This week’s Buildings Focus saw Agriland make the trip to Westmeath to speak to brothers Ciaran and Enda Morrison about their new beef shed, handling facilities and dung stead.

The brothers have been working side by side, with their mother Mary for the past 10 years, and in that time have been operating a suckler-to-beef system. The Morrisons breed their own replacement heifers, with those not making the grade, finished on farm and all male animals are finished as bulls.

The Morrisons keep 30 suckler cows and have been housing them and their beef stock, mainly bulls, in their existing three-bay slatted shed along with renting other sheds.

However, Ciaran, Enda and Mary said that they wanted to have all of their stock in their own yard going forward.

Speaking to Agriland inside their new shed, Enda and Ciaran said: “We have been renting sheds the last few years and we wanted to move away from that and have all the cattle here around the home yard.

“We had an existing three-bay slatted shed with a lieback, but in order to keep all our cows and their progeny that we bring to beef as well any other bulls we’d be buy in, we needed another shed to accommodate them.

“It was a case where we either kept spending money on renting sheds or go for it and build our own one.

“It’s been in our head a long time to do this project and we have been, bit by bit, year by year, putting money aside to build what we have today.

“A lot of thought, research went into designing shed and handling facilities and also some great advice along the way from people involved in the build.”

L:r: Enda and Ciaran Morrison

Site

The Morrisons had been thinking about improving on what housing, handling and slurry/farmyard manure storage they had on their farm for a few years.

And, the brothers said that they just got started and finished in time before the “whole thing went mad dear”.

The area the new four-bay shed and dungstead is on was idle ground used mainly as a storage space for machinery.

The fact the existing three-bay shed was grant spec, the Morrisons were able to build their new four-bay shed off the back of it without any issues on this idle ground used for storage.

The duo got the help of Aidan Kelly of Agri Design and Planning solutions to design the shed and dungstead area.

The four-bay shed

From the outset, the Morrisons wanted to keep their options open and every inch of the design was thought out and executed in such a way that the brothers can change up how they use or work in the shed, handling area and even the way the dungstead can be used in ways other than its main use.

The four-bay shed is planned to house finishing bulls, however, the Morrisons could calve down some autumn-calving cows and keep them and their calves in it as well if they so wished.

The Morrisons have 10 years experience finishing bulls and knew exactly what they wanted in their new shed.

First off, the height of the shed. Enda and Ciaran said that you can’t beat a high roof.

The Morrisons said: “We finish Charolais/Belgian Blue/Limousin-cross bulls that do a great thrive.

“The last thing you want is them getting a setback and having a low roof, with poor airflow throughout will see you end up having cattle with runny noses and then the likes of pneumonia then becomes a real threat.

“Some might say it’s a waste of steel going up high but we feel it’s the only job. Coupled with the vented sheeting and the gap between the eaves and the sheeting, gives adequate airflow in and out of the shed.

“That along with having four sliding doors and a swinging door at the front of the shed allows us to further keep the shed airy and fresh.”

The Morrisons wanted to have as big of pens as possible and as such went with 16ft 6″ slats. Furthermore, to increase slurry storage on the farm, they dug 1ft deeper than normal, ending up with a 9ft deep tank.

The new tank in the shed and the the one in the old three-bay are connected up which means they can pump slurry across to the new tank.

The way the pens are set up means that the cattle can be moved between pens, rather than being brought out to the passageway and turned into a pen that way.

All the gates and feed barriers are heavy duty. With bulls set to be finished in the shed, Enda and Ciaran wanted strong durable feed barriers, which are “4mm thicker than the standard barriers”. You’d know it too if you got to lift them!

There are two feeding passageways in the shed, one either side of the slatted pens.

Again, keeping their options open, the Morrisons can feed from both sides and they left enough room that a tractor and diet feeder, which is something they are thinking about using in the future, to swing into both feed passageways with ease.

The diagonal feed barriers at the back of the shed swing back to the wall which means cattle can be let out of the pen without either Enda or Ciaran having to go into the pen.

Also, because cattle can move between pens, two/three pens can be let out from the one pen by just opening the small five-bar gates found in between each pen and out through the feed passageway down to the handling facility for dosing or loading onto a truck for instance.

Leaving space to feed from both sides, the Morrisons explained, is to avoid the bulls from bullying each other; that there is plenty of room within the pens first of all, but also enough room for them to feed from.

Another nice feature in the shed is the incorporation of a swinging gate at the front of the four-bay unit. Here, e.g., cattle from the old three-bay could be moved up to the new shed by opening the sliding door in the old shed and opening the swinging door in the new shed.

Another feature is the incorporation of a ramp up from the level of the old shed to the new shed, for when the Morrisons bring a wheelbarrow full of meal for instance.

Handling facilities

Safety is one of the first words farmers mention now when they carry out any work on their sheds or handling facilities.

