Tour most dairy farms in Kenya, you will notice several cow houses scattered in the homestead, some new others old, housing different groups of cows. This is a clear indication that most farm just build without a plan.
Recently, there was an interesting conversation on social media. A farmer posted a picture of his cow house followed with a caption “thank God our new investment is complete.” While some users congratulated the farmer, several others focused on what was wrong with the house. “Sleeping spaces is too small, can’t even fit a donkey” commented one user. “My fundi who is very experienced in building suggested we build that way” the farmer replied. “Between your fundi and cow, who will live in the house?” another user asked. “Everyone should show us their projects before on commenting on mine.” That was the farmers last comment. What stood out from other comments was that people wondered why dairy farmers focussed on houses and not cows.
So why should we attach much importance to a cow house?
Basic needs of a cow are best summarized in Cowsignals diamond as feed, water, light, air, rest, light, and space. While feed and water often receive the most attention, the other 5 needs are provided for in a well designed cow house. A good cow house must meet needs of the cow to stay healthy and productive at the same time considers the needs of the employees for a good working experience. Therefore, cows and people come first, before financial considerations which mainly depend on the performance of the first two.
Importance of planning first
When building, its less costly to make mistakes on paper. You are not only building a cow house, you are building a farm and a management system so your drawing is a component of a management plan. The cow house reflects the needs of the cow and how you plan to work in the farm.
Cow house require considerable investment. Since every dairy farm goes through growth it is important to consider the room for expansion in the plan.
The handbook, modular cow barn design that was developed with support from SNV/KMDP provides farmers with a set of 6 modular cow barn designs. This covers a herd ranging from herd of 5 dairy cows to 54 dairy cows, based on the basic principles in a Kenyan context. The dairy cow house designs are expandable to allow farmers to increase their herds gradually, as they continue invest in their dairy business.
Existing Cow house designs in Kenya.
The analysis of several cow house designs in Kenya reveals that important principles such as cow comfort, labour efficiency, structural soundness and expandability are not adequately observed. In addition, they reveal that dairy animals and the farm workers are exposed to adverse conditions that hinder their optimal productivity, leading to reduced efficiency.
Some of the shortcomings in the existing designs in Kenya
- Low roofing level preventing comfortable movement by cows and workers and limiting air movement/ventilation in the barn. This significantly contribute to heat stress.
- Inadequate width of the walking areas results in cow discomfort arising from obstructed flows as group of cows force their way through others in the crowd. This also contributes to injuries caused by the barn’s structure (abrasion).
- Lack of roof cover in some key areas of the cow house, especially over feed alleys/troughs. This leads to feed losses through heating & rotting when exposed to rain and sun.
- Inappropriate dimensions for the sleeping cubicles: either too small or too wide.
- Inappropriate dimensions for various barn components such as the feed fence and neck rail height, water trough dimensions etc. These are dependent on the size and breed of the cow being designed for.
- Limited provisions for possibilities of future growth and expansion of the cow barn.
Basic Principles for a good Cow house Design
- Cow comfort: Adequate space, feed, water, ease to rest and move, fresh air and light.
- Flexible and expandable: Build in straight lines for the separation of different flows and ease of expansion..
- Simple, robust and economical: Create simple and robust structures that are durable with minimum maintenance.
- Optimization of movements/flows and labour efficiency
Adapted from cow house design book for smallholder dairy entrepreneurs.