Plastic-clad housing for dairy cows with the accent on more light and space can cut fixed costs by over 30% as well as bringing a yield bonus of over 10%, says a team of farm building experts in The Netherlands.
Veterinary team Vetwise, along with milking equipment manufacturer Lely and building constructors ID Agro, design plastic-clad cubicle and slats housing for about €6500 (£5500) per cow place plus the cost of the robot milking system.
“ID Agro reckon their plastic-clad barns cost from two-thirds to just half the cost of conventional bricks, cement and wood buildings,” says Dutch dairy farmer Jordan Potsdam. With his wife, Yvonne, he runs a 115-milker herd near Rotterdam, with cow numbers being expanded to 130 head. Their ID Agro Serrestall steel-frame barn, 50m long and 40m wide and roofed with 0.9mm opaque white plastic sheeting, was completed in 2007.
High light levels and wide passages give maximum freedom of cow movement between big 2.5 x 1.20m cubicles, roomy feeding areas and milking robots.
Barn sides are walled with 5 x 4cm mesh windbreak netting and roller blinds are also fitted on the building sides for protection against frost or high wind. The plastic sheeting on the roof is covered by green netting to help keep the interior cool in summer.
The very light and airy interior fits well with the Lely approach that maximum light in dairy housing is crucial for top milk yields. “Light flooding into such buildings is proving to boost milk output from 6 to 8 %,” says Lely spokesman Jochen Doehring. “We are working closely with the Dutch veterinary group Vetwise to design the interior cubicle layout to maximise this effect and we have fitted high-intensity lamps to allow this philosophy to be continued into the darker winter months.”
The Oostdam herd is milked by two Lely Astronaut 3 robots and the 130-cubicle fully slatted barn floor layout aims to give maximum access to the robots. “Every cow in the herd should be encouraged to visit the robot freely and this means plenty of space to avoid dominance confrontations,” believes Jochen Doehring.