Imagine a scene 50 years from now. A demolition contractor is hired to tear down the rotted and dilapidated remains of what once was Ocheda Dairy. I’m long gone, Joe may or may not be around or cognitive, and the third generation may or may not remember why Dad and Grandpa did what they did. The contractor running the remote controlled 50-ton excavator from the cab of his all electric Prius pickup will ask Vince why on earth there is a concrete floor three feet below another concrete floor with black smelly sand in between.
    In between county fair time and silage harvest is always a good time for us to address a major project on the farm. This year was the year to improve our sand recycling lane and sand storage basin. The 200- by 100-foot basin was constructed 19 years ago where sandy manure settled out between the freestall barn and the earthen lagoon. As the dairy expanded and sand lanes became popular, we added the flume to the freestall barns, and added a sand separation lane on one side of the basin. We were very fortunate the original basin was the right elevation and size to make the sand lane work without adding any pumps. Even today, our manure system uses only one 30 hp floating pump in the lagoon.
    The existing sand storage basin had two major problems. The concrete we poured in the floor 19 years ago was designed for a skid loader and in places was less than four inches thick. Now we are moving sand around in it with a Class 6 payloader with a 3-yard bucket that is causing the thin concrete to crumble. I think every 20-30 years new concrete gets doubled in thickness, because I can remember pouring a feeding floor as a kid where we would place field rock side by side inside the forms so the screed board would barely slide over the rocks. This was done, of course, to save money as concrete might have been $15 a yard back then. The new floor we just poured is 8 inches thick with slightly used packed sand for a base.
    The second major problem with our basin was it was basically flat. This made it harder to dry the recycled sand, because after it comes out of the flume water, it needs to weep gray water out for about seven days before being put back in the stalls for bedding. We also restack the sand at least twice in that week to help the weeping process. Joe, the site planning engineer we consult, and the concrete contractor all agreed a 4% slope on the basin sloped towards the sand flume lane would be the ideal way to stack and drain the sand.
    To start the construction, we needed to remove and replace the 4-inch concrete in the sand lane. This was the tricky part because cows create more than just milk seven days a week, 24 hours a day. We devised a temporary sand lane from some 24-inch dual wall tile pipe elbowed onto a sand wall sided lane angled into the pit. Fortunately, there were no major pipe malfunctions while the new 8-inch thick floor was poured.
    After that, the pours were literally all uphill. Once we had enough clearance for 8 inches of concrete, we did not have to remove the old floor. We kept packing more slightly used sand in between.
    In the corporate world, every project needs a payback, so let’s take a look. The project cost $120,000. That’s out of pocket not including the three or four people we supplied daily, or the payloader, telehandler, two excavators, track teleskid, light tower generator, air compressor, jack hammer and rolling packer. Yes, we have a lot of stuff. Corey thinks we should start a construction division. Back to payback, running a skid loader in 8-inch deep flume water with sand in it for two hours every day is hard on any skid loader. Figure $20,000 a year savings there, but add back in $8,000 wear on a payloader doing the same job in 20 minutes. Also, save 100 minutes labor a day for $11,000 a year savings. Our sand should drain better in the colder months resulting in buying less new sand in the winter. We still might have to buy some in January and February, but not in December or March. I’m guessing that is 20 loads of sand, which is an $8,000 savings. Add it up, and that’s $31,000 a year savings, or just under a four-year payback. I don’t care that much about the corporate payback way of thinking, so many good projects like this pay back in quality of sand, time saved and frustrations of a broken skid loader.
    Hopefully in 50 years, the third or fourth generation will have built a new dairy on a new site already before they destroy the old site. And I’m sure the new site will have places with concrete 16 inches thick.
    Vander Kooi operates a 1,800-cow, 4,500 acre farm with his son, Joe, and daughter-in-law, Rita, near Worthington, Minn. Send him feedback at davevkooi@icloud.com. Follow him on Instagram, @davevanderkooi.