Free Stall Barns – Ventilation overview

fans and misters - sprinklers operating keeping cows cool

multiple fans and sprinklers

Carefully designed and properly constructed, well managed free stall barns with natural ventilation provide the ideal environment for a herd of dairy cattle.

The primary reason to construct a free stall barn is to effectively protect the dairy herd, free stalls and, of course, the feed area or areas from cold winter winds, rain, snow perhaps, and the heat of the summer sun.

To ensure adequate ventilation, free stall barns should always have a portion of their side walls open, as well as having an open ridge to permit air exchange for the effective removal of large amounts of heat and moisture produced by the cows.

Barns that are too closed up allow condensation to build up, which will create dampness all around the barn. This kind of condition is extremely unhealthy for the cows and will also accelerate the deterioration of the building.

large open roof only free stall barn

Note open ridge to assist in dispersing hot or stale air

It is also a good idea for free stall barns to be protected against birds, as they do not only foul animals and feed, but also often ruin insulation by burrowing into or pecking at the material.

Managing the Barn

When managing barn temperatures, it should be remembered that the priority is not the comfort of workers, but the well being of the dairy cattle.

Too much heat, condensation and poor air exchange will result in conditions that are damaging to the health of the cows and should therefore be avoided. The temperature inside the barn, for instance, should never differ from outside temperatures by more than 10 degrees F.

Making the difference too high during winter in order to keep it nice and comfortable for workers, for instance, will increase condensation, increase risk of diseases and decrease efficient air exchange. Naturally, this is not acceptable for the health of the animals.

It should be noted at this point that cows are quite happy in temperatures around and below 20 degrees F, meaning they do not need to be kept warm. Quite the opposite, in fact. Cows can suffer terribly from heat stress, which causes their ability to reproduce and produce milk to decrease. In Australia we are often concerned about heat stress.

To avoid them becoming too hot, adequate ventilation therefore has to be provided at all times. In hot summers, it may also be necessary to install fans to increase air flow and increase condensation cooling, which can be assisted with sprinklers, too.

These fans should be positioned to blow across the back of the cows, to allow for maximum cooling effect. While this will naturally increase cost, this expense will be easily offset by continued productivity of the herd.

The Point of Ventilation

The bottom line of ventilation in free stall barns is essentially a question of making a herd of dairy cows comfortable. By providing an environment that is continuously filled with cool, fresh and dry air, the farmer is providing a healthy environment for his cows.

There is no doubt that his cows will thank him for his efforts by maintaining maximum productivity throughout the year, no matter how hot, cold or wet it gets.

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