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Improving ventilation during winter months with fabric structures

Amanda Williams for Progressive Cattleman Published on 24 November 2017
Fabric cover building

Winter is officially here. That means bundling up for those early morning hours and struggling with the environment of your cattle’s living quarters.

Balancing the proper temperature while keeping a well-ventilated structure is a delicate act that can drive even the most experienced producer mad before the solace of spring’s warmer temperatures.

In the North especially, more and more cattle operations are opting to avoid traditional barns and metal buildings, and instead, fabric buildings and similar tension structure are popping up along the snow-covered landscape.

While it’s hard to part ways with a traditional barn that has adorned a picturesque property for decades, those that have integrated a fabric structure appreciate the decision come winter due to their nuanced control over ventilation and temperature.

While those outside the industry will equate moisture buildup with the hot summer months, addressing humidity during the summer is much easier.

In the summer, increasing ventilation to combat moisture is as easy as opening curtains, doors, etc. In the winter, ventilation also means a drastic change in temperature that is potentially harmful to both cattle and an operation’s profitability. However, there are solutions that can help stabilize the temperature during the winter months.

Reducing heating requirements

A metal building or shingled barn provides protection from the elements, but it also eliminates nearly all light penetration, creating a cold, dark interior. The cover on many fabric buildings allows natural light to penetrate, and this creates an environment that is not only well-lit, but also warmer during the winter months.

By naturally creating a warmer environment, it is possible to reduce heating requirements while still boosting ventilation flexibility.

Improved flexibility allows operations to provide better ventilation in the winter. Naturally increasing the interior temperature just a few degrees means curtains can be left open over longer periods of time, or the openings created by the curtains can be increased.

This slight change can create an environment cattle can truly thrive in during winter, and it nearly eliminates the occurrence of moisture buildup and fogginess within the structure.

Gleason Cattle Company has been using a fabric structure to improve their ventilation. Owned by Katrina and Chad Gleason, this Wisconsin-based operation is no stranger to harsh winter weather. The couple was looking to improve the efficiency of their operation from both a production and climate control standpoint.

“Here in Wisconsin, we can get high winds, tornadoes, blizzards, as well as freezing cold weather,” Katrina Gleason says. “And because of this, getting a structure that could not only stand up to severe weather but also provide superior functionality during winter, was top priority.”

The Gleasons opted for a fully customizable fabric structure that houses groups of 25 calves and features an automated feeding system. The structure also allows the Gleasons to benefit from an environment that is warmer in the winter, and they can pen the structure’s curtains to provide ventilation and eliminate moisture.

“It stays warmer in the cold Wisconsin winters and provides excellent shade and ventilation for cooling during the hot summer months,” Gleason adds. “We like the climate the structure provides the calves that live in it.”

Meeting seasonal needs

Besides allowing improved ventilation during the winter, operations are also able to maintain their traditional ventilation practices due to the fact the fabric structures maintain all of the features that cattle operations depend on.

Geoff Ching, a sales manager for ClearSpan, has expertise in modifying designs to fit ventilation needs. He says, “Ridge-vent systems, positive-pressure tube vents, exhaust fans and sidewall curtains are all easily incorporated into the designs of fabric structures.

Sidewall curtain systems can be installed as manual or motorized, allowing quick and easy adaptation to the environment. Users gain the benefits of a fabric structure without having to change much of what they are currently doing.”

This is true throughout the entire year. Operations can still provide ventilation during the summer months with openings on the endwalls and sidewalls. This allows them to capitalize on cooling summer breezes, and during milder weather, the sidewall and endwalls can be set at a continuous height of 4 feet but can be adjusted as needed, creating an environment that is easier to control.

On a year-round basis, fabric structures can provide continuous ventilation through ridge vents. Fabric structure companies incorporating ridge vents into their designs was a turning point for the building’s acceptance in the beef and dairy industries.

Kathy Benoit, who specializes in cattle and dairy building solutions on Ching’s team says, “By utilizing ridge vents and curtains in fabric structures, you have created a completely naturally ventilated barn, even when the curtains are closed.

The space between the wall and curtain gives enough area to allow air to flow up on the sidewall of the building and out the ridge vent, taking away humidity and dirty air. The cattle are protected from harsh weather but still have fresh, clean air coming into the building on both sides.”

By maximizing ventilation during the winter, operations aren’t just providing a covered space with superior protection from harsh weather, but also one that is dry.

Due to this, a fabric structure can drastically reduce the proliferation of bacteria, fungus, mold and disease, so it’s a healthier environment for cattle, and a dry environment can be appreciated by any type of cattle operation.

For cow-calf operations, it allows cows to calve easily without having issues with dampness or mud; boosting weight gain and reducing mortality rates. In feeder and finisher operations, it keeps cattle comfortable and able to utilize their energy to grow instead of keeping warm; improving feed efficiency and making managing cattle in a protected, dry environment much easier.

As winter continues in the Northeast and across the rest of the North, providing ventilation without shocking cattle will inevitably become difficult. Barns will become humid and foggy, but those that have integrated a fabric structure will be able to provide superior ventilation, leading to happier herds and increased profits.  end mark

PHOTO: The fabric cover creates a well-lit interior that is warmer in the winter. Photo courtesy of ClearSpan Fabric Structures.

Amanda Williams is a content specialist with ClearSpan Fabric Structures. Email Amanda Williams.