Dairy Waterers

By Victoria Diegnan
Seneca Dairy Systems, LLC

Crossover alley waterer with water guards. This waterer is set on 8″ curb to provide proper drinking height.

When it comes to making milk, cows need one thing more than anything else; WATER.  Milk is mostly water, so it goes without saying that it is a vital element in terms of a cow’s nutrient needs.  More than three quarters of a cow’s total diet is water, and if water intake goes down so will dry matter intake, resulting in a decrease in milk production.  Water is one of the least expensive, yet most important parts of what our dairy cows need every day. But, because it isn’t one of the more expensive or time-consuming parts of a farmer’s day such as feed, housing, bedding, preventative care and maintenance, it can be overlooked.  There are many things to keep in mind when making decisions about water supply and placement for a new build or renovation to be sure your cows are getting plenty of clean water.  In order to make the best decisions for your farm, let’s start with the basics and go from there.

These are the standards for how much water cows will drink.

  • Cows can consume up to 5 gallons of water per minute.
  • Lactating cows will drink 30 – 50 gallons of water per day, depending on body weight and air temperature.
  • Calves less than 2 weeks will drink little water; older calves could drink up to 8 gallons per day.
Waterer in maternity pen with water guards and open access to cows across the feed bunk.

Keeping those basics in mind will help you select the right size waterers and where they need to be placed.  The next thing to determine is the size and quantity of waterers you will need for the number of animals in an area.  A simple calculation in figuring what size waterer will work best is to designate 3 – 3.5 inches of linear waterer space per cow in a specific area.  To put that into perspective, that equates to a 12 foot long waterer for every 40-50 cows.  Another component is to understand where your dairy cows are drinking their water and to be sure you’re providing proper access in those areas.  A large amount of a cow’s water intake takes place at waterers near the center crossover of each pen.  Cows want to drink after they are finished eating so water troughs need to be easily accessible from the feedbunk.  Watering locations should be no more than 50 feet away from eating areas.

For lactating cows, water should be offered at the milking parlor exit, as cows can drink up to 10% of their water from this location.  This is an important point to make regarding water availability because dairy cows will drink more overall when water is offered at the parlor exit.  This is particularly true for larger operations in warmer locations where cows must wait in hot holding areas or have a long walk back to their stalls. In these situations, you should provide water access in the parlor exit areas or return lanes.

Stainless Steel tanks with splash and water guards. Tip/dump style allows for easy cleaning and won’t harbor bacteria.

Here are some things to consider when choosing the type of waterer that will work best for a barn:

  • Flow rate and waterer capacity.
  • Ease of cleaning.
  • Where the waterer will be located.

These three basics will put you on the right track to make the best decisions.  Choose a waterer that can refill itself based on the demand.  Be sure that you select a waterer that matches the management and maintenance plan for cleaning.  If you don’t have time to drain and rinse waterers consider a tip or dump style waterer for quick cleaning.  Consider a stainless steel waterer for less bacteria growth, rust and corrosion.  If layout requires waterers to be near open doors where freezing or direct sunlight is an issue, be sure units are equipped with proper heating and flow valves to handle those conditions.

Once you have decided on where the waterers are going to be located, be sure to keep these important recommendations in mind for installation and maintenance to get the best results.

  • Most larger waterers and high use applications require a concrete platform. A good rule-of-thumb for curb height is about 8”-12”. However, before pouring concrete platforms you should refer to the waterer manufacturer’s recommendations of drinking heights for your animals.
  • Install a water guard to keep cows from standing in troughs, providing 24” of opening between the waterer edge and the rail.
  • Have a wall between waterers and freestalls to keep splashed water contained and cows from drinking water while standing in the stalls. This will also prevent debris from accumulating in the waterers. Splash guards are good as well.
  • Limit water depth to about 8 inches for fresher water.
  • When using electrically heated waterers, you should always check for stray voltage.
  • Water temperature of 60° – 65° F is optimal for maximum intake.
  • Take and test water samples (once or twice a year) direct from the waterer and review the results with your vet or nutritionist.
  • KEEP WATERERS CLEAN – cows are going to drink more water if the source is clean and fresh.

It’s simple to say that the more watering locations available will reduce cow crowding and stress by spreading cows over larger areas of the barn, but you aren’t going to put a waterer every 10 feet.  Before installing waterers be sure to know how many animals will be in various groups and plan for overcrowding conditions.  Try to create easy and free access to water at all times.  Take climate into consideration and add waterers during hot weather conditions to prevent heat stress.  Whether you are housing calves, heifers or milk cows, be sure you are providing them with easy access to abundant, clean water.  It doesn’t have to break the bank either.  With proper planning and an understanding of what your cows need, providing plenty of good water sources will pay off in healthier animals and more milk. It is one of the things that can really be that simple.



Barn Curtain Considerations

By Victoria Diegnan
Seneca Dairy Systems, LLC

What is one of the first things you notice as you drive by a dairy farm? Some might say the smell, but for even those outside of the industry one of the first things you notice are the barns. They are the farm. On most modern freestall barns, especially those in cold, snowy, or windy environments, a curtain system will outline each building. Curtains are the walls and windows, representing much of the buildings presence. The curtain system can set the tone for how the structure is perceived, but more importantly, for how well it functions. When you see a barn outfitted with ripped, dirty fabric, unevenly fixed to the side wall with broken cable or strapping, you may think to yourself “if the outside looks like that, how bad is the inside?” Now for the dairyman, barn aesthetics may not be top priority, however cow comfort, sustainability and profitability are. He knows that a curtain system in that condition isn’t serving its purpose of regulating temperature and maintaining air quality. The Curtain System is not a feature whose importance should be dismissed based on finding the cheapest or most familiar option. So how do you decide what is best for your farm?

