These are permanent, engineered structures in which dairy cows are housed and usually provided with their daily feed requirements and water. They may be open air, partially or fully enclosed.

Freestalls are typically used to house dairy cows for extended periods and include a bedding area for cows to ruminate and rest. The term refers to the bedding area where cows are provided cubicles (stalls) which they may enter to lie down.

A centralised feed alley is supported by cow alleys either side allowing cows to access bedding stalls or feed depending on their need. Cow alleys are flood washed/ scraped several times each day to remove manure. To further maintain cow comfort, health and production performance, bedding stalls are raked or hosed every few days.

Shed ventilation is a critical design element, with cooling fans or more sophisticated evaporative cooling mechanisms, often installed to suit climatic conditions.

Internal or external loafing areas may be included in the design to provide additional area for cattle to move around. Cows of similar production performance are often confined within specific sections of the freestall to allow batch processing in the milking facility which is centrally located.

Feed

  • Significant improvement in feed ration utilisation

Herd

  • All weather facility to manage herd comfort, with potential to buffer the impact of adverse weather conditions on cow production
  • Minimise herd travel to and from grazing, and the associated production losses or lameness, if an issue
  • Improved herd monitoring possible e.g. heat detection, animal welfare, body condition

Management

  • Minimise farm maintenance costs associated with paddock renovations following soil pugging and compaction
  • Reduces farm maintenance costs associated with laneway surfacing and paddock gateways
  • Opportunities to capitalise on advanced effluent management with liquid, slurry and solid products more readily available to compliment fertiliser applications
  • Significant capital outlay to establish
  • Increased reliance on high quality supplements being grown or purchased, the latter exposed to the risk of seasonal price changes
  • Business has higher input costs and can be more dependent on stable milk pricing
  • Large intensive footprint within a property which may trigger separation distances
  • Potential for significant delays in statutory and regulatory planning
  • Effluent management is a vital function of the business requiring advanced engineering solutions and skills
  • Potential for increased regulatory attention with odour emissions and community amenity concerns
  • System more suitable to specific cow breeds (or genetics) with above average production
  • Can be reliant on contractor services with specialised machinery and equipment
  • Higher production cows may require milking more frequently than twice daily

Significant components

  • Flood wash tanks
  • Bedding; sand/ rubber mattresses
  • Earthworks
  • Effluent system
  • Cooling mechanisms
  • Feed bunkers
  • Mixer wagon
  • Tractor (120hp+)

   Others

  • Ongoing machinery maintenance costs, fuel
  • Water supply
  • Power costs
  • Energy recovery systems

Structure

  • Choose a location that allows access to key infrastructure and resources required to operate the business (water, transport, power, labour)
  • Site preparations and investigations to ensure all infrastructure components consider environmental outcomes whilst supporting a cost effective farming system
  • Consider working through and establishing an Environmental Impact Statement
  • Consents required

Feed

  • Feed supply management plan securing all supplementary feed (on farm or off farm) required to sustained annual production
  • Feed bunker area and machinery required to manage and supply a range of supplementary feed types

Herd

  • Structure must provide sufficient animal spacing for feeding, loafing and resting while promoting cow flow, comfort (lying) and wellbeing
  • Appropriate allocation for hospital herd, breeding & calving etc.

Management

Consider:

  • Ventilation and cooling systems to sustain cow comfort and performance
  • Appropriately designed and engineered effluent management systems with the capability to handle liquid, slurry and solids at the expected volumes
  • Agronomic plan and machinery to recycle nutrients generated from the facilities
  • Sufficient skilled labour and site management to undertake daily site operations including contingency planning

Other Jobs

  • Sand extraction and recovery management to replace stall losses
  • Regular stall preparation
  • Additional milking shifts

Advisor tips

  1. A significant investment which requires sound financial and business advice
  2. A farm system significantly removed from a grazing methodology, so requires specialised management
  3. People management a critical aspect of the specialised management