Next up in our Back In Focus series, is a top-class suckler unit in Co. Roscommon, on the farm of Christopher Scally that Agriland visited last spring.
Christopher, a winner of the Macra na Feirme drystock young farmer of the year for 2020, took over the running of the family farm in his own right in 2019 and since then, has put plans in place to increase housing space on the farm, as well as putting in handling facilities.
Christopher described himself “as a bit of a perfectionist” and that comes across straight away when you walk into the farm.
The Roscommon-native runs a suckler herd of cows, made up predominately of Shorthorn and Angus-cross cows – with the majority calved down in the autumn time and some during the springtime.
The existing accommodation on the farm was outdated and saw some cattle outwintered over the last few years, so with the opportunity to avail of a grant, Christopher made the decision to build a new shed.
Speaking to Agriland, Christopher said: “The accommodation I had on the farm was a bit outdated and I wanted to increase cow numbers as well – which with the facilities I had previously, I wasn’t able to do.
“So I needed to look at improving and increasing the housing space on the farm. In the last few years, I have been forced to outwinter some of my cattle – which wasn’t ideal.
“I knew what I wanted and I looked at different sheds and spoke to numerous people and came up with what I have today.”
Suckler unit design
The new suckler unit is a three-bay slatted shed with a 22ft creep area at the back. The creep area is further divided in two.
At the back of the shed, lies a crush, while at the side of the unit is a penning area and a dungstead.
Looking at the unit in more detail, the 3-bay shed is 14.4m long and 11.05m wide. It stands 6.285m high to the apex. The slatted tank is 15.7m long, 3.5m wide and 2.4m deep.
The bays of the shed measure 4.8m in width. The slatted area is 4.25m wide; calves have access to a solid lie-back area via creep gates. This section is bedded with straw and measures 3.5m in width and each pen is 3.275m long.
Directly behind the designated creep area are two calving pens that measure 3m wide.
Both the creep area and calving can be accessed through two sliding doors at one side of the unit.
The main feeding passageway which is bowed on either side – which helps to drain away effluent – and serves both the old and new shed, is 5.0m wide and 14.4m long.
Features of the suckler unit
Christopher left no stone unturned in this new build and that’s clear to see when you stand back and take it all in.
Starting at the front of the unit, you will find Christopher’s herd of suckler cows and a pen of stores occupying the three slatted pens.
Comfort slat mats were installed in two of the pens, where the cows lie, although in time, Christopher plans to put in mats in the last pen as well.
Rather than putting in standard gates to separate the slatted pens with the creep area, Christopher opted to install Jourdain headlock barriers in each of the three pens.
Alongside the headlock barriers are creep gates, which allow calves to come and go from each area as they please.
As mentioned, there are three creep pens also. Drinkers are placed in both the slatted pens and in the creep pens.
An interesting feature of the five-bar gates located at the rear of the creep pens, is that they can be contracted (basically shortened).
The idea behind this is Christopher can swing the gate and lock it in at the rear wall and then open the sliding door and let more air circulate through the shed.
Directly behind the creep pens are calving pens, one of which is served with a Jourdain calving gate.
In order to keep the calving area and creep pens dry, a slope was incorporated running from the rear of the shed down to the slats, which Christopher says has worked a treat in keeping the straw bedding relatively dry.
A very neat feature of the build is the way in which the shed is set up to move cattle from one side of the shed out to the crush located at the rear of the build, and back around in through a small sliding door at the back of the unit.
On one side of the shed, a passageway approximately 1.17m wide (pictured below) runs from the slatted pens all the way through to the back of the shed, out towards the shute of the crush.
Cattle can then run through the crush and back around into the other side of the shed through a sliding door into the calving pens.
Lastly, another interesting feature is the two sliding doors, which give access to both the creep area and the calving pens.
The design is “unique” according to Christopher. He added: “Because my creep area is 22ft deep, I wanted to divide it up in two sections.
“The doors can slide past each other as they are on two separate rails – whereas on other farms I had been out to, the doors were both on one rail.”
As already mentioned, a crush was set up at the back of the shed. Christopher thought about setting it up inside the shed; however, he felt it would be safer for him when handling cattle to have the crush built outside.
