Ever wish your outdated calving barn would get hit by a tornado so you could build the barn of your dreams? That's sort of what happened to Dan and Pat Currie, Harding Land and Cattle Company, Terry, MT.
The Curries designed and built a calving barn in 1989 to replace an old converted chicken house facility with broken down corrals. Just seven years later, a tornado-like thunderstorm hit and nearly leveled their dream barn.
So in 1996 they rebuilt the barn of their dreams. This time, 4- x 6-ft. posts were replaced with 6- x 6-ft. posts, sunk an additional couple of feet and anchored with plenty of extra concrete. The truss structure was also reinforced in hopes of withstanding future storms.
The Curries planned and built the calving barn just north of the ranch house, at the top of a small rise. That location allows them to see cows and calves from both an upstairs and downstairs set of house windows. It's a small thing, Dan admits, but it's handy when calving season gets hectic.
The corrugated steel barn is 30-ft. wide and 150-ft. long; 120 ft. of that is open and divided into ten 12-ft. pens (jugs). In front of each jug (facing south toward the house) is a 5-ft.-wide alley connected by swinging gates located directly in front of each of the jugs. That alley provides additional holding and corral space for cows and is also the confinement alley leading to the hospital room and pulling stall. This area is under the 120-ft. roof span.
The other 30-ft. length at the east end of the barn is divided into a 10- x 30-ft. veterinary room and a 20- x 30-ft. calf pulling room.
The facility was designed based on the Curries' experience with Montana State University and the Fort Keogh Livestock and Range Research Center at Miles City, where Pat (now retired) was a range scientist and research leader.
"Animal welfare was a big part of this facility," Pat says. "When you look at it you can see we're giving animals the best care possible.
"We wanted a good facility to help protect people, too," he says. "If we have to pull a distressed cow at birth, she's mad. We need to protect our employees. That ultimately leads to lower workers' comp premiums."
Along with the calving facility is a corral complex consisting of four sorting pens, sorting alleys, loading chute and a squeeze chute system.
At the facility, calves go through the chute and a calf table is used for processing. Pat says they'll handle all 1,100 head of cows in five groups with just three people and so far have never lost a calf at branding or processing time. In addition, they can schedule processing of each group to effectively distribute the ranch workload. This same complex is used in the fall to process all their bulls and cows in their total herd health program.
When it comes to construction, Bob and Kathy Lee could write a book. Since they bought their Judith Gap, MT, ranch in 1967, they've built every facility on the operation, including their house.
But frankly, Bob says, their pride and joy is the calving barn they built in 1992. "It's 110-percent better than our old 30- x 40-ft. leaky shed. Our new facility is easier on the cows and us," he says.
The pole barn is 48-ft. wide and 96-ft. long. At an out-of-pocket cost of $18,000, the facility is covered with corrugated steel with a few extra touches.
"We added plywood sheeting under the roof tin to stop condensation," Bob explains. "We also put plywood on the north side, where the individual jugs (pens) are, to help keep cows and calves warmer." Sidewalls are 10-ft. high.
The unit's roof has a vented ridge cap and sliding windows on the south side for peak ventilation. There are also ten, 3- x 8-ft. fiberglass skylights.
At the end of the unit is a 10- x 16-ft. warming room wired with an intercom system to the house. The room also has a calf-warming crate, chalkboard, desk and computer for calving records, refrigerator for supplies, sofa and, of course, heat.
In addition to the warming room, the north side of the facility has five 10- x 10-ft. jugs and a straw storage area. In front of the jugs is a 4-ft.-wide alley with 20-ft. steel panels that allow the Lees to move cows to the jugs, birthing area or the pulling area. On the other side of the panels is a 33-ft.-wide precalving area. In the corner is a 16- x 16-ft. calving zone with a head catch used to assist cows with problems.
Where possible, swinging gates and panels that separate the loafing area and the jugs have easy-roll wheels attached so they can be moved quickly and quietly, Bob says.
"We don't allow any yelling, whips or hot shots," Bob says of how they handle their 400-cow herd. "We use sticks, paddles and brooms. Cattle seem to handle easier that way."