Buildings focus: Switching from a mixed enterprise to dairy farming

In this buildings focus, AgriLand travelled to Portumna, Co. Galway, where Dara Killeen has recently installed a new milking parlour.

In partnership with his father, he is a new entrant into dairy farming and is a participant in the Aurivo/Teagasc Focus Farm programme.

Dara used to operate a mixed-farm enterprise, made up of cattle and sheep. However, with the future of suckler and sheep farming unpredictable, he made the choice to get into dairy farming in 2017.

“The main reason for switching to dairy farming was to improve the farm income, but also to make two wages from it – for my father and I.”

Mixed Enterprise

The duo had a flock of 500 ewes and 150 beef cattle. Since 2017, Dara has been culling the flock gradually.

This year, 150 ewes were lambed down, with the ewes and their crop of lambs being phased out by the end of this year.

The beef enterprise is much the same; it consisted of 150 beef animals, with the cattle being sourced from local marts and brought to slaughter.

At the moment, only 20 cattle remain; however, Dara plans to finish them over the coming months.

Dairy herd

In 2018, Dara purchased 100 in-calf heifers, with a further 45 introduced to the herd in 2019.

The aim is to calve down 130 cows next year. 60% of the heifers were sourced from Grasstec, while 40% were bought from two sources.

The main reason for buying heifers instead of cows was that I didn’t want to buy anyone else’s problems and I also had the chance to buy the best genetics on offer.

All of the cows are a Jersey x Friesian. The herd has a high Economic Breeding Index (EBI) and is in the top 5% in the country. Currently, there is 190 head of cattle on the farm.


After deciding on a greenfield site, the next task was to begin the build. Dara made contact with Aidan Kelly – from Agri Design and Planning Services – who designed the project.

The build began last July, 2018, and the parlour was installed in October.

The shed, which holds the milking parlour, is a six-bay building and measures 28.8m in length and 8.9m in width. The build also contains a farm office and a changing area.

The 20-unit DeLaval machine, which was purchased from Portumna Farm & Dairy Services, consists of: automatic cluster removers (ACR’s); batch feeders; a speed vacuum pump; and an auto-wash system.

All the washings from the parlour are pumped down to the slatted tank at the end of the collecting yard.

The build also entails a collecting yard that can hold up to 150 cows, which can also act as a double up area for feeding cows, with a Saber drafting unit and an AI crush.

The bulk tank has a storage capacity of 16,000L, and a 12t meal bin was installed, which gives Dara the option of buying a 10t load of concentrates, knowing that it will fit.

The saber drafting unit, which is a two-way drafting system, has an AI crush in front of it.

The drafting unit has made my life so much easier and it is very accurate.

Included in the build is a straight race, which is predominately used when handling young stock on the farm.

There is stall work for 24-units, if Dara ever plans to expand in cow numbers in the future.

However, at the moment, Dara is focused on doing more grass measuring and getting a handle on the fertiliser plan and implementing it, before he thinks about increasing cow numbers.

Cubicle shed and feeding passage

The old sheep shed was recently converted into a new cubicle shed, which is currently a work in progress. There will be enough cubicles for 160 cows. Last winter, the cows were housed on slats.

To reduce the risk of mastitis, the slats were limed and scraped on a regular basis. Furthermore, the cows were teat sealed, which resulted in no cases of mastitis in the spring of this year.

There is also a feeding passage going around the outskirts of the shed, and collecting yard to allow for winter feeding.

The cost per cubicle is €200, which includes: labour; concrete; and the cubicle frame. Cubicle mats will also be purchased when the build is complete.


Considering the farm was a mixed enterprise, new roadways, paddocks and a water system were needed in order to operate a dairy system.

Terra Services installed the water system which included: pipework; water troughs; and a new well.

Additionally, a new roadway – which was 5m wide – leading into the parlour was constructed; the cost of this was €10/m.

The new roadway goes straight through the 115ac milking platform, which is 1.5km in length. Dara didn’t need to buy in fill for the new roadway, which diluted the cost of it immensely.

The paddock size is 5ac, with a stocking rate of 2.1LU/ha, which has left cows getting seven-to-eight grazings/paddock. The farm is currently under-stocked; however, in the future, this stocking rate will increase.

The collecting yard has the capacity to hold 150 plus cows, but, additionally, it can also act as a double up area for feeding cows.

This is all under the one roof. There are also calving facilities on site. The cows are calved in groups on peat bedding.

Dara is looking at the option of converting the existing hay shed to accommodate the young stock which, up until now, were outwintered as part of the reseeding plan in place. Currently, 80% of the land has been reseeded.


The cost of installing the milking machine, milk-tank and shed was €150,000. Furthermore, the cost of the collecting yard and handling unit was €50,000.

The project was carried out with the aid of the Targeted Agricultural Modernisation Scheme (TAMS) funding.

Commenting on the build, Dara said: “I am very happy with how it turned out. Our daily work is more structured now compared to when we were farming cattle and sheep. Instead of managing six-to-seven groups of cattle, we now only have two-to-three.

“The fact that it is a new parlour makes it easier for us to get in relief milkers, and it is very easy to train them.

“I suppose, above all, we didn’t exceed our budget that we had set out at the start, which is a massive plus for us,” he concluded.