnover and cooling by adjusting ventilation components.

With the rapid evolvement of new technology, architects need to learn from their experience on each project and take those learnings along with them to the next project: The lessons learned are as much a tool for the producer as they are for the architects and engineers.

Benchmarking

Benchmarking is another mutually beneficial goal of a POE. Collecting all of this data and creating a report for one farm is great, but we can apply it more broadly to turn it into information to make smart decisions and truly know the level of success from farm to farm when we’re able to compare data from similar projects. As we complete more and more formal POEs, we’re able to apply these benchmarks to the next project as a way to define the minimum level of performance to be expected.

While you can take the time to observe what’s going on in the barn on your own, you’ll get the most effective recommendations and results by engaging with an architect – ideally one who has been involved in your project from the start and truly understands cow behaviour. While not all architects provide this service, our team can conduct a POE on any conventional or robotic barn, regardless of the type of equipment.

Everyone goes through some kind of POE on a daily basis, whether they’re noticing their home isn’t heating properly because a thermostat was placed incorrectly, or they’re fetching an unusually high number of cows because the feed could be in a more convenient place. In a barn, you can get really carried away with all the different metrics to look at, but we focus on qualitative data points related to cow comfort and flow, and the feelings of the managers and staff. We’ve found that when these factors are performing at their best, the financial return and efficiency gains follow. end mark

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PHOTO: A post-occupancy evaluation (POE) is a helpful tool in evaluating metrics, operations and efficiency within a newly constructed barn. Photo courtesy of DeLaval.

Jeff Prashaw
  • Jeff Prashaw

  • Project design manager – architect
  • DeLaval Inc.
  • Email Jeff Prashaw

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