During the October 4th Animal Care Wednesday Webinar, we heard from Kevin Janni, Professor and Extension Engineer at the University of Minnesota. Janni walked through the questions that should be asked when considering to either remodel an older barn or to start over and build new. The questions and concepts apply to all types of livestock buildings, and Janni provided examples from his work with dairy producers.
The Hard Questions
“The purpose of a livestock building is to facilitate the management plan,” Janni said. “You have to ask yourself, is it worth the time, money, and effort to remodel? If the remodeled space won’t perform as well as a new space, then building new may be a better option.”
Discussions of remodeling versus building new facilities are never simple and come with many challenging questions. The most important thing to remember is give honest, realistic answers and try to keep emotions out of the final decision. Here are some key considerations and potential challenges to watch for when remodeling barns.
- Define the purpose for animal housing
Determine the specie type, number, and ages of animals that will be housed in the facility. Determine the feedstuffs, feed delivery, bedding materials and manure management plan. The ultimate goal is to provide a clean, dry environment with plenty of fresh air and easy access to clean fresh feed and water for the animals. Don’t overlook lighting to complete observation and animal care tasks.
- Labor efficiency and safety
Consider the number of people to complete the necessary animal care tasks. If the goal is to have one person be able to do everything, do the pen and alley layout allow for this or should more gates be considered? Strive to make the animal care tasks easy to do with proper equipment because we all know that people choose the easy way of doing things. Be critical of the layout and work tasks to create a safe working environment. Are ceilings too low? Is footing appropriate for people and animals? Are there new tools or equipment to purchase to complete tasks if the barn is remodeled?
- Identify animal care tasks
Ask yourself, can I do these things and can I do them easily in this current space? The basic tasks to consider include: preparing and providing feed, providing clean water, fresh air in all weather conditions, animal observation, add bedding, remove bedding and manure, treating ill animals, breeding or birthing, and other desired tasks.
- Structural integrity and soundness
The foundation is a deciding factor to whether a barn should be remodeled; be critical of any cracks before starting a project. Determine weight-bearing walls that cannot be removed. Additionally discuss new doorways and windows to maintain building soundness. Do you have enough space? The response to this is dependent on the planned use of the space and the types of animals that will be in the space. Evaluate the condition of rafters and trusses. Do you want to remove a roof/ceiling or raise it? If the answer is yes, hire a structural engineer to lead the remodel project.
- Ceiling height impacts
Ceiling height directly determines other critical components that can have animal care challenges. Low ceilings may limit the type and size of equipment used for manure and bedding handling. Having undersized equipment can hinder labor efficiencies. A major challenge is ventilation options with low ceilings. Natural ventilation is best achieved by 10 to 12 foot sidewalls, so buildings with shorter walls may be better suited to mechanical ventilation options (e.g. positive tube systems with fans). Lighting type with low ceilings can pose animal safety challenges if animals are able to reach the fixtures.
Within the overall systems thinking model, also consider the access to water and electricity. Are the existing locations appropriate for desired changes to animal spaces or areas that require cleaning? Is the electrical sufficient and placed safely to run all necessary equipment and lighting? If additional waterers are going to be added to animal spaces, evaluate the flow rate to ensure enough water is provided to the number of animals that will be drinking from each source. Also consider any local company limitations of water or electrical usage that may be in place for livestock facilities.
- Location, location, location
This is one of the deal breakers and is critical when deciding whether to remodel, so be brutally honest. Always avoid remodeling buildings in low or wet areas. It can have a negative impact on the environment and typically creates an undesirable experience for driving equipment or moving animals for chores. Consider traffic flow of people, vehicles, equipment, and animals on a daily basis and seasonally (e.g. harvest, tourism, and hunting). Determine the distance to other areas related to animal care tasks. How far do cows have to walk to the parlor? How many trips does the feed wagon need to make to the bunkers? Can various tasks be done simultaneously, such as move animals and drive equipment to and from all farm locations?
The rule of thumb when figuring remodeling costs is choose to build new if remodeling costs exceed two-thirds (2/3) the cost of the new facility. For example, if building new costs $60,000 then remodeling costs should be no more than $40,000-$45,000. However, still be wary when remodeling costs approach 50% of new costs and there is still work to be done.
Dream with a Plan
The basic planning process when considering whether to remodel a barn includes four steps.
- Assess the existing structure critically.
- Determine the changes required for desired management practices.
- Evaluate the quality of the space for the new use.
- Gather realistic values to determine the cost.
After careful planning to remodel an existing barn, take the next step and think about the future. Where will the next barn, feed bunker, or manure pit go?