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Preble County farmer Fred Voge

The livestock barn of the future

Almost every portrait, painting or portrayal of a farm over the last 100 years has included a big red barn as part of the landscape, but the reality is that those old bank barns are more nostalgic than they are useful in today’s livestock industry and even the barn door could soon be a thing of the past.

“Monoslopes are the barn of the future,” said Francis L. Fluharty, research professor in The Ohio State University’s Department of Animal Sciences. “The design has the high side of the barn facing south or southeast, which allows the sun to reach almost all the way through the barn in the winter, having a warming effect on the cattle and keeping the bedding pack drier.”

Then, in the summer, most of the barn is under shade and the slope to the roof creates constant airflow through the building to reduce heat stress.

“From an animal health standpoint, there is no way for gas to be trapped like it can be on hot humid days in normal barns,” Fluharty said. “These barns move air through and ammonia levels remain very low, which is important for the well-being of the livestock.”

The open design of monoslope barns is also beneficial in keeping cows dry and better suited to handle the wind.

“We’re not North Dakota and we put our cattle in way too much confinement in Ohio,” Fluharty said. “If I were to travel throughout the state and do one thing, it would be to take most of the sides off of barns.”

Some farmers that are using monoslope barns are finding out that the benefits extent much further than what the livestock experience. It is also helping relationships with neighbors in some cases.

“When you are 50 yards in front of a monoslope barn, there is no odor,” Fluharty said. “There is a huge dispersion effect of odors due to the positive airflow. In order for cattle feeding to survive and continue providing products for consumers, 99% of whom have no relationship with production agriculture other than eating, these monoslope buildings solve a lot of problems.”

That is exactly why the newest monoslope barn was built on Fred Voge’s Preble County farm, with the help of The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). This is a voluntary program that provides financial and technical assistance to agricultural producers to plan and implement conservation practices that improve soil, water, plant, animal, air and related natural resources on agricultural land and non-industrial private forestland. EQIP may also help producers meet Federal, State and local environmental regulations.

“We had an existing cattle operation here and it absolutely was not popular with the neighbors with a number of complaints over the past 30 years,” said Voge, a licensed and bonded dealer, supplying high quality feeders to farmers in the region. “After some dialogue about ways to find some middle ground, I applied for an EQIP grant to abandon the older facilities that we had that included an outside feedlot and a manure holding pond and construct something that would feed out the livestock and store the manure in a better manner.”

This construction of the monoslope barn was a drastic difference from the days that Voge followed his Dad and Grandfather around on the family farm as a youngster and what he has done on the operation working with cattle for the past 45 years.

“Yes it is high-tech, but it also has a lot to do with Mother Nature herself,” Voge said. “This building is built to maximize the two things that cattle need the most, which are fresh air and fresh water.”

The 15,000-square foot facility, open to the south and to the north, is 30 feet high to the eave on the south side and 18 feet high on the north side. Voge picked up the idea after visiting a similar facility on the Clarke farm in Miami County. The versatility of the monoslope design really impressed him.

“It will normally be divided up into four pens but I have the capability of splitting those to eight pens,” Voge said. “That will allow me to finish cattle or background feeder cattle from the same point of origin. There is a lot of demand for 300 to 400 cattle from a single source with a common feed and health program and with the flexibility of this building that is possible.”

One part of the design that is unique to Voge’s barn is the watering system that will allow for custom watering, depending on the pen.

“We set up a manifold in our water building where I can provide fresh water and, if needed, I can provide a high level or low level of medication,” Voge said. “So if I have a number of different groups of cattle in the barn from different points of origin that need different medications, we can provide to each one of those pens separately, helping us to maintain as good of a health status as we possibly can.”

In addition to the monoslope barn, Voge has also put up a dry stack barn for manure storage. Part of the plan for the EQUIP funding is to hold up to a year’s worth of manure in that structure, harvest silage in the fall and apply that manure and lightly incorporate it while the conditions are dry. Then Voge will plant cover crops to help manage the fall applied nutrients and destroy the cover crops in the spring.

“This should be a more economical way to grow the feed and raise the corn,” Voge said. “It will also improve the ground water supply in this area.”

Being sustainable and neighborly is a tough balance to find, but for this Preble County farmer it is the only way to pass his operation on to future generations.

“If you’re going to make an investment like I’ve made in this facility it needs to be on a farm that will continue to be a farm,” Voge said. “I realize at my age that the next generation or two will get more value out of this facility than I will, but I know that I have left this farm in better shape than when I got it.”

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4 comments

  1. Just wondering about winter weather – wind can drop the temp easily and quickly. This looks like no wind protection at all. Or are there more substantial buildings for the colder winter month states? I totally agree about air flow and health, have used that theory for 30 years of goat raising. Donna

    • It doesn’t appear that way with this barn, but a lot of other monoslope barns I’ve seen (Iowa, South Dakota) have a curtain on the north (short) side of the building that can be rolled down in times of extreme wind/cold.

  2. Thank you so much for this sharing. Now i can play this game with my friends group in my system.

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