Increasing Cow Productivity by Almost 15%


When the Singh’s of Gordonton wanted to expand their business and the output on their 265Ha Waikato farm, they spoke to us about how it could be achieved through a dairy barn system. After joining them on a study tour to America in 2014 the Singh’s spent three years considering their economic and farming options and decided that simply buying more adjacent land (which wasn’t even available) was not the best route to increasing revenue and profits.

In conjunction with GEA Farm Technologies, we undertook a design-build project to create for them, a world-class dairy barn system. Dairy Barns are typically designed for three things: function, cost efficiency, and providing an operational benefit to the farm. This dairy barn is a category leader on all three fronts, showing how excellence in industrial design and construction leads to exceptionally happy dairy cows, and a significant lift in farm production.

The Singh’s dairy barn is (current at the time of completion) the largest of its kind in the Waikato at over 245m long and 38m wide. As part of the transition to this new future direction for the farm business, they also shifted from a traditional pastoral grazing system to a ‘cut-and-carry’ feed system. Combined, the new building and feed system have enabled a lift in on-farm cow numbers from to 1000 up from 600. But perhaps what’s more impressive is the productivity increase of 10-15% per cow!

Also, worth noting are the environmental features designed into the building that will allow this productivity increase while also reducing environmental impacts, nitrogen loading, and de-stocking on the land itself. The effluent system for the barn is strategically based around utilising nutrients effectively across the entire property, collecting it over adverse periods to apply to land using deferred irrigation.

“We’re self-contained here really. Hopefully, we won’t be using any fertiliser at all. It’ll be all using effluent from the shed back onto the land. And we should be able to get away without putting any nitrogen on either.” Aman Singh, farm owner

All stormwater is collected off the 11,000m2 roof area into a 30,000ltr storage bladder, improving farm runoff and providing an additional safety buffer for dry periods. Runoff isn’t the only rain-related concern that’s been addressed either; the Singh’s have also seen a reduction in lameness.

“We get a lot of rain now and in the last two years, we’ve had 20 or 30 lame cows that just don’t come right. It doesn’t matter how good your races are. This year we haven’t had any lameness so far, touch wood.” Aman Singh, farm owner

De-stocking of the farm has provided a significant benefit to the ground and soils and increased feed production. Surprisingly, this better management of pasture has actually led to more stock being able to be fed from the same land area as feed utilisation has increased as very little is wasted when it is fed in the barn.

Speaking to Kelvin O’Connell, Calder Stewart’s Waikato Regional Manager, he says every farmer wants to put their own tweak into the whole design. “It’s about customising the barn for the farmer’s needs. It can go from 200-300 cows, then we go to the scale the likes of Aman Singh’s with 1000 cows.”

In this case, function was the primary consideration for the building design with cow comfort the over-riding priority. That’s because dairy cows with low-stress levels and adequate feed had been proven to have higher and more consistent milk production levels. To work well, dairy barns are best placed at 90-degrees to the sun to minimise the amount of sun over the barn and keep cows cooler and happier (minimising heat stress and odour).

“Cow comfort is the most important thing they’re looking for. We looked at how the shed was situated for the sun; how the shed was situated for the farm flow; and the shed also has to be well ventilated so they don’t house any of the bugs we don’t need to be housing.” Kelvin O’Connell, Calder Stewart’s Waikato Regional Manager.

Utilising technology is also something we see as the future of increasing farm production and reducing environmental impacts. “This barn has GEA automated feed pushers and effluent scrapers, but it can go a lot further than that” says O’Connell. Our dairy barns can include things such as robotic milking machines. That’s how we need to operate, aligning ourselves with experts to have that turn-key package for the farmers.” Kelvin O’Connell

It’s something we’ve been doing since 1955. We’re a business that grew up on the farm. “Our legacy is dealing with farmers and listening to their needs” says O’Connell. “We’re here to help. So, there are lots of options for the future. 

And how do the cows like it? Aman Singh believes they’re pretty smart and know what’s good for them, saying “I put them outside for the first day and they ran back inside because the paddock was a bit wet and they didn’t want to sit there.”