The Morrisons were no different and were at first unsure about what way to go about putting in a new handling facility.

They wanted a handling facility that involved not having walk around in close proximity to their cattle, particularly the bulls.

With the help of O’Donovan Engineering, the Morrisons ended up putting in a diamond penning setup, which is one of the few that can be found on farms in Ireland, the brothers said.

Explaining how it works, the Morrisons said: “We were kind of scared at first and didn’t know what to expect in terms of how it would work, but after a few weeks of using it, we would never go back.

“The way it works is, there a diamond shaped pen in the middle with four pens off of it.

“Just say we want to dose the four pens of cattle in the shed, we can let them down one pen at a time, without mixing them and have each bunch in one of the four pens off the middle diamond pen.

“Once you’re ready to let a pen of cattle into the crush, you can open up your gates through the diamond pen and funnel them around it until they have all gone through the crush.

“It takes the hardship out of moving cattle, splitting them up and most importantly being able to work with the cattle safely.

“Once we are set up, the gate from outer pen opens up so that cattle are faced down towards the rear of the crush. We fitted another gate halfway (below) down this area just to keep cattle pushed up so that they couldn’t turn back on us.

“Once cattle turn into the door of the outhouse they can see the light at the other end, where the crush leads back out to the open.

“Seeing the light is big thing and really helps getting cattle up the crush.

“All, bar one, of the gates in the crush can be opened if god forbid an animal got stuck or fell down in the crush.

“At the front of the crush then, we can lock in one animal at the front with the help of sliding gate, which cattle at the back of crush can’t see through, which means they are less stressed and don’t have a clue what’s going on.

“Here, at the front of the crush, two small gates are fitted, either side, so that e.g., if we are artificially inseminating a cow, we can open up one of the gates and it opens back closing off the back of the crush allowing for safe handling of a cow.

“We installed a headscoop at the front of the crush as well which, again, takes the hardship out of trying to dose cattle.

“Also, the whole handling area except for the crush is grooved. The reason for not grooving the crush is that cattle don’t have that grip on the ground to climb up on each other and start stressing each other in the crush.

“Lastly, one side of the front part of the crush can open out to allow for a truck or trailer back in to load a bunch of cattle.

“Again, no one has to come in contact with the animals from when they are let out of the shed, down to the diamond penning system, up into the crush and onto the trailer.

“It takes away the worry that if we weren’t here and a lorry from the factory came to take away a pen of bulls that they could safely, knowing they wouldn’t have to come in contact with them.”

Dungstead

As well as the shed and handling area, the Morrisons decided on building a dungstead to hold their farmyard manure.

This area at the side of the new shed, is set up in a way that any run-off is drained away through channels into the new slatted tank.

They also put sleeves into the ground so that if they ever wanted to set up an outdoor penning area they could, when there would be no dung in it or else just for extra pens.

Theses extra pens would be ideal, Enda and Ciaran said, if they were agitating the slurry in the tank, that they could let the cattle into these pens.

This, Ciaran and Enda added, could also act as an outdoor creep area if they were ever to house cows in the shed and let calves out the back passageway behind the slats and let them walk in and out of the shed.

Cost

The overall cost of the shed and handling facilities was coming in at €128,000 including VAT.

The Morrisons were able to avail of the Targeted Agricultural Modernisation Scheme (TAMS II) which saw them eligible for a40% grant.

This along with reclaiming the VAT (roughly €20,000) sees the shed standing to them out of their own pocket at €70,000.

The Morrisons praised the quality of work completed in both the shed and handling area. The excavation of the site and concrete work was completed by Dowdall Plant and Agri. Meanwhile, Conaty Steel Structures erected the shed. The slats were sourced from Maxwell Precast.

All the gates and barriers for the shed and handling unit were sourced from O’Donovan Engineering with Ciaran and Enda fitting and hanging all the gates and barriers themselves. David Slevin completed the electrical work.

Speaking about going ahead with the project, the Morrison brothers said: “We have now what we wanted from the start and it’s better than what we had initially thought we’d achieve.

“First off we have a safe environment to work in. Safety is key.

“We didn’t cut corners when it came to safety. For the sake of putting in a few extra gates, if ourselves and anyone who comes on the farm can work safely, then it’s not an expensive job.

“We’d never look back, without a shadow of a doubt. Our old crush was no longer safe to use. It was built years ago by our father and it was of good quality, but it was time to upgrade it. The new handling facilities we have now are a dream to work with.

“The days of people getting hurt by cattle should be a thing of the past.

“It [the new crush and pens] leaves farming more easier every day and the shed then, we are just looking forward to filling it with bulls and getting them cycling through it.

“It would be a dear shed if we were to leave it idle for five or six months of the year, but we plan to make plenty of use of it and once we start expanding we’d hope to be running bulls in and out of it throughout the year and make it earn its keep.”