Curtains with Pipe Retention installed on Steel Barn

When it comes to making a decision on a major structural/functional element of a barn you need to know what your options are so you can make an informed choice. It can help to think through some questions during the planning process in order to assess the type of curtain system you need. The answers you give to the following questions can send you in the right direction.

  • What are the challenges with the current system?
  • Are animals dealing with respiratory issues?
  • Is plastic ripping due to high wind, bedding or animal interference?
  • Is bedding being wasted or stalls unused due to wet or uneven bedding?
  • What is the air quality in the barn? Does it smell stale or like ammonia?
  • Are curtains open/closed when they shouldn’t be?
  • Will there be designated staff to monitor air quality & temperature to operate the curtains?
  • How much time and money has been invested in maintaining the current system?
Top Drop allows fresh air to enter the barn at highest point
Horse Panel or Bird Wire keeps cows from chewing curtains

When you stop and ask these questions, walk through the facility and be sure to talk with the staff as well. It’s easy to overlook an issue when focused on something else, or when you aren’t involved in the day to day operations.

There are a few things to remember when you are reviewing your options for curtain systems. For barns with large sidewall openings, especially those in cold weather climates that require winter ventilation, a double curtain will provide the most flexibility and tailored functionality. During the winter you want to ensure proper air exchange and a top drop curtain does that by allowing fresh air to enter the barn at the highest point of the curtain above the cows, forcing stale/ warm air up and through the roof. Have an understanding of how your barns are positioned and how wind direction plays into ventilating a specific facility. Adding rain sensors along with temperature sensors may be necessary in locations where rain blows in from a certain direction and only one side may need to be closed. Consider bedding saving curtains that contain a bottom curtain that can close if it’s raining or windy, while keeping the top portion open for air exchange and temperature regulation. A double roll up curtain is also good if you have a lower knee wall. Outfitting your curtain systems with bird wire and/or other wire paneling can also help keep curtains in place while providing a barrier for birds entering the barn and from cows licking or chewing on curtain material. Another thing to consider is using pipes to retain the curtain systems as opposed to the common nylon strapping. A pipe system is easier to install, as it involves less hardware and doesn’t stretch or fray over time. This is a good way to go for a barn located in an area with very high winds.

Gable Curtains offer additional end to end ventilation

Don’t forget about choosing proper curtains for alleys and transition walkways as well. You will want these areas open in warmer weather and closed during the winter so they need to be included when you plan your system. Other areas where curtains can be used are between the parlor and holding area to separate the two, as well as coverings for ridge vents and gables.

Smart Control based on temperature, rain and wind inputs

If you live in a location where weather is constantly changing you should consider what level of automation you want to implement. Let’s face it, if there is a 20+ degree temperature difference between sunrise and sunset, a thunderstorm and high winds you aren’t going to be adjusting your curtains every couple hours. You need automation, your cows need automation. Technology is progressing when it comes to automation options and there really is no reason for anyone to be hand cranking a curtain anymore. When you think about the impact proper temperature and clean air have on a dairy cow’s health and milk production, it isn’t worth it to leave it up to chance. Take the help where you can get it, especially when it comes to cow comfort. It has been proven time and time again that comfortable, happy cows make more milk. A curtain automation system is an investment that can pay for itself in a short period of time when you break it down by man hour savings and potential loss of production. There are simple temperature and rain sensing options that can operate curtains based on temperatures and conditions inside and outside the barn. Many automated controllers also offer wind speed and direction monitoring as well and will automatically open or close your curtains based on the collective weather conditions. As with anything, there is an initial investment to be made with these options, but they are well worth it in the end.

Automated Ridge Curtains can greatly inprove Air Circulation

When making your final decisions keep in mind some of the following questions as they can make a difference in how much time and money you invest in maintenance in the future.

  • How long is each section? Are there enough motors to operate each section easily and not burn out?
  • What materials are being used? Are they easy to install and replace if necessary?
  • What type of service is available if my curtain system has issues?
  • Can my automation easily be updated as new technology is released?

Curtains are a huge part of your barns functionality and the success of the animals residing there. As a busy dairy farmer, you try to make the best decisions for your business to be profitable in the future. When it comes to such an important feature that directly affects cow comfort, it is critical to make informed decisions and align yourself with contractors and suppliers who have your best interests in mind. Not only will you get a properly functioning and well ventilated barn, it can be a showpiece that you can be proud of.

The SENECA Blog is a place for us to share industry related information with fellow Dairy Farmers on a quarterly basis. Check back again soon for information on another Dairy related topic.
Thanks for stopping!

Same Quality, New Look.


First of all, WELCOME to the new Seneca Dairy Systems LLC website! Everyone here at Seneca is excited about our new look, but the changes go deeper than our appearance. We have completely redesigned and reorganized the entire site in order to make it more comprehensive and easier to navigate.

In addition to being more user-friendly, we want to make the Seneca website a resource for Dairy Farmers; a place you’ll want to bookmark and return to again and again for things like install tips, design recommendations and, of course quality dairy barn equipment.

Be sure to check back in January 2018 for the first installment of Seneca’s new quarterly Blog Feature, an editorial look at various topics that affect todays Dairy Farmers. January’s topic will be Barn Curtains and automation.

Finally, Seneca Dairy Systems is rolling out a brand new nationwide toll-free number! Give us a call today at 888-3SENECA (888-373-6322) from anywhere in the contiguous United States and your call will automatically be routed to the Seneca Dairy location that serves you!