Buildings focus: A 16-unit parlour; drafting area; cubicles; and calf house under one roof

Farming in Newcestown, Co. Cork, Evan Shorten runs a dairy farm comprising of 112 Friesian cows – with the help of his family.

The Cork native is just in his second year of milking cows, after taking over and converting an old beef farm that his family owned into a modern-day dairy unit.

After finishing college three years ago, there was only one thing in Evan’s mind and that was to milk cows. Following in the footsteps of his parents – who run a dairy farm – and his brother – who also operates a dairy farm – Evan took the decision to start up his own farming business.

Speaking to AgriLand, Evan said: “I always had a passion for farming – especially for dairy. I have been relief milking for years around this area and I would also regularly help out my parents and brother on their respective farms.

“So, the decision for me to go down this route was an easy one. The farm I’m milking on was once a beef farm, so it took quite a bit of investment to turn it into a dairy unit.”Image-source-Agriland-213

System

Evan runs his herd of Friesian dairy cows on a 120ac block of good-quality grassland, which is split into two main blocks either side of the milking parlour.

He operates a spring calving system, with over 75% of his cows having calved over the past six weeks.

All the cows are artificially inseminated (AI’d), a job which Evan carries out himself. Moreover, a stock bull is then run with any cows that didn’t take to their first service.

The entire herd is heading into its second lactation, as the cows were bought as heifers.

All the Friesian heifer calves are kept as replacements, with the rest of the Friesian bulls and Angus-cross heifer and bull calves sold.

Layout

Evan had a good idea of what type of milking parlour and housing unit that he wanted for his cows.

He drew up a rough design and handed it over to his planner who went ahead and designed his ideal dairy unit.

The building is 44m long and 37.7m wide. The unit stands 9.1m high at the apex and 4.4m high to the eve gutters. The concrete walls of the shed stand 2.4m high. The 16-unit milking parlour is 24m long and 6.4m wide.

There are two different sized slatted tanks installed in the unit. One tank is 39.3m long and 3.5m wide. The second tank is 24.6m long and 3.5m wide. There are two agitation points at either end of each slatted tank.

The calf house, calving pens, exit race, milking parlour and cubicles are all under the roof – which Evan says “makes life so much easier, especially around calving time”.

Originally, there was one shed on the farm – which is now the calf shed – that Evan built the rest of the unit onto.

Milking parlour

After shopping around, Evan decided on installing a Boumatic Gasgoigne Meloitte 16-unit swing-over milking parlour – similar to the one his brother installed on his dairy farm. The milking parlour was fitted by Enniskeane Dairy Services.

The main feature of the parlour is the automatic cluster removers (ACRs). Evan decided against installing an automatic washing (‘auto-wash’) system, milk-to-yield feeders and automatic entry and exit gates – as he just wanted to keep the parlour simple.

The pit is wide and deep. Evan wanted a deep pit and, because he plans to install mats, he made it that bit deeper to accommodate the extra depth that the mats will add on.

He added: “To be honest, all I wanted was a basic parlour. I didn’t feel like I needed any extras and, so far, I have managed without them.

“I sourced the batch feeders in the parlour from Crowley Engineering and I’m happy with how the cows are performing.”

He added: “I decided against an auto-wash system – that would end up costing €3,000 to install – because I felt that for the short time it takes just to wash the parlour myself I would be better off without it.

“It only takes me 10 minutes – morning and evening – to wash the milking machine so I felt I could do without it.”

At peak lactation, it takes him two and a half hours to: bring the cows in; milk them; wash up; and let them out to pasture again.

Evan added: “The first year of milking went well. The cows performed really well, producing good yields and milk solids. Furthermore, my total bacterial count (TBC) and somatic cell count (SCC) were very low and proved to me that my system is working quite well.”

Calving pens and exit race

Once the cows exit the parlour, they head off down the exit race which leads them into the feeding area and cubicles.

The drafting area – which was erected by O’Donovan Engineering – includes: a crush; exit race; three pens; and a gate that rotates 360°.

The drafting area is 24m long and 7.9m wide. The three calving pens are 4.8m long and 4m wide.

