Dairymen and dairywomen tend to lead busy lives. Some piece of equipment is always misbehaving; there is another hole in the fence somewhere, or someone left the gate open again. With this in mind, I have found out what equipment on the dairy is commonly overlooked – the lighting.

Lighting Adviser / C. Crane Company

When the sun slips off the horizon, the farming valley that I live in begins to sparkle with barn lights. It is a relaxing sight as the sound of tractors in the distance begins to fade. There is a brief spurt of headlights on the roads as workers head home.

All of this appears to be triggered by the barn lights coming on; it’s the signal of the day’s end just before the sky goes dark. As pretty a sight as it is, I can’t help but wonder how much power these lights are using.

I have lived in the little farming village of Ferndale, located in northern California, for most of my life – lots of dairies with lots of cows. I live in a small farm house with a panoramic view of the surrounding farmlands. I know pretty much every dairyman in the valley by name, and I know why the lights are left on – either someone forgot to turn them off or they need to stay on.

Although I live in the country and farming roots run deep in my family, my work is with technology.


For the past year, I have been researching LED lighting technology and figuring out how, and where, it works. The information I collected got me thinking about the dairy lights I see every night.

I’m not referring to the long fluorescent tubes (T8/T5) that are common in milk houses, but to the incandescent/compact fluorescent (CFL) bulbs that typically dwell throughout the dairy barns.

Barn lighting serves many functions, but for those dairies that run them 24/7, a side effect is annoying the dairymen by burning out all the time. Sure, some lights last longer than others, but replacing bulbs is a pretty common dairy chore.

A usual practice on the dairies near me is to let most of the bulbs burn out until they have to be replaced in order to see again. I get to witness this routine all the time – the barn across the way starts with six visible light bulbs; a couple months later they are down to two and then, shortly after that, the barn is back up to six again.

In the winter this chore is even more cumbersome with outdoor barn lights – a storm took out the outside barn light bulb; you replace it and the next storm takes out that one. We are used to the frequent light bulb-changing procedures that have been with us for over a hundred years, but now there is a new replacement technology that practically eliminates this chore – LED light bulbs.

The run-down
Researching pricing, I have found that currently available LED light bulbs are best suited for applications where lights are difficult to replace or are on 12 to 24 hours a day. It is in these types of locations and hour usages that the return on investment is within reason for most dairy businesses – typically one to five years.

LED light bulbs serve the same purpose that existing barn lights do, but they have a few perks: they save energy, last a very long time and reduce time and labor costs. LED bulbs, for the same light output, use a fraction of the energy that incandescent bulbs do and as little as half the energy of CFLs (the curly, twisty-tube bulbs known as compact fluorescents).

Different LED light bulb manufacturers produce bulbs with different lifetimes, but a high-quality LED should last 50,000+ hours and top-notch LED products are rated to run 24/7. If you left a light on 24/7 – never turned it off – and it could last 50,000 hours, it would take 5.7 years to reach 50,000 hours! That’s a long time between light bulb changes, don’t you think?

Incandescent bulbs have served us well, but they have become costly to run these days due to power price increases. The CFL bulbs put out enough light, but they turn yellow after a while, contain toxic materials like mercury and don’t last long when you run them 24/7 – though they last longer than an incandescent.

So here come LEDs with promises of longer, energy-saving lives. So what’s the catch?

Mid-quality to high-quality LED bulbs currently cost about $35 to $50 apiece. Don’t let the sticker shock turn you away. If you run some lights on your dairy 12 to 24 hours a day, you should strongly consider LED replacements. The reduction in energy usage and time/labor cost reduction can be substantial.

We won’t get into the math, but in many cases your return on investment (ROI) can be one to two years, depending on the replacement LED light bulbs you choose and the existing bulbs you replace. There are a variety of online sources that can help you determine how much a particular bulb will save you and what the ROI will be.

At last, there is a new solution for the dairy community – but use caution if you are thinking of switching over to this great new technology. Do a little research before purchasing LED bulb replacements.

Make sure you buy from a company that backs up their performance claims with a decent warranty. Also make sure the bulbs are suited for the application.

LED bulbs come in a variety of colors and light outputs. I advise that you try a couple of colors before making any large purchases and select the appropriate brightness for your application.

Remember, these lights are going to last a long time, so you want to make sure you get bulbs that best suit your situation and needs. Manufacturers make recommendations for what color temperatures to use in certain areas, but I have found that people’s preferences vary.

LED light bulbs can upgrade the quality of light on your dairy, but ultimately their long life, low power consumption and safety risk reduction qualities are what make them good for dairy use. LEDs are definitely worth looking into if you run lights 12 to 24 hours a day.

Of course, the most energy-saving light bulb is one that is off. But if reducing the amount of time you have your lights on isn’t an option, check out what is on the market for your application and see if a switch to LEDs is worth the investment for you.