Different types of dairy barns for different reasons

Cows waiting to be milked in a Pipeline or Tie Stall barn

by Patricia Grotenhuis

What are dairy barns like? There are three different kinds of dairy barns, and farmers chose the one that works best for them.  Some have an existing barn which is set up in a specific way, and they decide to keep that style of barn.  Others make changes as their needs change, or as new barns are built.

The three basic styles of dairy barn are pipeline or tie stall, parlour or free stall, and robotic, which is a different kind of free stall offering cows a choice of when they are milked. Continue reading

Enjoying the peace of a barn at night

By Patricia Grotenhuis

There is something peaceful about a barn at night.  I’ve always found it soothing to be out there after all of the animals are fed and cared for, as they all eat or rest contentedly, a soft yellow glow from the lights shining on them.

I was reminded of how nice it is recently when I slipped out to give my husband a message.  In the summer, being in the barn after dark always meant chores were going really slowly since most of the family was in the fields, or, as children and youth, that we were preparing animals for a show at a local fair or 4-H event.  Once the time change comes, though, it happens daily.  As soon as the equipment in the barn for feeding the animals is turned off, and there is just the gentle, steady hum of the milking machines, the peacefulness starts.

The cows stand munching on their feed waiting to be milked, and the calves eat their hay and grain, waiting for their share of the milk.  In the heifer barn, they are finishing eating and starting to lay down and rest.  The radio plays softly in the background. My husband slips quietly between the cows, putting milking machines on, and taking them off, giving the cow a little pat on the back or scratch on the neck as he goes.

As the cows finish milking, they often lay down to chew their cud, which is not only part of the digestive process for them, but is also a sign of a content, healthy animal.

By the time milking is finished and the calves have been fed their milk, a large portion of the cattle in the barn will be settling in for the night.  At that point, my husband is nearing the end of the chore routine as well – cleaning the barn, checking on any cows that are close to calving, and doing a final walk-through to make sure everything is in its place and the cattle are comfortable.

Some nights, of course, a late night in the barn is caused by a piece of equipment breaking, a cow having a calf, or one of the animals needing a little bit of extra care.  On these nights, the barn is not always such a soothing place.  Even then, though, that night charm shows through.

My husband, like all farmers I know, takes pride in making sure the animals and land he is in charge of are cared for as well as possible.  All farmers have their own way of achieving that goal, but they share the same end result.

Some days, it means he barely sees our children because something needs a repair in the barn, or there is a cow who is showing some early signs of sickness.

Some nights it means getting up at two in the morning to drive to the main farm and make sure a cow is not having difficulty delivering a calf.  Other times, he is pouring over his herd management paperwork, making decisions about what he should change in the barn, meeting with people to make sure the cows are receiving the proper nutrients in their diet, or going to various industry meetings to keep up to date on the latest research.

To farmers, the greatest compliment they can receive about their livelihood is that they have a nice farm, their animals look good and are doing well, and they are taking care of their land and the environment. That is why my husband will not leave the barn with something left to do, or do a half-hearted job of caring for the cattle.  The benefits and satisfaction he gets from seeing the farm doing well are a payoff for him.

In the face of crisis

By Jeanine Moyer

Living on a farm means we live farther away from our neighbours than most people. Instead of lawns and fences separating our house from the neighbour’s we have fields and streams. Sometimes I think the distance between each farm can make the relationship between neighbours stronger. And tests the strength of a relationship like an illness or disaster when neighbours come together to face adversity. Continue reading

Barn changes over the generations

 Barn changes over the generations

By Patricia Grotenhuis, Lifelong farmer and agricultural advocate

Sometimes I sit and think about all of the changes that have happened from the time my great-grandfather bought his farm until now, when my parents run it with the help of my siblings.

Back in 1934, Canada was in the middle of the Great Depression.  That seems to be a strange time to buy a farm, but Great Grandpa did it.  Some of the original buildings are still on that farm, with new buildings and additions  over the past 77 years.  These changes, in some ways, show the timeline of how agriculture has been evolving.
Take the original bank barn for example.  It is still large and impressive, but there have been noticeable changes made to it.  Different areas of the barn reflect different times.  There are the old stanchions which used to be used for the cows.  They’re rather small, and most have been removed.  In one corner, they are still intact, but are rarely used as stanchions anymore.  The rest of the barn has tie stalls now, which were used for the cows when I was young, before the milking parlour was put in.  Now, the tie stalls are used for calves before they are big enough to be in group pens.

In another corner of the barn, there is a track hanging from the ceiling.  At one time, that track was used to remove manure from the barn.  Eventually, it was replaced by a more modern gutter cleaner system.  The gutter cleaner was recessed into the floor and brought manure to a pump.  The pump would send the manure through a pipe into the manure storage pit outside of the barn.

Underneath the barn hill was once the milk house.  It was where all of the milk was stored before the milk truck picked it up.  This area was added on to, and later became a series of three loose housing pens.  When I was young, the pens were used for maternity pens and, in some cases, as sick pens.  Those pens changed and became housing for a wide variety of animals over the years.  In my lifetime, they have been used for veal calves, horses, sheep and goats.  If a pen was empty, it also housed rabbits when we were younger.

The freestall structure which my grandpa added to the barn, has been used for beef cattle, veal, heifers, and is now strictly used for milking cows.  Part of it was converted into the milking parlour.  During the summer, one end of the freestall is blocked off, and the dry cows (cows that are not being milked because they are close to calving) use it for shelter and for water access.  Both the dry cows and milking cows have pasture access from spring to fall.

The mow in the barn has always been partially used for hay and straw storage.  One area of it was also used for livestock housing a long time ago.  I remember being told there were chickens in one part of the mow when my grandparents were farming and my dad was young.  The floor was pulled up from one section of the mow, and used to make a wall so that one half has two storeys, although only half of a floor between them.  That section is used for cut straw in the main part of the barn.

The other part of the barn mow is wide open.  It was used for bale storage for years.  Right now, it is mainly storage of small tools and equipment, as rolling the large round bales into the mow is very hard to do with a limited number of people and we do not have small square bales any more.  In the mow, it is obvious that the barn is old.  Wooden pegs hold the beams in place, rather than nails.  In several places, you can see evidence of how the hay and straw used to be unloaded, although the equipment itself was removed long ago. 

That barn has seen changes from no electricity to electricity. It went from being a mixed farm (with several kinds of animals being raised on the property) to being a more specialized dairy farm. The farm has also gone from raising animals mainly to feed the family and some neighbours to producing enough for larger numbers of people
The treasured farm photographs that we have, dating back to the 1940s, tell a story when they are lined up…a story about Canada.  They show how farms used to be small, subsistence-style farms supporting low numbers of people.  In those days, there was a much larger percentage of the population who farmed, and almost everything eaten was local food. 

Now, the farm is modern and is larger.  The average Canadian farm produces enough food for 120 people, and only two per cent of Canadians are farmers.  Technology is needed to make the farm more efficient, allowing farmers to feed so many people.

The improvements made have led to a more safe food supply for Canada, and have made it possible for so many people to work in other jobs now.  I am sure if my great grandpa were here today and could walk around the farm today, and see how it has changed, he would be proud to see what it has become.

Hot summer days on the farm

by Patricia Grotenhuis, lifelong farmer and agricultural advocate

Hot summer days are part of the routine for all of us.  For some, it means a chance to relax by a pool, or to enjoy it from the comfort of air conditioning.  Those options do not work for our farm animals, so what do farmers do to help them?  Continue reading