It’s a very tidy job. The concrete area is grooved the whole length of the shute – to provide grip. As there is no roof overhang over the crush, when it rains the concrete could become slippy, so this helps to prevent this problem.
In the middle of the crush is a small hole, which runs through to the slatted tank at the front of the shed via a sewer pipe – to help drain away any water / faeces from the crush.
As pointed out already, a shute leading from the slatted pens all the way to the back of the shed, leads into the crush.
When the cattle exit the shed through the door, rather than having a 90° angle, Christopher opted to put in a circular forcing gate to make the turn for cattle down the shute easier and it helps to improve the efficiency of moving cattle down the crush.
The circular forcing gate at the rear of the crush is covered with stock board. The idea behind this is basically that when the cattle exit through the sliding door, they are encouraged to go towards the mouth of the crush.
Once the cattle are in the shute, a small gate between the circular forcing gate and the crush itself can be swung around and locked in behind the cattle to keep them in the shute.
An anti-backing gate was installed shortly after Agriland’s visit, while crash barriers are in the process of being put up parallel to the crush in case an animal had to be let out of the crush for a particular reason.
Instead of barriers going the length of the crush, the crush is broken down into sections using gates. This is in case an animal went down in the crush, so as to make life easier to get the animal out of the crush if ever such an incident occurred.
Once the cattle exit the crush, a circular forcing gate is hung which helps to direct the cattle back into the shed.
The two doors at either end of the shed leading/exiting to and from the crush are sliding doors. To help keep the crush area clean, Christopher set up a rainwater harvesting system, which is hooked up at the side of the build.
Rainwater, collected from the gutters is stored and any leaves/debris is separated away. He purchased a fire hose reel for a mere €40 and hung it on the wall at the side of the shed to wash down the crush after being in use. The total cost of the rainwater harvesting system came to €710.
Yorkshire boarding and spaced sheeting
From going around to farms, Christopher took a dislike to vented sheeting, saying that he noticed on many farms that cobwebs formed in and around the vented sheeting.
He also had issues with his own shed being clammy and very warm, so he wanted to avoid this problem.
Therefore, he opted to go with Yorkshire boarding at the back of the shed and says it works very well and helps to keep the shed nice and airy.
Christopher wasn’t a big fan of spaced sheeting either, as he was of the impression that a lot of water would come into the shed.
However, now, he has completely changed his tune, saying that as long as you keep the spacing between the sheets to 10-12mm, that little to no rain comes in at all and that it works quite well.
External penning and dungstead
To one side of the new unit, where the two sliding doors are, a penning area is set up – which has two pens.
The main uses for it are to let calves that are in the creep area in the shed out to it, and also to reverse in a trailer and load cattle from it.
To the side of the penning area is a dungstead, which measures 6m wide and 4m deep.
The dungstead is kept relatively close to the shed, to allow Christopher to wheel out dung from the shed – without having to travel a large distance.
He opted not to roof the dungstead either, as he encountered many others that were roofed and noticed that the dung wasn’t rotting due to a lack of rainwater penetrating the dung.
The shed was erected by Newtowngore Engineering – including all the penning and feeding barriers/head locking barriers. All of the concrete work was completed by JMB Brett – with work beginning on the tanks in July of last year.
The external penning beside the shed and dungstead was completed by Tom Mulrennan.
The project took less than a year to construct, although planning got underway back in 2019. Despite hitting a couple of bumps along the way, in the end it all worked out well for the Roscommon native.
The fact Christopher was able to avail of the Targeted Agricultural Modernisation Scheme (TAMS II) and being eligible for a 60% grant, helped to keep the cost of this project relatively small.
The cost of the shed including VAT came to €68,900. However, when the 60% grant is taken into account and the fact Christopher was able to reclaim VAT, the cost of the new shed is standing to him at €27,560.
Speaking about the new build, Christopher said: “It would be hard justify building this shed without the help of the grant.
“In fairness, it worked out quite reasonable in the end. I was in a situation where I couldn’t keep doing what I was doing.
“This new shed now gives me the chance to increase cow numbers. On the grassland side of things, I have put a lot of money into that so I wanted to complete the farm, by having modern facilities that basically will help allow me to run the farm as efficiently as possible.
“I have to say as well, everyone involved in the build did a super job and I just want to thank everyone,” Christopher concluded.