Dairy farms can use plenty of energy, which is true of electricity and the effort it requires from the people working there. But in our modern society, where energy supply is becoming more of a problem, not to mention skyrocketing electricity prices, it’s becoming increasingly important to determine what’s using the energy on your dairy farm and how you can manage it better.
Dairy farms use approximately 400 to 1,700 kWh per cow per annum. Around 46% of that energy goes towards milk production, and another 46% is used for lighting and ventilation equipment. All these are essential, but you can change a few things to manage the energy better and save a bit.
Unfortunately, most things that use a lot of power are essentials you can’t get rid of or scale down to save energy. But if we look at the percentages of power that the equipment uses, we can identify some simple strategies to better manage the energy use on your dairy farm.
How Much Energy Does A Dairy Farm Use?
The Minnesota Department of Commerce’s Division of Energy Resources did a study to find out how energy-efficient dairy farms are. According to the report, dairy farms use approximately 400 kWh (kilowatt-hours) to 1,700 kWh of electricity per cow each year.
A few factors determined the differences in the study:
- Energy consumption varied significantly based on the region where the farms were located. On farms in warmer climates, like those in Texas, lighting and water-heating equipment wasn’t used as often or consistently as in regions with colder temperatures.
- Some farms used effective energy-saving equipment or techniques over older, less-efficient systems and ways of doing things.
- Tie-stall farms use less than half as much energy as free-stall farms in most milk production requirements. Two notable exceptions are feeding and water-heating equipment, which uses considerably more in tie-stall farms than in free-stall farms, almost twice as much in some cases.
Tie-stall farms use more electricity for feeding and water heating because most use electric water heaters rather than propane and fuel oil. Feeding also uses more because tie-stall farms tend to have more silo unloaders, conveyors, mixers, feeders, and augers.
The Primary Energy Culprits On A Dairy Farm
The New York State Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) did a comprehensive study of the energy use on 32 dairy farms of varying sizes. The organization published its findings in 2003 in the form of the Dairy Farm Energy Audit Summary. The results were eye-opening and will help us understand how dairy farms use energy and how we can manage it.
NYSERDA found that the average energy use on a dairy farm is as follows:
Electrical water heating
When we look at this, we can see that the milk production equipment, specifically the milk-cooling equipment, vacuum pumps, and water-heating components, uses 46% of all the energy on the farm. Another 46% goes to the equipment needed to improve the working environment, such as lighting and ventilation. The rest of the power goes to the other operational matters of the dairy farm.
In summary, dairy farms use more energy when they have more electrical components that have to run for longer durations. However, all the elements that use the most energy are essentials, and no dairy farm can operate without them, leaving us in a difficult position.
Of course, there are ways to improve the energy use on your dairy farm long-term, but the costs and operational processes involved may be too much for many small or medium dairy farms to undertake all at once.
Thankfully, you can also do many short-term things to reduce the energy use on your farm. Let’s look at each of these and what you can do to improve it.
Reduce Energy Used By Lights
Lighting equipment draws a lot of power on dairy farms, and it’s understandable since we need light to do our work. But we can do a few things to reduce the amount of energy they use.
Switch Them Off Manually
An obvious option is to turn off the lights when we don’t use them. For example, if you know you won’t be in a particular area for a while, and there’s no reason for the lights to be on, turn them off until you need to go back into that area. Train your workers to do the same. Getting into the habit will take a while, but it’s worth it in the end.
Use Natural Light As Much As Possible
If there’s something that you often do during the evening or early morning hours when there’s no sunlight yet, see if it’s something that you can do in the daylight. Then, if possible, make that change, as it might not seem like much, but it adds up in the end.
We often turn on the lights when we enter an area in the early morning hours, then forget to turn them off for the rest of the day. This problem will be eliminated if you wait for daylight before you do what you usually do before dawn.
If there’s a way for you to open up more of an area to allow more natural light into the building, you won’t have to turn on the lights, or you can reduce the number of lights you use. It might be a difficult change and cost some money, but it’s worth it.
Change The Type Of Lighting
Switching from traditional lightbulbs or fluorescent lighting to energy-savers or, preferably, LED lights will save you a fortune, not only in electricity costs but also in replacement bulbs, as these more energy-efficient light sources can easily last for up to a decade.
If you use T12 fluorescent lamps, especially on a farm that uses long-day lighting, switching them for T8 lamps can save you up to 35% on your electricity bill.
Find out what alternatives you have for the lamps you’re currently using. It won’t cost a fortune, but it can make a world of difference in the long run.
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Cleaning Your Lights
Lights get dirty, and they’re not often something we think of during our cleaning routine. But dust builds up in ways we often don’t notice because it’s so gradual, and dust build-up reduces the amount of light we get.
Simply cleaning your lights frequently can help ensure you don’t have to use as many lamps to light up your area, so make it a vital part of your cleaning processes.
