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Binnendyk brothers adjust to methodically planned barn expansion

Progressive Dairy Editor Emma Ohirko Published on 30 September 2020
The new parallel double-24 stall parlour at Wenlay Dairy

When it comes time to expand or update facilities, it can be tempting to follow current trends and opt for a more popular choice.

However, installing technology and equipment in an effort to be trendy is not the best decision-making criteria. Sometimes the next big thing is just not feasible or practical, especially when working with existing facilities. At least this was the case for farming brothers Herman and Bert Binnendyk of Wenlay Dairy located in Chilliwack, British Columbia.

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Herman and Bert needed more space for their expanding herd, so they began planning an addition to their freestall barn. The brothers already milked with a parlour and realized, without starting from scratch, cow flow could only be optimized in the new and existing barn by maintaining the same milking style. In the expansion, they upgraded their parlour instead of switching the farm to automated milking.

Herman and Bert emigrated with their parents from the Netherlands in 1995 at the ages of 18 and 15, respectively. The family sought greater opportunities in the dairy industry and a bigger farm. Bert says Herman always knew he wanted to continue farming, and eventually Bert followed suit, becoming more involved in farm operations.

Today, the brothers live on the farm, which they own and operate jointly, milking roughly 290 Holstein cows and growing all their own forages. After a few years of planning and researching other facilities, they began expanding on their original barn in 2017. Bert says the barn was in good shape and well maintained over the years, but it could no longer comfortably house their growing herd. He says there was a need for more lying spots and for a larger eating area to improve cow comfort.

Expansion at the far end of the existing freestall barn

They also wanted to upgrade their milking system. “The parlour that we milked in was pretty old-fashioned, very slow and not very enjoyable to work in,” Bert says. To improve this, they added a new parallel double-24 stall parlour, which Bert says has “everything.” He notes it is nearly double the speed of the original parlour and features better air flow. “Milking goes super-fast, so they’re never really wasting time standing, waiting to be milked. They’re in the parlour and they’re out and back to doing what they’re meant to be doing, which is eating and sleeping,” he says.

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Bert notes they contemplated robots, but says, “It would have taken a lot of hacking concrete, and it still wouldn’t be the optimal cow flow to make it work.” The benefits they have with the parlour include a cheaper price, heat detection and automatic sorting of cows that need to be bred. “Obviously it still has negatives; of course you still have to milk; with robots you don’t,” Bert says. But he adds, “Overall, the whole package together, it made more sense for us [to choose a parlour].”

Bert and Herman made additional upgrades to the barn. They improved ventilation by adding fans throughout the barn. An automated footbath was also added, as well as an integrated wash system for the milking area, and the parlour is equipped with an automated backflush system.

Bert argues their best addition was perhaps the large pack they added for fresh cows and cows near calving. He says the cows now have lots of space to calve, and they are moved to the pack three weeks before calving to alleviate some of their stress. Once in the pack, they are able to stay in the area as long as they need to. “They have all the room in the world to get off to a good start,” Bert says.

Bert Binnendk says one of the best parts of the addition is a bedded pack area for transition cows

Ventilation and more open space overall were achieved by the expansion, which contribute to improved cow comfort. Bert says, “It’s always better to have more room and more comfort.”

He explains the increase in cow comfort has allowed the cows to perform better. Wenlay Dairy has seen a 10% increase in milk production since the expansion was complete.

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In order to ensure their expansion went smoothly and had minimal impact on their day-to-day operations, Herman and Bert worked closely with their builder. Bert notes this was an advantage of expanding compared with all-new construction, as they could continue normal operation without any interruption. Once the expansion was complete, Bert says the transition to the new barn went well and only took about four days for the cows to become accustomed to their new parlour. Bert also notes the transition to the new parlour was much better than the transition to robots would have been. He says there is no learning curve with the parlour and therefore no need to make adjustments for cows that fall behind.

Bert says he and his brother are very pleased with the results of their expansion. They have seen improvements in speed and efficiency of tasks, and they now have a greater understanding of their herd, especially with regard to herd health. He also says their workplace environment has changed. He credits the improvements with aiding to create a happier workplace for employees and cows alike.

He notes that while they have no concrete plans to expand further in the foreseeable future, it is certainly not out of the question. “Our herd is always expanding … and we’re probably not going to stop expanding,” Bert says. “You’re always looking for something else. Even now that everything is done, you’re still seeing what you can do better or change,” he adds.

For anyone looking to make similar changes to their facilities, Bert advises producers to shop around for barn solutions. He says it is valuable to speak with producers and understand what they like about their barns and what does not work. “You’ve got to make something that fits with your situation, and the best way to do that is by looking around,” he says. Additionally, he says online research and reading about barn plans and milking facilities is helpful.  end mark

PHOTO 1: The new parallel double-24 stall parlour at Wenlay Dairy operates at nearly double the speed of the original parlour, allowing cows to be milked and back to their pens faster.

PHOTO 2: With the expansion at the far end of the existing freestall barn, the Binnendyk brothers opted to maintain a conventional (but upgraded) milking style to optimize cow flow.

PHOTO 3: Bert Binnendyk says one of the best parts of the addition is a bedded pack area for transition cows. Photos by Karen Lee.

Emma Ohirko
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