Trying to figure out how to make the numbers work on a new-construction barn can be a bit challenging when you know exactly what you want, but the price exceeds your budget allowance. Cow comfort is not an area to skimp, but there are other things a dairy owner can do to be more cost-effective with a project.
Ambrosius ashley
Agricultural Marketing and Customer Relations / Bayland Buildings Inc.

When considering where you need to make the cuts, always consider things that can be added to the facility later. Lightening up on litter alleys, feed alleys or stall sizes will not get the biggest bang for your buck. This is where cow comfort becomes compromised. Always look at options that are less expensive to change out or add later:

1. Concrete

There are two areas you can eliminate concrete during construction and add it in the future.

In a good portion of new-construction barns we build today, concrete briskets are poured during construction. Brisket boards help eliminate the cow from settling her body too far ahead in the stalls which, in turn, helps to keep the stall cleaner. Eliminating the brisket board at the time of construction may mean a bit more work on a day-to-day basis by doing some extra cleanup.

But when looking at the cost savings, it may be worth it to eliminate the briskets now and add them to your stalls in the future when you have the financial ability. The brisket boards rack up an added expense of approximately $50 to $60 per stall. Depending on the size of barn you are planning to build, this could add up to a large chunk of change. When choosing to add the briskets in the future, you still have the ability to pour concrete briskets or install a poly tube brisket. Both options work well.


The other area to consider for elimination of concrete are the concrete aprons on the exterior of the building. Sure, this may make things a bit more inconvenient now due to the additional outside ground elements coming into the barn with your equipment, but these aprons can add up quickly in the expense column. Adding a concrete apron at any other point in time is easy to do. Your cows’ comfort will not be put in jeopardy if you do not have concrete aprons.

2. Bedding

While constructing youngstock barns, you can look at several areas to cut some costs up-front and consider adding down the road.

In a heifer barn, you may consider forgoing mattresses and, instead, pouring concrete beds and applying bedding over the top of the concrete for comfort. By eliminating the mattresses up-front, this could be a cost savings of approximately $175 to $200 per stall during your construction process. Mattresses are simple enough to install at a later time. Another option is to install rubber mats in place of the mattress.

This would be less labor than using bedding in the day-to-day operations, but the cost savings will not be as significant. The cost saving of installing rubber in place of mattresses will save you approximately $100 per stall.

In a pack barn, the option of going with a dirt floor underneath the bedding will also cut some costs during construction. This concrete can easily be added well after your barn is constructed without much more expense than if it was poured during barn construction.

3. Ventilation

In a naturally ventilated barn, you could make some cuts up-front. This, however, is a touchy place to make your cuts, and I would strongly recommend consulting with a ventilation expert to confirm your decision suits your needs. I do not recommend sacrificing financially on your ventilation system if you are constructing a power-ventilated freestall barn.

In a naturally ventilated freestall barn, switching out an automated curtain system for a manual winch curtain system could save you a substantial amount of money. Depending on the length of your barn, this could be well worth the trade. If electing to eliminate an automated curtain system, it will be extremely important to monitor barn air quality.

Another consideration for naturally ventilated freestall barns is to eliminate or cut back on the amount of stir fans installed. If the barn has an open ridge, air flow should be sufficient. However, work with a ventilation expert to verify air flow and air exchange are indeed adequate. Stir fans can be added in to the facility when funds become available.

4. Manure

When making considerations of cutting expenses in the manure system, I suggest these options in a smaller freestall barn of approximately 200 cows or fewer:

  • Eliminate the manure channel during construction: This can be added at a later point in time as long as your barn design includes it for any future expansion. However, by eliminating the manure channel, you will need to do a daily push to the reception pit or stacking pad.

  • Eliminate a manure lagoon: This could add a significant amount of extra time to daily duties because daily manure hauling would be required. This is only a short-term situation until the financial means are available to add the manure lagoon.

    Your time is valuable, and spending it hauling manure daily ultimately will add to extra costs because time could be spent in more productive areas. It is important to do a little research. There may be governmental programs available which offer cost-share funding for lagoons.

When making changes up-front to land within your budget, always keep in mind your barn management will need to be a top priority while considering any of the above recommendations. Keeping your cows healthy and safe should always be the driving decision.