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Not Your Dad's Dairy Barn

New facilities are changing the face of dairying in eastern South Dakota.

New barns are changing the look of dairies in the Dakotas.

There's compost barns, hoop barns and cross ventilated barns. All were featured on the recent Central Plains Dairy Tour.

At Norswiss Dairy, Summit, S.D., hoop-style compost barns house fresh cows. Rather than standing on cement and laying in freestalls, the cows spend their days on 2-4 foot thick layer of composting bedding. The compost more comfortable to lie on and safer for them to walk on than cement. Owner John Seffrood is using straw as the compost material. Few dairies have been able to make straw work as a bedding material in a compost barn. But Seffrood says he thinks the key is chopping the straw into short pieces, about 2 inches or less in length. He spreads the straw with a payloader and rototills the compost daily to keep the surface dry.

At Victory Farms, Milbank, S.D., the compost barn has a different look than at Norswiss. From the outside is looks like a standard freestall barn. But there are no freestalls inside. The freestall areas are full of a sawdust/wood chip compost. Kevin Sousa, manager, says it was cheaper to build a freestall-style compost barn rather than a hoop-style compost barn.

At Providence Dairy, White, S.D., a 600-foot long Coverall freestall hoop barn houses 500 cows. The barn cost 10% more to build than a freestall barn, but was worth the extra money, according to owner Wielie Vandermeer. The white hoop cover lets in so much light that its as if the cows are outside. The Vandermeers plan to add on to the hoop barn this summer and build another hoop barn when they expand.

The cross ventilation barn at Drumgoon Dairy, Lake Norden, S.D., looks like a giant warehouse. It's completely enclosed and has a nearly flat roof. It was 90 degrees outside the barn, but inside the temperature was only 75-80 degrees – thanks to a wall of fans blowing water-cooled air through the barn. Rodney Elliott, owner of the dairy, says that the cows are so comfortable in the air-conditioned like atmosphere that they actually produced more milk, not less, during the summer's first heat wave.

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