FINCH -- The tePlate family abandoned both tie-stalls and typical tin roof when they overhauled their dairy operation in 2006-2007.
For the past year, the herd at Paynebranch Farm Ltd. -- including heifers, dry cows and 45 milk producers -- has lived comfortably inside a new Cover-All barn.
Beneath the 65-foot span of white fabric stretched over steel arches, the cattle comfortably lounge in a free-stall environment filled with diffused daylight that naturally illuminates the structure overhead.
The four-row layout is otherwise fairly typical of current free-stall design, with expansive turkey-curtain openings on the sides of the structure and automated alley scrapers that creep through two aisles.
Other touches include cow waterbeds - water filled rubber bladders laid down for comfort in each stall - and a Lely rotating brush that keeps those Holstein girls feeling oh so good.
At the business end, inside a heated frame building, lies a single-eight parallel Boumatic milking parlour with computerized metering and exit sorting gate. But rather than a dank, damp traditional pit, the cows actually walk up into the parlour - encouraged to move forward thanks to a crowd gate - leaving the human operators below at grade level and in the sunshine behind a bank of big glass windows.
It was 40 years after his Dutch-immigrant parents established a herd at the North Stormont farm that Henry tePlate and his wife, Kenda, were looking at moving out of the old stanchion barn in 2005.
"We started going around and looking at other farms," Kenda explained during an open house event showcasing their operation Sept. 27.
Their visits included dairy barns set up inside Cover-All structures.
They were sold on the lower cost over a traditional building, and cattle health benefits like plenty of natural light and fresh air. "We did a lot of research," she said. "It's bright and airy, and the cows are healthy."
And while still "quite expensive" to undertake the project, "this was more affordable than traditional construction," she said.
Eastern Contractors of Finch erected the structure, and the tePlates now have a full summer and winter of experience with it. They find it colder than the old tie-stall barn, but not intolerably so -- and definitely OK for the cattle themselves.
"It's cold but they love it," said Kenda. The cow waterbeds, sold by Murphy's Sales & Service in Brinston, maintained their liquid state during the coldest temperatures, even though they contain no antifreeze.
And the cavernous free-stall barns of today are colder than the smaller tie-stall barns of yesterday anyway, the tePlates' veterinarian, Dr. Glenn Smith, pointed out. Having visited the new barn during the wintertime, Smith said the structure is no colder than a traditional hardtop free-stall, in his opinion.
Yet it's also naturally cooler in the summertime, according to Kenda tePlate, even without the large fans found in traditional free-stalls.
Construction on the 40-by-40-foot parlour building began in the winter of 2006-2007. The original barn was gradually taken down in stages, until it finally became necessary to temporarily remove the herd to a Newington farm the following spring. The cows returned to Paynebranch and their new Cover-All home last October.
"We didn't do the open house right away," she said. "We wanted to try it and see how it would go for a year first."
The production herd has since gone up by about five animals, with further room to grow, according to Henry tePlate. "This barn will milk 60 cows," he noted.
While other fabric-covered dairy barns do exist in the area, the tePlates believe theirs is one of the only examples in which all of the animals in the reproductive cycle- except very young calves - are housed under a single roof. The animals stay inside the 210-foot-long building year round, where they are fed a ration of haylage, corn silage and dry grain corn.
The project also included the construction of a 35-by-40-foot feed room at the back end of the main structure.
Henry's father, Herman, still handles feeding duties, accomplished with a portable TMR feed cart travelling two alleys.
With a six-year-old daughter still at home, Kenda said she and her husband see a future for the next generation in dairying.
"We did this because we have faith in the industry, and we love it, and we have a little one, too.... We hope she's going to carry on the tradition."