How to Design the Right Calving Barn for Your Operation
Regardless of when a cattle owner decides to calve – spring or fall – it’s one of the most stressful times of the year. With so many challenges related to animal welfare, disease management, and safety while pulling a calf, a well-designed calving barn is a smart investment in a cow-calf operation. And to design the best calving barn, it’s important to define the goals for the facility. “Cow calf operators have to consider how that facility will address specific challenges and what the facility will need to help you reach the goals you have for your operation,” says Jeff Vap, founder of Vap Construction, an industry leader in post frame and steel frame buildings. “Most people think about needing a calving barn when they’re fighting the elements and it’s already too late to save the calf they’re working with. But with advance planning, a custom calving barn can prevent so many unnecessary headaches and improve your herd’s health.”
There are many factors to consider when designing calving facilities, and the first has to do with your operation’s location. The calving site should be in a well-drained location and protected, if possible, from the winter winds as much as possible. Using the topography or vegetation on your property to your advantage is a smart idea. Once your site is selected, make sure to note any limitations for access or size of the facility and take those into consideration. When the barn is situated in a protected location, the design can incorporate ventilation while maintaining a safe temperature and humidity for calving. “A common mistake made in the initial stages of designing a calving facility is to limit ventilation to keep out cold air, but doing so creates a warm moist ammonia-rich environment, which increases the risk of respiratory problems,” Vap says.
The next thing to consider depends on the environment and your calving season. For example, a Wyoming operation that calves in February might need enough shelter for all the calves expected in a given week, a Kansas operation that calves in the fall might only need a simple shelter with a head gate for difficult calving. Depending on the expected temperatures of your calving season, it may be advantageous to insulate the entire facility, or to just insulate a dedicated warm room. While temperature is definitely a concern, the wind can be just as risky. “Everyone usually remembers to think about temperature, but cold north winds can kill a calf,” Vap says. “It’s important to think about the direction your facility faces to best prevent wind exposure for your younger animals.”
The last thing to consider is keeping your facility user-friendly. For heifer barns that are one-man operations, it’s nice to have the right size of stalls compared to the alleyway,” Vap explains. “So if the stalls and gates are on 12-foot centers, you can swing a gate to get a cow in the stall by yourself.” For larger operations with multiple people on a calving crew, your barn might need to include an area for a warm break or a place to keep notes about your herd so that information is shared between shifts. Good lighting and adequate storage space for equipment should also be considered to ensure a safe, clutter-free workspace. And finally, depending on the snow load in your area, it’s important to design doors in a way that they will not require clearing to provide emergency assistance to an animal.
By designing your calving barn for ranch-specific needs and protocols, you’re making a smart investment in your herd’s health and safety, while ensuring your ability to provide care during calving season regardless of the weather. To make sure this investment provides returns for many calving seasons to come, it’s always recommended to invest in high-quality construction, especially in high-wind environments. “Vap Construction’s barns use up to 25% more lumber than many of our competitors to ensure strength and durability of the building,” Vap says. “Make sure you’re asking a lot of questions, and that you’re comparing apples to apples when bidding with different companies.”
For more information and ideas for your calving barn project, browse the gallery section on the Vap Construction website, www.vapconstruction.com. Or, contact the friendly staff at Vap Construction to get started on a free estimate: 866-492-1978.