Plumbing Until the Cows Come Home

Plumbing until cows come home

By Adam Freill

Dairy barns use a lot of water. From providing the livestock the hydration they need, to cleaning the milking machines and calf feeders, to flushing dirt and waste, the water demand is considerable. When Nurseland Farms, in Ontario’s Prince Edward County, was looking to build a new structure for its herd, it turned to Steve Veenstra, who had just recently opened S.V. Plumbing.

”I think my biggest challenge was taking on a job that should have taken about four guys and three months to do. I did it all by myself,” said the company owner as he took us on a tour of the barn. ”That was the fun part.”

With a need to get everything up and running before the first cows were scheduled to arrive, he put in a lot of overtime hours as the project neared completion. ”We worked a good 36 hours in the final three days getting that ready. It was really unbelievable.”

Being a new company, and a one-man shop at the time, he was able to lean on the help of some good friends to help him through some of the project, however. ”I had buddies come help me at night sometimes, and help me dig the trenches. All the underground piping was pretty much dug with a shovel, except for the mains in the barn,” he recalled, adding, ”We have about seven shovels now, and I don’t touch a single one of them,” with a good laugh.

His company now has five employees on the plumbing side, and another three in an HVAC division.

”We service a lot of farms,” he said. ”I’d love to go all over Ontario doing dairy barns. It’s fun. I do enjoy it. And my guys are like that too. They all grew up around here, and there are still a few farms in my family, so the guys are used to going to these sites to ensure that they have water.”

Dairy farms, he explained, are a different level of customer, since the livestock is reliant on the farmer being able to provide all the necessities of life.

”Homeowners may think they have an emergency at 3 o’clock in the morning, but the only ones we really move for is a farmer because they need water,” said Veenstra. ”A homeowner can do without water in the middle of the night, but if a dairy farmer calls because he’s without water in the barn, well, you just go.”

A Technically Advanced Barn

The new barn that Nurseland Farms had constructed just outside of Belleville, is a 40,000 sq.-ft. facility that houses 180 cattle.

A modern facility, it uses automated systems to help feed the animals, and robots to milk the cows and keep the barn clear of waste, all of which have a need of plumbing, as does its office space and washroom.

”We did all the plumbing, for the livestock, the milk house, all the wastewater and the supply water for the entire building, with the exception of the manure system,” said Veenstra.

”The drainage requirements for the two robot rooms was 8” drains, half-way down the barn, that go down to the manure pit, and we piped all of that,” he explained. ”There is a 5,000-gallon holding tank. That’s a full trickle system, so there’s always 5,000 gallons of reserve for the barn, so they are guaranteed to never run out of water.”

Inside the barn, there’s a 50-gallon propane power-vented water heater that handles the domestic hot water needs in the building. For sanitary reasons, it is kept at a piping hot 165°F.

The system uses a one-horsepower, 20 gpm pump to feed the water system, and the water is drawn from the property, rather than a municipal service.

On the domestic side, there’s a bathroom and four hand sinks. On the barn side, there are five stainless steel water tip troughs and four calf feeders, and the robots are also plumbed in, since they need water to wash themselves down between milkings.

Targeting water quality, the plumbing system includes a water softener, a pair of 18 gpm ultraviolet lights, and 20” x 4” five micron filters to catch big particles.

He is drawing water out of a swampy area, so it is really gassy and full of algae, so that was the reason for most of that equipment, especially the water softener, since the water was quite hard,” said Veenstra.

A Customized System

The owner and operator of the barn had a few special requests, which Veenstra worked into the plumbing system.

”There’s definitely some things in there that would make an engineer scratch their head,” laughed the plumber, ”but it was done because that’s what the owner wanted. He wanted it functional, but easy to fix if it breaks down.”

As such, additional valves were piped in so that the owner could isolate and flush drain lines as necessary. ”There are a few unconventional things in the barn, but they work, and they make sense – adding 3/4” PEX to each 8” 45 so that we can flush them out –stuff like that,” said Veenstra. ”We looked at the 45s and said, they could plug up, so let’s drill holes in them and put 3/4” PEX in them, and run them to a T and a big ball valve, and then he can flush them out.”

Nurseland Farms Dairy Barn:

By the Numbers

SIZE: 40,000 sq. ft.

MILKING ROBOTS: 2, each capable of handling 60 head of cattle

LIVESTOCK COUNT: 180, with 80 milking

PIPING: 225 feet of 8” SDR 35

500 feet of 4” SDR 35

300 feet of 1” CPVC supply piping