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What do you think of when somebody says Hydronics?

Harvey RamerHarvey Ramer Member Posts: 1,911
Most people would probably think about heating or cooling a house or a building of some sort. I used to think that way. I don't anymore, and for good reason. Hydronics can be a very effective solution in an infinite number of different applications that we don't always think about when somebody mentions the word Hydronics.

That being said, I would like to share how a Hydronic system can slash a Dairy Farmer's existing utility bill by a good percentage and increase milk production and butterfat content at the same time. My brother owns a Dairy Farm and we stuck our heads together for this solution. He is smarter than me but, I know how to make things work ;-)

First a brief explanation of how a milking system is setup. We have a refrigerated bulk milk tank, a vacuum pump, a milk receiver tank and from the receiver tank lines running out to the milkers. More detail is not needed on that end.

So, the vacuum pump is connected to the receiver tank. The line that carries the milk in from the cows in the milking parlor is also connected to the receiver tank. The vacuum is what makes the milkers work. There is a pump connected to the bottom of the receiver tank that has to overcome the vacuum and pump the milk into the refrigerated bulk tank. The pump is operated by a probe that sticks down into the receiver tank. The probe measures 2 levels. when it hits the top level the pumps kicks on and pumps it to the bottom level. Takes about three seconds.

The milk in the bulk tank is stored at about 40°F and once cooled is not allowed to warm up again until you are drinking it. So before you start pumping all that warm milk in there, you have to run the compressors for a while and make the milk that's already in the tank really cold. If you didn't the milk would get to warm.

You see how inefficient all that is! Here is what we did.

First the pump setup. We switched it to a 3-phase motor driven by a VFD. I had a custom probe built for the receiver tank. It measures the level of the milk in the tank, feeds this info back to the VFD and the pump speeds up and slows down as it needs to. It is always running but always at the minimum speed needed. By doing this the milk doesn't get agitated in the impellor as much and you end up with a higher butterfat content. That is important because they get paid on the butterfat content.

Next we installed a plate and frame heat exchanger inline between the pump and the bulk tank. The milk goes through one side and cold ground water through the other. This cools the milk down to about 60°F before it hits the bulk tank. Now the compressors do not have to be run preemptive to the milking. the can just proceed with normal operation.

So what to do with all the water? Well, after the water exits the heat exchanger, it is considerably warmer. So we run it through radiant tubing in the concrete slab in the milking parlor. Why not! It adds a little heat to an otherwise unheated space and it keeps ice from forming when everything gets washed down after a milking.

Cool, right! We aren't done yet.

In the winter time, people and cows don't like to drink much water. It's cold and drinking cold water can make us feel colder. Cows are just like us. They like it the best when things feel good. So when the cows drink less water, they also produce less milk. Makes sense, right. They are mildly dehydrated. They will drink warmer water in the wintertime though!

You see where I'm going with this don't you?

After the water exits the slab it is still warmer than the ground water. It runs into a watering trough for the cows. Boy, they slurp down that fresh, and warmer water right down. Now the watering trough doesn't freeze anymore and the cows give more milk.

What could be wrong with that? More milk, more money! Oh, and no ice to break.

The cows can't drink all the water though. There is an overflow on the watering trough and the rest of the water runs underground and dumps into a retention pond. In the summer time, the water in the retention pond gets used to irrigate the crops.

How cool is all that! Hydronics on steroids. My brother is pleased as punch because his profits are higher and his costs are lower. Nothing is wasted.

I am doing another Dairy setup this summer. It will be a little different because it is a stanchion barn where the cows are all inside at the same time. In that system I am going to use the warmer water for the cows to drink in the winter and in the summer I am going to use it to cool the barn.

Hydronics are fun :-)

Ramer Mechanical
To learn more about this professional, click here to visit their ad in Find A Contractor.


  • GordyGordy Member Posts: 7,111
    edited April 2014
    Very creative

    So what brought about the initiative Harvey?

    How many head?

    I still think the dairy farmer gets screwed for what we pay for a gallon of milk, and the work involved to get it off the farm. A 365 day a year job twice a day never stops. Tell your brother thank you for what he does.
  • Harvey RamerHarvey Ramer Member Posts: 1,911
    The initiative.

    Well,I guess it's the nature of our family to never leave good enough alone. It's something that comes about when you look at something and know there's got to be a better way to do it.

    I'm not sure how many head he is currently milking. The last time I asked it was less than a hundred.

    The middle man does make the money when it comes to milk. The farmer gets paid whatever the market says the price is. The middleman buys the milk from the market and puts on whatever markup they can get away with and it goes on the shelf. If it weren't for government intervention the farmers couldn't make it at all. Just take a look at the capitol investment versus the income potential. Over a million dollar capitol investment for less than a 100k a year profit. Most of the time it doesn't work on paper and the only thing that makes it possible is the continuing development of technology and inflation.

    I would say it is at the point where a farmer can't make ends meet but a business man who farms can still make a go of it.

    Ramer Mechanical
    To learn more about this professional, click here to visit their ad in Find A Contractor.
  • Mark EathertonMark Eatherton Member Posts: 5,582
    Additional energy savings...

    Harv, good on you for seeing the obvious (fphx pre-cooling) . Now if you can take the additional refrigerant waste heat from the final cooling operations and stick that heat into the hot water production program you will save additional money on energy used for washing (cow udders, equipment washing etc). It can significantly increase cooling efficiency, and the equipment is available off shelf.