You can consider installing motion sensors in areas where people only go from time to time to turn those lights on or off automatically.
Use timers to turn lights on or off for your livestock according to their needs. This eliminates the possibility that someone may forget to turn them off at a particular time, and timers are relatively inexpensive.
You can also use daylight sensors (photocells) to adjust your indoor lighting based on the amount of daylight coming in. These sensors will ensure that your indoor lights are just bright enough to accommodate lower light levels as the sun goes down and turn the lights off again when there’s sufficient daylight.
Reduce Energy Used By Ventilation Systems
Ventilation is a vital part of a dairy farm, ensuring the survival of your livestock and workers. But you can do some things to reduce the energy costs involved.
Clean And Maintain The Ventilation System
Fans and ventilation shafts pick up plenty of dust, and the more dust you have in the system, the less efficient it will be. Your ventilation system may use much more power than necessary because it’s struggling due to dust build-up. Dusty ventilation systems are also a fire hazard.
Check the ventilation shafts or pipes and filters. Clear out any dust build-up or other non-essential obstructions you find in there. But don’t forget the fans, either. When they have more dust build-up, they won’t spin as efficiently, so it’s essential to clean them off as well.
While cleaning the fan, you should also lubricate the bearings. It’s also a good idea to check for any damage to the fan blades as this could reduce its efficiency, and replacing the blade is much more cost-effective than replacing an entire fan.
Can You Turn It Off?
Are there times when it’s unnecessary to keep the ventilation system turned on permanently? If so, turn it off during those times. You can even get a timer or sensor to do that for you automatically.
Get Higher Efficiency Fans
Modern fans can create much better air movement while spinning more slowly. These fans are more expensive, but they use much less power, making it worthwhile in the long run. If possible, replace your fans with high-efficiency ones, especially if you already have to replace them.
Check out our recommended Exhaust Fans for Dairy Farms.
A simple solution is getting a thermostat to automatically adjust your ventilation system based on your livestock’s needs. You should place your thermostat where it can accurately measure the room’s ambient temperature without direct interference from the ventilation system or other cooling systems.
Be sure to clean the thermostat regularly because dust build-up can cause inaccurate readings.
Reduce Energy Used By Water-Heating Systems
Water heating systems are some of the most well-known energy hogs for businesses and homes. Here’s how you can limit the amount of electricity they use:
See If You Can Turn Down The Temperatures
All processes have specific minimum temperature requirements. Check to see if your water temperatures are far above the required minimum, and adjust them as you can. Reducing water temperatures by as little as 10oF can decrease water heating costs by approximately 5%.
Service Your Water Heaters
Corrosion can cause a water heater to work less than optimally, increasing energy usage since the heater must work harder to maintain the proper temperatures. Regular maintenance and service on your water heating systems will help reduce this. In addition, it might be necessary to clean some components or replace others, like the anode rods.
Heat Recovery Systems
Two components of your dairy farm have opposite uses: water-heating equipment and refrigerators. During the refrigeration process, fridges release quite a lot of heat which serves no other purpose. If you have some budget available, it may be helpful for you to invest in a heat-recovery system that will repurpose the heat from the fridges to help the water heating systems.
Your refrigerators’ expelled heat could potentially meet up to 50% of your farm’s water-heating requirements, saving you a fortune in energy use in the long run.
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Use Condensing Water Heaters
If you use gas or oil water heaters, try to replace them with condensing heaters. They are more efficient at using as much heat as possible. In contrast, regular, low-efficiency water heaters let quite a bit of the heat escape without serving a purpose, reducing energy efficiency.
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Reducing Pump And Compressor Energy
Your farm uses different pumps and compressors for various purposes, but these can often be set to unnecessarily high levels. Here’s how you can save energy with them.
Use Lower Pressure Levels, If Possible
Every system has a specific pressure requirement. Check those minimum requirements, and you will likely see that your system is set to a higher level. Not only will this increase your energy use, but it could also cause leaks and pipe bursts.
Reducing compressor setpoints by as little as 20 PSI (pounds per square inch) could reduce your costs by as much as 10%.
Service Your Pumps
Regularly servicing your pumps will ensure optimal operation. Cleaning them out, performing essential maintenance as required, and checking that everything is sealed as it should be will also improve their efficiency and reduce the energy they need to do their work.
If you have some budget to invest, try to get variable-speed drives for your pumps. These VSDs have sensors that determine how much pressure the system requires. They can then adjust the pressure automatically to suit the need, which means your pumps won’t operate at one set pressure permanently, causing them to consume far less energy than they usually would.
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Dairy farms spend between 400 and 1,700 kWh of electricity on each cow per annum. This makes farming expensive and also places strain on already limited electricity resources. However, you can improve this by changing habits, cleaning equipment, and performing regular maintenance. Sometimes, you can make a massive difference by investing some money in more energy-efficient machinery.