Buildings focus: A self-erected beef unit constructed without TAMS in Co. Kilkenny

Farming in Bishop’s Demesne, Co. Kilkenny, Reginald ‘Reggie’ Brennan operates a suckler-to-beef enterprise under an autumn-calving system. All progeny are brought to slaughter with the exception of replacement heifers.

In addition, Reggie and his brother Geoffrey run a tillage enterprise in conjunction with the beef operation. The farm is self sufficient; barley, fodder beet, oats and straw are all used for feed on the farm.

Prior to 2013, Reggie milked a herd of dairy cows along with the beef and tillage enterprises. However, faced with the pressure of “get bigger or get out”, he decided to cease milk production and increase the size of the suckler herd.

Plans were put in place to construct a new, five-bay, slatted and solid floor unit to the rear of the yard. The shed replaced an out-wintering pad, which was home to the suckler cows and yearlings.

On this, he said: “The pad was a great job; four lorryloads of mulch would do me for the year. The first couple of years were perfect. But, after that, the years got wetter and wetter and it began to flood.

“So, I got rid of it and I put up a shed which can house approximately 55 cows and their calves. We also converted the cubicle houses into suckler accommodation,” he explained.

Grant or no grant?

Reggie and Geoffrey decided to build the shed themselves. All ground and steel work was carried out by the two brothers. They also constructed and installed the gates and feed barriers. The plumbing infrastructure was also put in place by the Kilkenny-based farmers.

In addition, the shuttering/concrete and electrical work was carried out by local tradesmen.

“There was a grant available when I was constructing this shed. But, with the regulations and specifications required, we knew we could build the shed cheaper ourselves. We priced the shed against a grant-spec unit and it worked out cheaper to carry on without the grant.

“We would always be on the look out for new ideas to make things easier on ourselves. I enjoy the fabrication side of things. We looked at a lot of sheds before we started the build to get ideas and to find out what works and what doesn’t work,” Reggie added.

The layout and finish

The five-bay shed stands at 24m long and 16m wide. A single, 78ft long, 16.6ft wide and 8ft deep tank was also installed in the unit. Two agitation points are located externally at either end.

The bays of the shed measure 4.8m in width. The slatted area is 5m wide; calves have access to a solid lie-back area via creep gates. This section is bedded with straw and measures 7.6m in width.

Access is provided through roller doors (4.5m wide) at either end of the shed. On these, he said: “Because of the fall on the floor of the lie-back area, the bottom roller is not on the ground. It is located on the middle of the door, which allows the door to open smoothly.”

Reggie opted for heavy-duty, painted pillars (9in). On this, he said: “We didn’t bother with the galvanise; I don’t know if the galvanise is worth the extra money. Besides, we were welding on to the pillars and once you do that you’re ruining the galvanise anyway.

“We have sheds in the yard and they have all got the paint finish. They have been here ‘donkey’s years’ and there isn’t a bother on them,” he added.

The lie-back area

There is a slope on the floor of the lie-back area which falls to each creep gate. Reggie highlighted that this is extremely important to keep the straw bedding dry.

“Every Saturday I clean out this area; it only takes me an hour. I never had pneumonia in the shed and I put that down to how often I clean it out.

“The bedding is the big thing; but I’m in a privileged position because I have the straw from the tillage side of things and availability isn’t an issue for us. However, I think it is well worth it if you can keep the vet out of the yard.”

The creep area is divided into three pens; two of which are used as calving pens. Water troughs are located on the walls of the lie-back area. However, they can be accessed by animals in all three pens due to a clever design; the gates open around the troughs.

Reggie continued: “All the gates – which divide the lie-back area – open out completely and remain flush to the walls. This facilitates cleaning out the shed. There is nothing sticking out when I’m working the loader.

“You need plenty of space for calves. When we were looking at sheds before we started, everybody said make sure your lie-back area is big enough.

“I would have been more inclined to make the cow area bigger; but, everybody said the lie-back area is the important one,” he noted.

Lighting and airflow

From standing in the shed, there is no doubt that there is excellent airflow throughout the structure. Reggie opted for ventilated sheeting along the back of the shed.

“It is a good job. You need a lot of fresh air for the calves and there’s plenty of that in this shed. But there’s never any draughts. I can also open the doors if it did get very warm. However, I never had to do that yet.”

Commenting on the LED lights that are dotted around the unit, he added: “These provide great light. However, they are only equal to a 10W bulb. They were on the expensive side; but they are a great job.”

Because an autumn-calving system is applied, rubber mats were installed on the slats. On this, the Kilkenny-native said: “I installed the rubber mats specifically for the bulls. They are a great job for the breeding season; the cows are also very comfortable on them.”

The feed barriers can be opened to allow cattle access to the shed; the timbers at the feed trough can be removed easily to provide access.

The timbers are also removed at the busy times of the year (sowing and harvest), so Reggie can place bales in front of the pens.

The cost

The total approximate cost of the entire project was €82,000 (including VAT). This includes an additional concrete wall located outside the shed. This also allowed for a cost to be paid to Reggie and Geoffrey for their own work.

On the end product, Reggie said: “The shed itself, I couldn’t fault it. I think it is an ideal shed. If I was to change anything about it, I would make it bigger. If I was starting from scratch again, I would make it 10 bays long; it’s fierce handy for cows and calves.

“I would maybe go 9ft deep with the slatted tank just to give me that extra slurry space,” he concluded.