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Should you Band-Aid it or bulldoze and build it?

Ashley Ambrosius for Progressive Dairyman Published on 31 March 2016
New construction

How to determine your goals to make the best building decision for your situation

Do I bulldoze my building and build new, or is there a way to make do with what I have?



This question may have crossed your mind a time or two. If it has not, it may be one to come in the near future. The answer to this question is going to be different for each person, depending on the current stage in their lives and what their end goals may be.

Factors in determining what is right for you:

  • How many years do I have left in the business?
  • Will my farm continue on after I am done?
  • What are my end goals, quality and quantity?
  • Do any of my current buildings disrupt my layout goal?
  • Is this facility costing me more money and energy than it is worth?

When to put the Band-Aid on

There are many different reasons you may choose to remodel a building over leveling it and building fresh. There may be no one to take over the family farm – or you are nearing retirement, so there is obviously no need to build new. Coasting through with what you have is the way to go.

Talking with a contractor to get things up-to-snuff is definitely the road you should take. You can make do with what you have by making a few minor (hopefully) changes.

The other obvious reason not to bulldoze and build new is determined by your financial situation. If you are fresh into your farming career, patching up an old barn is a great way to gain equity. With proper management, a less-than-ideal facility can be an excellent way to gain equity.


Renovating an existing facility is the right move for some dairy farmers

An old barn may be the perfect situation to effectively house your youngstock or maybe even raise some steers. Every now and again, I get a call from someone looking to fix up an old barn that is too far gone.

You must remember: An old building may not cost you anything to operate out of, but depending on the management, the situation can swing very strong one way or the other on the positive/ negative spectrum.

Farmers often turn to us looking for advice on updating their current facilities. Some of these projects entail a large amount of inside demolition work. The main reason for the inside changes: Today’s cow comfort standards are significantly different from what they may have been 20 years ago or more when the original freestall barn was built.

If this is the road you plan to go down, I strongly suggest you utilize the resources available to make these upgrades. Meeting with industry professionals during the planning process is extremely important.

The Dairyland Initiative is a great place to start. Any producer can create an account. The list of advice and standards the Dairyland Initiative offers is endless.


A recent project we worked on was an old six-row freestall that had been completely gutted and turned into a four-row to allow for more movement for the cows.

There were a couple of reasons for this change. The producer wanted to incorporate wider stalls, and the family also decided to make the move from mattresses to sand bedding and replace the brisket boards.

By making these changes, they now needed to update their manure system, which was not a simple task. However, once the changes were made, they could not have been more excited with the end results.

When considering making the move to sand bedding, make sure you are looking at the big picture and considering the amount of extra maintenance that goes into sand bedding. The manure system must be able to handle the sand. Do you have a place to recycle the sand if this is what you plan to do? Are the fields you spread manure on suited for sand that is mixed with manure?

When to build new

This is a big decision. It is usually not one you can make alone. Your banker has to be on board to make this jump with you. It is best to get lenders involved early on. The list of reasons to build really can be unlimited, but make sure when you make this decision you are being realistic with yourself.

Truthfully, who doesn’t want something new? In a perfect world, I would have built a new house last year over buying the old farmstead my husband and I settled for. After weighing out the options, remodeling made more sense in our current situation.

Some of the reasons I notice our customers are building new are: for the challenge, to be the best they can be, teaming up with neighbors or friends to up their quality of life, or a son or daughter joins the operation.

When a child comes into the picture, the farm revenue needs to rise to accommodate the financial support of the additional people. To me, seeing children enter the farm is rewarding because it guarantees another generation to carry on the family business.

A producer may also decide to bring the heifers back to the homestead and raise them on-site over transporting to a heifer-raiser. This allows the producer to monitor their youngstock at all times and gives the farmer the comfort of raising them to their best ability. This typically is not a decision that is made lightly. Weighing out the financial obligations in great detail will confirm or deny if this is possible.

The biggest reason I see our customers choosing to bulldoze and build a new barn is because the current facilities have outlived their life expectancy. Either they are simply not safe for the animals (i.e., the roof cannot sustain snow loads), or the existing facility may not be environmentally friendly or compliant with the DNR.

When determining the correct route for you and your family, do not make that decision lightly. Consult with the people around you and utilize the resources available. Building a new barn may not take your problems away.

Look at your management first and go from there. But my best advice to help make these big decisions is: Take a little time to observe your animals in your current facilities. They will tell you what they need.  PD

PHOTO 1: Before breaking ground to build a brand-new barn, ask yourself key questions like: “How many years do I have left in business? What are my end goals?”

PHOTO 2: In some cases, renovating an existing facility is the right move for the dairy owner. In this case, old concrete was cut out and new concrete poured to update the manure system. Photos by Ashley Ambrosius.

Ashley Ambrosius
  • Ashley Ambrosius

  • Bayland Buildings Inc.
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