For this week’s Buildings Focus Agriland made the trip to stone-wall country to speak to new entrants to dairy, Patrick and John Shaugnessy.

Patrick and his father John are in a partnership in Turloughmore in Co. Galway. Before moving to dairy, they operated suckler and sheep enterprises side by side.

They had a 40-cow strong herd of Limousin cows as well as 250 Belclare ewes, of which 50 are still residing on the farm.

The move to dairy wasn’t taken lightly. Two of the biggest draws however, Patrick said, were the ability to pull two incomes for him and his father and being able to work on the farm full-time.

Patrick with his father John and three kids, Brion, Fionn and Aoibheann

Speaking to Agriland inside his new parlour, Patrick said: “It wasn’t a move we had taken lightly.

“We had built up a strong herd of cows and ewes. We bred really good-quality cattle and our ewe flock was really prolific, scanning 2.2-2.3 lambs and weaning up on 1-8-2.0 lambs/ewe.

“The last big scan we had, we had 63 triplets out of 200 ewes. We still have 50 ewes on the farm.

“The move to dairy was down to a couple of reasons. One was income, we needed to be able to pull two wages from the farm.

“[The second reason] was I was working off-farm as well and between that and managing the suckler and sheep enterprises, I was constantly being busy.

“I wanted to be able to come home and work alongside my father full-time and have more of a balanced work-life balance, as work was taking over completely.

“Thirdly, was I wanted to have the farm set up in a way that it would be a viable option if any of my children wanted to take over down the line in a few years.”

Rejigging existing sheds

The job of converting to dairy wasn’t as simple as sticking a parlour in and starting to milk.

What was once winter accommodation for cattle and sheep was converted into cubicles for cows.

With the help of Aidan Kelly of Agri Design and Planning Services (ADPS), as well as Teagasc, Patrick was able to crack on with the job at hand.

Design source: ADPS

This wasn’t a straightforward job and despite the task of converting occurring at the time of the Covid-19 pandemic, Patrick said that it actually lent itself to getting the job done quicker, as it was classed as essential work which allowed him and a friend of his, Paddy Fahy, to get stuck in.

As well as converting the sheds to fit in cubicles, slurry storage was increased too. This involved days of having to break rock, deepen existing tanks and break ground for a new 11ft deep tank which is located under the new feed passageway.

Design source: ADPS

Where the new feeding passageway is – which joins up the old sheep shed and cattle shed – required a roof to be stood up over it which also covers over the slats in front of the cubicles where the cows would make their way to the feed barriers.

By increasing slurry storage on the farm, the family have the capacity to hold slurry for 170-180 cows during the closed period.

The shed are right beside each other, making the job of moving freshly calved cows – for example from the calving area to the parlour – to be milked easy, and stress free.

The 16-unit parlour and collecting yard

Rather than installing the milking parlour in an existing shed, which was the plan originally, Patrick and John decided on going with a greenfield site for their new milking facilities. This is located right beside the newly converted cubicle sheds and calving area.

The parlour is accompanied by handling facilities, a bulk tank room and a collecting yard.

The duo choose to go with a 16-unit swing-over arm Dairymaster parlour with room for 20-units.

An important feature of the parlour that was a must for both Patrick and John was a Switflo Bailing system.

Speaking about this, the father-and-son duo said: “[In] spring just gone by, we started off milking 76 heifers.

“We had walked them through the parlour a number of times to get used to it but it’s a different story once the milking machine turns on and you’re trying to get clusters on them.

“We felt the sequential bailing was a must, for the simple reason of having greater control of the heifers.

“The fact the heifers have their individual troughs as well just seems to settle them as well and so far, after a bumpy start, cow flow in and out of the parlour has been very good and cows are very content during milking.”

Other than the sequential bailing, key features of the parlour, particularly in relation to the milking machine itself, include automatic cluster removers; an auto-wash system; batch feeding; a variable speed and vacuum pump; and auto entry and exit gates with the bulk tank located at the front of the build.

Switflo Commanders were installed in each unit of the parlour from the outset and so, if Patrick and John decide they want to add on features in the future, i.e. auto ID and feed-to-yield, they can at the flick of a switch.

The pair also left room to expand to a 20-unit parlour, with the concrete and steelwork completed already if they decide to do so in the future.

At the back of build, between the slats in the collecting yard and where cows enter the parlour, the concrete is grooved to avoid cows slipping.

The collecting yard, which is a half-grooved solid concrete floor and slats, allows for increased slurry storage on the farm and has the potential to hold well in excess of the number of cows currently going through.

The handling area

Under the same roof, on the opposite side of the parlour, is a handling and holding area.

Here, a crush, exit race and a large holding pen can be found. Patrick credits advice on the design of this area to local Teagasc advisors and Aidan Kelly, adding that the whole build, from when cows come into the collecting yard towhen they leave the parlour, is very fluid.

“Cow flow is very good, it has to be said, in and out of the parlour,” he said.

“In terms of once cows are finished milking they, most of the time, head down the exit race, which has slats going the length of it.

“At the minute, we have to draft manually but in time, we hope to draft along the exit race.

“Despite that, we find the way it is set up works well and cows are easily drafted manually.

“If we have cows we want to artificially inseminate (AI) for example, we can either divert them into the large holding pen or into the crush through one of two entry points.

“The reason why I said if we were to AI for example, was that the crush was designed and made in a way that we can lock one cow into the head of the crush and then lock a small gate, which I made, behind her.

“This prevents the cow behind her from pushing up against her and allows the AI man to walk behind her and do his job in a safe environment, knowing that the cow in front is locked in and the cows behind him in the chute of the crush can’t make their way any further up the crush.”

In between the crush and the exit race is an enclosed area for Patrick and John to be able to walk up and down the crush when carrying out jobs, i.e. dosing.

Another safety element of the design is the inclusion of ‘slip through areas’, which make access from one area of the new building to the other quick, without the need to open and close gates. They also allow for a quick escape from an area if there are cattle in it.


Patrick and John were able to get a grant under the Targeted Agricultural Modernisation Scheme (TAMS).

This, along with reclaiming VAT and Patrick doing a lot of the work himself with help from friends and family, helped to make the cost of the conversion that bit cheaper.

The overall cost of the build, before any grant was drawn down or VAT reclaimed, was €405,000.

However, when the value of the grant and VAT reclaimed is taken into account, it cost €277,000.

Patrick did a lot of the work himself, with some help from family – including his brother James who did all the plumbing work – and friends.

All the building materials such as steel and concrete, along with fixtures such as gates, barriers and cubicles that were needed, were purchased and from there Patrick did the rest.

Speaking about the change to dairy, Patrick said: “We are very happy with the decision to change.

“It’s only our first year milking and I hadn’t done any great deal of milking prior to the move but we are really enjoying it.

“The kids are a great help too, putting on clusters and although it’s busy work, it was actually busier, particularly at spring, when we were calving cows and ewes at the same time.

“Even though we are busy and still learning, I can safely say I have a much better work-life balance. Being able to work full-time on the farm with my father and the kids, it’s great and also the farm having a future for the kids if they want it as well.”