Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Life on The Farm 110511: Under Construction

Old Dairy Barn

This week we are under construction on the farm because the previously converted old tie stall barn is being given a makeover, yet again.

The interior was re-designed to be cleaned using the skidsteer (instead of shovels and a wheel barrow), and we have planned to install a super-cool technology innovation for calf feeding.

The last time we made such a renovation, the old gutters were filled in with cement, the east-facing part of the building repurposed for dry storage, and milk cows moved to a brand-new, adjacent housing facility.

That particular wing has functioned as the occasional turkey or calf pen, and is currently where the sunflower seed oil processing is contained.

The old main barn is the winter home of the laying hens and where the hot box plugs in when day-old birds arrive.  It’s a critical position, since putting them in outdoor sheds has resulted in lethal assaults from rats.  (Inside the barns, semi-feral cats are on patrol, and the likelihood of maulings is at a firm “zero”.)
Laying Hens Eating Sunflower Expeller
Across the aisle from the birds, piglets mill around and snort happily in their own confinement; rows of individual baby calf pens line the rest of the barn’s perimeter; older calves occupy a central communal space in a large enclosure with headlocks.

Pig Pen
There is typically not a preponderance of electrical outlets conveniently located in these old barns, so there are not a lot of options as to where light and heat for needy things can be situated.

A central door gives access to the machine shop, which was once used to house the old carousel milking parlor and bulk tank room.

And that is precisely where my husband Dan began working this week to install the new-fangled automated calf-feeding machinery that is slated to arrive from Germany in 6-8 weeks.

The floor was jackhammered out to place a drain and install a sink; this was boxed in to create a warm, clean area for washing up. It will contain the blenderizing equipment.

The exterior of the box is where young calves will drink warm milk replacer “free-range” from silicone nipples - on demand - instead of from bottles filled, fed, and washed by hand twice daily. 

Calves will wear electronic ear tags that identify them to the feeder/computer, and individualized meals will be dispensed accordingly.

Older Calves in Another Barn
Drinking frequency will be monitored so that any not feeding (feeling) well are flagged by the software for evaluation.

The changeover should replace one job, and cost about as much as paying someone a living wage to do it for a year. 

Feeding calves on a dairy farm is a chore that has been extremely labor-intensive and time-consuming.

This change won’t eliminate the entire activity of calf-feeding – older animals still require grain and hay - nor will it eliminate cleaning, health checks, vaccinations, dehorning, and all those other things we do to keep them thriving, happy, and safe. 

Still, it’s an innovation whose time has come, for our farm.