Modern dairy farms run on automation and robotization

mall ranchers building or renovating should take a few things into consideration as a starting point. “Any investment made by a modern dairy farmer must result in a reduction in costs by scaling up (spreading the costs over more animals) or by working more efficiently. You can also choose to specialise, expand or join the short chain,” says sector adviser Tom Van den Bogaert from the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries during the well-attended study day in Veurne.

Efficiency gain

“Scaling up to more animals will be very difficult at the moment. Where there are opportunities is in working more efficiently. Just say automation and robotization of milking and feeding, so you work fewer hours per day. At the same time, you can ensure shorter walkways in your design and combine similar or simultaneous actions. Straight and continuous corridors make work easy and efficient and ensure a clean and tidy barn.

Another argument for investing in buildings is to increase the welfare of the cows through better housing and care. Make sure to leave room for future developments in the design and keep an eye on the cost price. Building materials have become about 20% more expensive in a short time.”

Make a choice

Those who have plans have to make a whole series of choices. “Do you want a barn with bunks or a deep litter barn with mulch or compost? A deep bedding barn is not chosen as often as a barn with bunks, but it has a number of advantages. Each cow has more space, but in total you need more surface area,” says Van den Bogaert.

Ventilation

In terms of ventilation, the Flemish dairy farmer still usually chooses curtains on the side of the barn. “However, an open back is still the best ventilation solution. Frame ventilation is more expensive, and we see that this option is only chosen if the cheaper solutions are not feasible. Skylights are almost never installed anymore.”

Automate and robotize

“If you choose an automatic feeding system, a narrower feeding path is sufficient, as you often see in e.g. Germany. With a feed conveyor, you don’t even need a feed aisle, but also consider what your alternatives are if your automatic system breaks down. Paving a feed aisle is better, but it is often postponed, and then it often doesn’t happen.”

You can also make choices regarding the box covering, for example between sawdust, straw and sand. “Sand prevents the introduction of diseases, but also leads to sand on the teats and to more wear and tear on chains and other techniques.

Waterbeds are becoming more popular. They are more expensive than other solutions, but they offer high lying comfort and can be cleaned very efficiently,” explains Van den Bogaert.

Drilling or rainwater

Cows need to drink. “A well makes it more difficult to get a permit. Then it is better to choose rainwater storage. With regard to floors, people today opt for solid floors rather than a slatted floor. The full floor then includes a scraper or a fertilizer robot. The first fertilizer robots in Flanders have been in operation for about 2 years now without significant defects. The manure cellar is located less and less often under the barn, but is built outside the barn.”

Greenhouses are becoming more and more common. “If you only think about the superstructure, a greenhouse shed would be cheaper. A greenhouse like this is less tall than a classic barn and integrates more easily into the environment, which benefits the permissibility of such a greenhouse.”

In conclusion, Van den Bogaert lists a number of options that are in the pipeline for possible recognition under PAS, such as pocket residues, a nitrogen cracker, the cow toilet, manure aeration and closed barns.

Heat stress

Heat stress in dairy cows leads to a lower feed intake and therefore also to less growth and less milk. If the heat stress continues for a long time, there may be further problems with claws and fertility. “Cows already experience mild heat stress from 21° C. Then you have to pay extra attention to the feed and water available to the dairy cows. A first investment to prevent heat stress should be fans. If we look at the most effective solution, it is the combination of cloth and fans. It also requires the most energy. And then you need water, while heat stress occurs in hot and therefore dry periods,” explains Evi Canniere from Inagro.

General rules

The ideal location of the fans depends on the house. But there are some general rules. There is a preference for cross ventilation if possible. Fans should preferably be hung on the bunks and not in the corridors, if a choice must/can be made. Fans blow the air away from the living room (dust, hair, ammonia).

Remember that there is no air movement for the first meter(s) after the first fan. Ensure that there is sufficient free air intake. Fans are mounted 2.7 m above ground level (for everyone’s safety), so sufficient height is required when mounting in side walls. In the longitudinal direction, 10 times the diameter between 2 fans seems to be correct. In practice, they often hang for 6 to 7 m or at most 10 m.

Frequency control reduces consumption

“To cool the cows down, the wind speed and distance in length and width of the fan is important, not the amount of air moved. Choose an energy-efficient motor (direct current). A ring around the blades provides a more controlled airflow. Regular maintenance (cleaning of dust, tightening of parts) is important for energy consumption and for a permanent capacity of the fan. Frequency control saves energy,” adds Evi Canniere.

Philip Van der Linden

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