    Dairy farmers, in fact farmers in general get all of my respect for their knowledge of ALL mechanical systems, and their resourcefulness.

    A small solar thermal system would have a high degree of utilization as well, assuming the radiation is available...

    It's not so much a case of "You got what you paid for", as it is a matter of "You DIDN'T get what you DIDN'T pay for, and you're NOT going to get what you thought you were in the way of comfort". Borrowed from Heatboy.
  • MattMatt Member Posts: 163

    Very interesting. Are there issues with cleaning the flat plate between milkings?
  • SWEISWEI Member Posts: 7,356
    Nice work

    always good when we can turn what was once waste into useful work.

    Government intervention is a big part of what got us in the mess we're in with our farming operations.  Like so many other things, retail milk prices do not even come close to reflecting the real costs involved.
  • Jamie HallJamie Hall Member Posts: 6,653
    That's a lovely arrangement!

    I can think of a number of big farms which could really benefit from that setup.  Have you contacted the ag. extension services in any of the bigger dairy states with the ideas?  It just might sell like hot cakes.

    And dairy farmers deserve all the thanks they can get -- this place I run was a dairy farm, once, and I a dairy farmer on it.  Along about 40 years or so ago we added up all the costs and income, and realised what we sort of expected -- the price we could get for the milk didn't even quite pay for the local property tax (they not only tax the land and buildings, but the equipment and the herd as well).  Never mind anything for our work.  I still miss farming...

    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England.

    Hoffman Equipped System (all original except boiler), Weil-McClain 580, 2.75 gph Carlin, Vapourstat 0.5 -- 6.0 ounces per square inch
  • SWEISWEI Member Posts: 7,356
    edited April 2014
    Ran across this the other day

    and thought it was quite well done
  • Harvey RamerHarvey Ramer Member Posts: 1,911
    Already done Mark

    Free heaters are popular among the farmers in this area. They generate more than enough hot water for all the Dairy barn needs.

    For those unfamiliar with Free Heaters, they are basically indirect water heaters that use the hot gas from the compressor discharge before it enters the condenser coils.

    Even with everything in place there is still excess heat being generated and dumped. I have been toying with the idea of running underground lines into the house, doing thermal storage and using it for DHW and central heating. I just have to find a willing participant with a setup that it makes sense to do.

    Ramer Mechanical
    To learn more about this professional, click here to visit their ad in Find A Contractor.
  • Harvey RamerHarvey Ramer Member Posts: 1,911
    No issues

    The cleaning happens after every milking with the automatic rinse cycle.

    Ramer Mechanical
    To learn more about this professional, click here to visit their ad in Find A Contractor.
  • icesailoricesailor Member Posts: 7,265

    If it wasn't for Government "Intervention", there would be no affordable milk or any other food commodities. The Wall Street Crime Syndicate and the Futures traders would all be broke, we would be in another depression and people would be using soup stones in their very thin stews.

    There isn't a Wall Street Bankster that does as much work in a month as the average successful farmer does when he gets out of bed to put his boots on.

    On another note, which you seem to know, you can not ever get too much water into animals. My wife and I have had horses for many, many years. We have had horses that won't drink cold water. Milk production and water are important. What is more important to milk production is proper digestion. Which can't happen without enough proper water. Water management with pets or livestock is critical. Same with humans. If you can't throw down a glass of ice water or chew ice cubes because your teeth hurt, think about a ruminant like a cow, goat or sheep with sensitive teeth trying to drink ice cold water in the winter. Animals can't talk. So you have to be aware.

    Read a book, Guns, Germs & Steel", The fates of human societies. By Jared Diamond. If it weren't for ancient Farmers, we wouldn't be here typing on computers. What few of us, would be out hunting and gathering food.

    If you want something interesting, find some "Farro" (Spelt) wheat grain. AKA Einkorn. one of the very first domesticated grains in the Fertile Crescent. Right tasty.
  • icesailoricesailor Member Posts: 7,265
    Vietnamese cattle:

    I'm interested to see dairy cattle production in Viet Nam with a farm of 32,000 head of milking cattle. With Viet Nam being 10 degrees above the equator and 30 or more in the North, I can't see Holstein Cows very happy there unless given a lot of Monsanto GM feeds and Antibiotics. African cattle aren't known for milk production. I think that if Americans knew what is in Viet Nam milk or the milk products used for consuming, there would be some griping. Until Monsanto has a law passed that it is a proprietary trade secret and no ones business.

    How much milk does an Indian cow produce?
  • Mark EathertonMark Eatherton Member Posts: 5,582
    I figured they already had HArvey...

    Refrigeration waste heat recovery was a hot item back 25 years ago when I first got involved with the dairy industry.

    They have full condensing tanks which take even more than jus the super heat out of the refrigerant. Have had since forever. That is one tough market to break in to. Lots of very established full service companies available to the industry.

    It's not so much a case of "You got what you paid for", as it is a matter of "You DIDN'T get what you DIDN'T pay for, and you're NOT going to get what you thought you were in the way of comfort". Borrowed from Heatboy.
  • WeezboWeezbo Member Posts: 6,232
    edited April 2014
    Here is what i am thinking when i hear of your accomplishment,

    i hope this displays my enthusiasm for your right efforts .
  • NYplumberNYplumber Member Posts: 482
    Great work

    Great work Harvey!

    VFD is always fun and can usually replace the typical shuttle pumps. Many applications don't have a need for slowing the flow, however here the benefits are clear!

    In addition, in am certain the cows appreciate the warm water!

    Thanks for sharing.
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