Making the best decisions around off-paddock infrastructure investment is all about sound analysis of your available options. Check with your regional council about any regulatory requirements, such as minimum standards if a resource consent is required, prior to planning any off-paddock infrastructure.
Which off-paddock facility best suits your needs?
Permanent Feed Pad – A permanent feed pad is a specifically designed area with a hard surface used to feed out supplements. Normally located next to the farm dairy.
Loose Housed barn – Soft Bedding - A fully covered facility, usually built with plastic or steel roofing. The base is a soft bedding material such as straw, sawdust or woodchips, which will absorb some effluent
Loose housed barn – Concrete - A fully covered facility, usually with a plastic film over a frame type roof and a concrete slatted floor covering an effluent holding bunker, large enough to hold the effluent for extended periods.
Free stall barn - A fully covered facility usually built with steel roofing. Usually have a concrete floor area and a softer surface area that provides individual spaces (freestall) where cows lie down.
Stand off pad - A stand-off pad is a purpose built, drained loafing area where stock can be held for long periods when it is not suitable to have them on pasture.
Some structures are better suited than others to house cows for long periods. Both the covered feed pad options are viable as long as the area per cow is increased to allow 8-10m2/cow. A free stall is the gold standard but requires regular use to justify the cost. There is also a different set of requirements for milking out of the structure long term. Check with your milk company.
As you move into partially and fully housed structures the level of stockmanship required escalates rapidly. Moving systems is only likely to make life harder if stockmanship is not already top notch.
Your reasons for investing quickly shape the sort of structure you should consider. Each type of infrastructure requires a different level of investment. If you know how much you can spend that can help to eliminate some options. While any of these pieces of infrastructure can accommodate any system, some are more suited to more intensive systems and you would have to intensify your system to balance the budget.
Because infrastructure can require a heavy investment that other farmers may not want to pay you for when it comes to selling the farm we recommend that you only invest heavily when you intend to stay on the farm for the foreseeable future.
What type of system are you currently operating? How will that system integrate with your investment? As you invest in off-paddock systems additional attention to detail, including more rigorous management of cost is required. People who are already preforming well are more likely to preform well during the transition and in the ongoing operations of a new system.
Increased price and climate volatility can mean that rapid adaption of the farm system is required to maintain profit levels between years. If this is your goal you will need to b flexible with your system. Others may choose to ride out the lows and set their system to maximise the highs, and therefore require less flexibility.
Additional infrastructure requires a different set of specialist skills to the average farm. If you intend to employ managers who change regularly or even sharemilkers on 3-5 year contracts, they will have to go through the learning curve each time they change. More intensive systems are suited to stable management.