There’s plenty to take into consideration around off-paddock infrastructure, such as how long the cows will stay off the paddock, what is your main reason for investing, and the big question – how much are you willing to invest? DairyNZ has a very helpful guide to assist your through this decision making process. But let’s run through each quickly.
An area specifically designed with a hard surface (can be concreted or not) used to feed out supplements and/or loafing of cattle. Usually sloped for ease of cleaning, some feedpads offer the potential to include a roof or side walls. It requires a significant labour input, and also a lot of water for cleaning.
Not suitable for standing off cows for long periods and there is the risk of cow injury or death due to confinement of the herd.
Semi-permanent purpose built area where stock can be held when it is not suitable to have them on the paddock. Not typically a place to feed cows however.
Consider a stand-off pad addition to your farm system if you have issues with: soil structure or pugging, damaged pasture, slow pasture growth, managing nutrient loss, laneways are damaged from standing cows on them, any problems with animal health and welfare due to current wet weather practices, or lameness and mastitis during or after wet times.
Fully covered facility, usually with plastic or steel roofing and ground covering of soft bedding material like straw, sawdust or woodchips. Usually there are no walls to aid ventilation and drying. Often used to house animals for longer periods such as during calving or over winter.
Fully covered facility typically with plastic over a frame roof and concrete slatted floor that covers a large effluent holding tank (must be large enough to hold effluent for a long time). To improve comfort for the cows the concrete is covered with bedding such as straw or rubber matting. This type of loose housed barn is both a feed pad and an off-paddock wintering facility. This option is not suitable for long periods of time unless rubber matting is used, and not a great area for calving unless extra bedding material is provided to prevent calf leg damage.
(this is what Calder Stewart specialises in)
Permanent structure, fully covered with steel roofing. Concrete floor area with softer surface that provides individual spaces for cows to lie down and is used for housing dairy cattle for long times. The many benefits a freestall barn offers (pasture protection, increased production, control of feed levels, improved dairy herd health and the opportunity to future proof effluent management against changing regulations) come at a higher cost to build and the continued higher input costs, mainly from imported supplementary feed, for your business.
Freestall barns, like those offered by Calder Stewart, are the best all weather building to manage herd comfort and minimise production downturns when due to adverse weather conditions. There are fewer production losses from cow lameness as this is significantly reduced from not having the herd travel to and from grazing, and consequently a decrease in maintenance costs related to laneway surfacing and paddock gate entrances.
All these options have benefits regarding the reduction of paddock renovation costs following pugging and compaction and therefore possible increases in pasture production. Herd monitoring opportunities for comfort, health and wellbeing are greatly
increased. In most cases these off-paddock options reduce the chance of lameness. Feed wastage is often greatly reduced.
For all of these options you will need to consider effluent management. More often than not there is the possibility that effluent and used bedding materials can be utilised for crop or pasture application when conditions are right. This is even more so with the advanced system used in freestall barn systems. Drawbacks to any off-paddock option include a vunerablity to seasonal price changes on quality supplements, and supplementary feed costs are typically more than pasture. You’ll need to consider the need for attention to regulations if there is the potential for odour emissions and community complaints. Consents are needed to build, and with free stall barns, the potential for delays with regards to statutory and regulatory planning. And depending on the effluent management system used you may need more advanced engineering solutions and skills to manage it efficiently.
Find out more about the benefits of working with Calder Stewart here.