The Shiny New Barn

After months of planning, building, and anxious mooing, our shiny new barn is finally complete. I’m sure the Dairy Man would love to take a moment to bask, but he’s already moved on to other projects.

Manure pit

Oof. Just a little manure pit. Things never slow down around here.

But, back to the beauteous barn. As you know, Dairy Man decided to expand one of our barns this spring in order to grow our herd and give the current bovines a little more room to spread out.

Here’s where we started: two pretty white barns on a grassy hill (our parlor is on the far left).

Barns before

In order to build an expansion, we had to first raise up the ground. This required sand. Lots and lots of sand.

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I quite enjoyed the sand. Unfortunately the Dairy Man shot down my idea to turn the area into a beach volleyball court complete with tiki torches and frozen daiquiri bar. Apparently making space for more cows trumps my desire for summer beach parties.

But Jersey agreed with me. He loved the sand. It was like an episode of doggy Baywatch.

After the sand was laid and the ground was even, the posts went up.

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These random sticks pointing in the air were like a dairy farm version of Stonehenge. Without the burial mounds and Druid undertones.

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Then it was time for rafters and a roof made out of steel.

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Once the outside structure was complete, it was time to trick out our barn. Or “pimp my barn.” We’re still waiting to hear from MTV about the TV rights.

A few notable elements inside the barn:

Grooved concrete floor.
A grooved floor helps give the ladies traction as they roam around the barn. Without grooves, the floor would be a skating rink of slippery cow poo. Delightful. DM told me to take a good look at the floor, because it will never, EVER be this clean again. (Also, these are the wrong shoes to check out barn construction. In case you were wondering.)

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Big fans and sprinklers.
Cows hate to be hot and bothered. In order to keep the ladies cool, the new barn has huge fans and a sprinkler system. Thanks to several weeks of 90-degree weather in July, the fans and sprinklers have been getting a serious workout.

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Water tanks.
The new barn has two large blue water troughs. In the summer, the cows spend a lot of around them, an area I’ve dubbed the “water cooler,” to catch up on the latest gossip.

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Freestalls to give the ladies their space.
All of our barns are freestall barns. This means that the cows are free to roam around and have access to comfy sand beds/stalls. The stalls are spaced four feet apart to give even the biggest-boned bovine plenty of personal space.

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So. Those are the thrilling aspects that make up a barn. DM is so proud that I can recognize the glory of grooved concrete.

I was lucky enough to be in the barn when DM released the girls into it for the first time. I’m not a cow whisperer, but I could tell the cows were excited. I suspect they had been conversing longingly about the cozy new sand beds and waterfront views of the pond.

This event also finally gave me the chance to test an age-old dairy theory: that cows are just as excited about going into a new barn as they are about going into pasture. I’ll admit I was skeptical. I’ve witnessed our dry cows (pregnant ladies) go into pasture for the first time in the spring multiple times. It’s one of my favorite parts about living on a dairy. Why? Because it’s like a very rotund and jubilant running of the bulls. For a few minutes, the ladies forget they are mature mother cows and leap, frolic, and roll in the pasture like calves.

Would cows really be as excited about freestalls as they are about fresh pasture grass?

My camera and I were ready to find out. DM opened the gate between the old barn and new barn and after a few tentative steps, we had a stampede on our hands!

Ok, maybe “stampede” is a bit of an exaggeration, but it was joyful.

I even caught one of the girls rolling in the new sand bed like a wet puppy at a beach. Not a typical look for a 1,500 lb. animal.

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In a matter of minutes, every single cow was packed into the new barn. Except for this loner. She was soaking in the sudden privacy in the old barn.

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The bovine ladies are loving it. And yes, new barns are just as exciting as green pastures.

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When Cows Get Hot and Bothered

Last week was a scorcher. The pavement sizzled, the sun blazed, and the air lay thick, heavy, and suffocating. I had to resist the urge to melodramatically bellow “I’m meeeeelting! I’m meeeeeeeelting!” each time I stepped out the door. Well, I resisted the urge to do it more than that first time.

Thursday and Friday were the worst of it. Highs of over 100 degrees and smothering humidity? Far too hot for this Michigan gal.

Much to the Dairy Man’s chagrin, this week hasn’t been much better. 80 degrees felt like a cold snap and the 90s will be back today. The corn is dry and the dog days of summer are upon us.

Everyone around the farm has their own method of coping with the heat.

Jersey the dog hangs out in the air-conditioned house or truck.

The corn gets irrigated.

The cows drink a lot of water and do a lot of lounging.

It’s vitally important to keep our herd cool. Cows do not like the heat. They’re most comfortable when the temperature is around 50 degrees. When the thermometer tips above 55/60 degrees, the ladies start getting hot and bothered. The more scientific term for this hot flash phenom is “heat stress.” When dairy cows experience heat stress, they begin to reduce feed intake and lose body weight. Milk production, reproductive performance, and health are also affected.

We contemplated fanning the bovine ladies with palm fronds and feeding them cold grapes. But that seemed too extravagant. And Grecian. Plus, cows much prefer bananas.

So when the hot, airless days roll in, we kick on the fans.

These huge fans keep air moving in the barns and make the cows feel like they’re in an airport hanger. It’s glamorous. But once temps climb up past 75, the fans aren’t enough. At that point, it’s time to get wet and wild. Well, as wild as a cow lounging in the sand and chewing her cud can be.

The dairy cow version of Girls Gone Wild involves sprinklers. Our sprinkler system travels the length of each barn (on both sides) and runs on a timer based on the temperature. The hotter it gets outside, the more frequently the system kicks on. The spray wets the cow to the hide and then turns off, allowing the moisture to evaporate and pull heat from her body like sweating.

During the hottest summer days, the barn sprinkler system kicks on every seven minutes.

There are also sprinklers in the holding pen where the ladies wait to enter the milking parlor. All of these nozzles are sure to get a workout this weekend as Michigan temps again tip into the 90s.

You know the old saying: “If the cows ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” Or something like that. I was never very good with old sayings. I’m still grasping the whole bird in the bush concept. But really, if our cows aren’t happy and comfortable, we can’t be either. The Dairy Man invests enormous amounts of time and energy keeping the herd cool this time of year.

There’s talk of a slip n’ slide, but we’re still shopping for a plastic that can withstand a wet, sliding, 1500-pound cow.