The exit race has concrete slats incorporated into it. The drafting area has a 360° gate installed in it, which allows Evan to divert any cows – that he wants to dose or treat – into one of the three drafting pens.

Currently, the three drafting pens beside the exit race are being used as the calvings pens, which Evan said are ideal as they are located right beside the calf house. To help with calving, there is a three-in-one calving gate installed in one of the pens.

Calf house

Located beside the drafting area is the calf house – which is the only original building that is part of the new unit. The calf house is made up of four pens that Evan says can “hold up to 10 calves each”.

The calf house – which was kitted out by O’Donovan Engineering – was only finished last week, as Evan had to cut out a doorway that would enable him to access the shed from the calving area.

The four pens are split in two, by a concrete step, which keeps the straw on one side of the pen.

Therefore, when the times comes to clean out the shed, Evan can lock the calves into one side of the pen and come in with the tractor and clean it out with ease.

The features of the calf shed include: eight five-bar gates; four clip-on calf feeding troughs; four calf-feeding barriers; mesh-hayracks; and three small drinkers.

There are also three small access gates in each bay that allow Evan to move calves between each pen with ease.

The shed has one bay of Yorkshire boarding and two bays of regular galvanised sheeting – which have no vents – and one roller door.

Evan explained: “I was unsure whether to install Yorkshire boarding on each bay of the shed or not. I wanted good airflow, but I didn’t want a draught coming through either.

“So, I took the safe option and put up one bay of wooden boarding and, I have to say, I’m glad I did. The temperature in the shed is ideal and the calves are very cosy.

“I decided to put up plywood boarding between each pen, just to prevent any draughts that might come through the shed.”

Cubicles and feeding passageway

A large proportion of the shed is taken up by the 100 cubicles that are installed right beside the milking parlour.

The cubicles were sourced and erected by O’Donovan Engineering, along with the feeding barriers and the up-and-over gates.

The mats for the cubicles were sourced from Mayo Mats. Evan regularly limes the mats and says that the cows seem very comfortable and happy on them.

The cubicles and feeding area are separated by four up-and-over gates, which Evan says “have been one of the best investments made on the farm to date”.

There are two automatic scrapers – that were supplied and fitted by Dairypower Equipment – along each passageway in the cubicle shed.

He explained: “At milking time, I can pull down the gate and keep the cows nice and compact leading into the parlour, which helps to improve the flow.

“Furthermore, once the cows exit the parlour, I have the gates open on the other side, which will allow them to access to the cubicles until I’m ready to let them out to grass again.”

Some other features in the shed include: tip-over drinkers; Yorkshire boarding – the whole way around the shed; roof lights; and an inside and outside feeding passageway.

What else?

Evan also has his own office, which he hopes to add the finishing touches to this year.

Beside the office is a chemical and general storage area, along with the 9,500L bulk tank – while a 10.5t meal bin is located just at the entrance to the dairy.

Kingston Refrigeration fitted and supplied the bulk tank, while Crowley Engineering fitted the meal bin.

Above from the new unit – at the top of the yard – lies an old slatted shed, which is used to house Evan’s weanling heifers.

Timeline

The build began in June 2018 and was finished just in time for milking in February of 2019. Dunmanway Plant Hire carried out the excavation work on the site.

The shed itself was sourced and erected by O’Dywer Steel. Furthermore, Serges Construction carried out all the concrete work, which includes: the cubicle beds; milking parlour; crush; calving pens; and slurry tanks.

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

Commenting on the build, Evan said: “I couldn’t be happier with how it turned out. It’s a simple system, that was laid out in a way that I can work as efficiently as possible.

“The one bit of advice I would give to anyone thinking about going down the route of dairy farming is to go about getting a loan on time and don’t underestimate any of the costings associated with a new build.

However, it’s a dream come true for me. As I go on, I will gradually add bits to it, such as putting mats in the pit and installing more Yorkshire boarding in certain areas of the shed.

“Last year was my first year milking, so the plan is to focus more on my grassland management and get as much milk from my cows as possible.

“I have to thank my family as well. They have been a huge support to me and they are always there for me if I ever need help,” Evan concluded.

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