Friday, July 1, 2022

A new winter home

Bruce Woods has never being afraid of trying new things so it was when he designed and built a barn big enough to house 500 cows in comfort from drying off until after calving. But it’s not the size that matters – it’s the unique design which Sheryl Brown checked out at the same time as the cows did for the first time.

Bay of Plenty Dairy farmers Bruce and Judy Woods have just spent almost $1.3 million to design and build a covered herd barn on their farm at Otakiri. It takes up around .5ha in land and is a significant investment, but Bruce is confident the benefits will outweigh the cost.

He first contemplated building a barn because he wanted to get more off the land he owned, the family farm where he and Judy have spent over 40 years. They’ve slowly expanded during that period, and now own 160ha and milk 460 Jersey cows.  

To keep expanding and increasing milk production the options were to either buy over-priced land or get more off the land they already had, Bruce said.

“Despite the price of land rising over the years, what we are growing on that land has not increased in the last 40 years.

“Building the barn was about how to get more money off what we’ve got.”

He’s anticipating they will be able to grow more drymatter (DM) and keep the feed supply constant, which is the biggest issue for most farmers.

“The cost of pugging a paddock is enormous, from the cost of having to regrass to waiting a few years for the pasture to mature to get the same amount of DM out of that paddock.”

On top of that, Bruce expects to have at least 20% savings in feed utilisation.

“They say feed wastage on pasture can be as low as 10% in good weather, but it can be as bad as 50% in bad weather.

“If you work that out at 30c/kg DM, that’s a lot of wastage in dollars.”

Environmental benefits

Along with the economical feed benefits, Bruce also wanted an environmentally sound and efficient system. He’s a former chair of Bay of Plenty Federated Farmers and knows full well how closely the public is watching dairy farmers. Their farm has a 2km road frontage and Bruce and Judy often get worried phone calls from passers-by about cows and calves lying in the mud, or stretched out flat in the sun on a hot day.  

“In all my years of farming, and no one will be any different, we’ve all had bad times, trying to calve cows in the rain during a really wet spring,” he said. “Nobody likes getting phone calls like that.”

He started looking at building a feedpad and/or stand-off pad, and looked at a number of covered feedpads and herd shelters but then the issue was the concrete floors.

“Cows will sit for 4-5 hours on concrete, whereas they will spend 10-11 hours lying down on soft bedding.”

Deciding he wanted soft bedding, he designed his own floor plan. The floor bedding is over 1m deep, with an overflow that leads to the effluent pond. The layers are made up of drainage material, clean pumice, wood pulp and sawdust. The majority of the effluent gets caught in the sawdust and any liquids that do pass through end up in the effluent storage.  

Bruce said the plan is to work up the sawdust up at least once a week with a cultivator to work the dung in.

“We will take the top off once a year and either compost or vermicast it for a year and then use it on the regressing paddocks,” he said. “We have a truck and trailer of fresh sawdust on hand if it needs a top-up – the roof is tall enough for a truck to lift a hoist and a digger to work in the shed.”

He worked on eight square metres (m2)/cow for lying down and 0.7m/cow for the length of the feeding bays. The barn has three separate bays with two tractor channels to feed out in-between.

At 4200m2 the big question was how to build a roof over it. For that answer Bruce went to Opus, which tendered the building contract out.

“I still hadn’t approached the bank at this stage,” he said. “I had done a three year business plan and cashflows. We looked at where we could go and the possibilities and the bank was pretty excited about it.”

Bruce is planning to install closed circuit TV cameras before spring so he and his staff can monitor calving cows.

“The plan is to have all the cows in the barn from the day they are dried off until they calve, going out to graze for a few hours every day.

“We hope to be doing 500kg MS/cow in three years time. But this is all new and we are still finding our own way.”

Bruce Woods, left, and herd manager Chris Mexted.

More articles on this topic