During the week, Agriland made the trip to Corrandulla in Co. Galway, to check out a new 4-bay suckler unit on the farm of Johnny and Seamus Curry.
The father-and-son team, who have been in partnership together since 2015, have built up a herd of 50 Limousin and Charolais-cross cows, as well as some Shorthorn and Belgian Blues.
The Currys operate a split calving system, which sees 30 cows calve in spring and 20 in autumn, with the best of the heifers kept for breeding while the remaining heifers and bulls are sold mainly as weanlings and the rest as yearlings.
In 2016, the duo decided that they wanted to increase cow numbers and scale back their ewe flock, which was at 160 at one stage, and is now down to 30.
Although, increasing cow numbers was not an issue because they had the grazing platform to run 50-60 cows, having enough accommodation was a different story.
In 2008 the Currys built a slatted shed for their suckler cows, but as numbers have started to increase over the last few years, they have been forced to outwinter some of their cows.
Also, cows that were close to calving had to be brought over to the home house to a straw-bedded shed to calve down.
So, last year they decided to “bite the bullet” and build this new 4-bay suckler unit, with a creep and calving area which was completed less than a month ago.
Speaking to Agriland about deciding to build a new shed, Seamus said: “When we made the decision to increase cow numbers, it was only a matter of time before we would have to look at building more accommodation.
“Since cow numbers increased the last four or five years, we have been forced to feed some of the cows out as we didn’t have the room to keep them indoors.
“I work full-time off-farm so I didn’t want to be going out in the evenings, bringing out bales, knee-height in muck during the winter for the rest of my life.
“So we said if we are going to do things right, we were going to build this new shed slatted shed, with a creep and calving facilities in it, because in the past we used to have to bring cows down to the house where we have a straw-bedded shed to calve them in.
“So as well as looking at cutting down on labour, we were using a tonne of straw as well so we wanted to cut back down on that too.”
Layout of 4-bay suckler unit
The Currys knew what sort of a housing unit they wanted – a 4-bay suckler unit – so they drew up some rough sketches and then got in touch with Sean Moloney who took it from there and designed what they have today.
They also made the decision to build the new shed onto the old slatted shed, which was built in 2008.
The Currys were hoping to have the shed ready for last winter (2020), but they hit a couple of bumps, most notably planning, which held up work for 12 weeks.
The entire build from start to finish was completed by Damien Ryan Contracts. The Mayo-based company completed a shed for a neighbour of the Currys, which was where they first came across the name.
So having seen their neighbour’s shed and being “happy with what they saw and the quality of it”, they got in touch with Damien and the digging out of tanks commenced in November 2020.
Damien promised the Currys that they would have a shed before the winter was out, and that’s what happened, with all the spring-calving cows and their calves now residing it in along with the remaining four cows yet to calve.
The only work which Damien didn’t do was the wiring of the 4-bay suckler unit, which was carried out by Tom Fahy.
Looking at the unit in more detail, the four-bay shed stands at 19.3m long and 18.5m wide. It stands 7m high to the apex and 4m to the eve gutters.
The slatted tank is 23.5m long, 3.5m wide and 2.4m deep. Two agitation points are located externally at either end.
The bays of the shed measure 4.8m in width. The slatted area is 4.4m wide; calves have access to a solid lie-back area via creep gates. This section is bedded with straw and measures 4.5m in width.
The main feeding passageway is 4.5m wide and 19.3m long.
The back section of the shed, containing a large group pen and two calving pens, is again 4.5m wide. Each calving pen measures 4.8m in width. The four sliding doors are 4.6m wide.
The shed can be broken down into four sections. The feeding passageway is located in the top section of the shed. Seamus and Johnny can access this area at either end, as sliding doors have been installed at both ends.
Beside the feeding passageway are the four slatted pens. The layout means that the Currys can feed their cows from either side of the pens.
At the back of each of the slatted pens, is a calf creep gate, which leads into the straw-bedded creep area. Again, this area can be accessed from both ends of the shed, through two small access doors.
Currently, only two pens of the creep area section are designated for the calves, while the other two pens are used as a working area to keep straw and calving equipment for the cows in the calving pens directly behind.
The back section of the shed consists of two calving pens, where one calving gate is installed, as well as one large group pen, which at the moment is vacant.
This large group pen has a feeding barrier installed in it, so the plan is to move cows who are close to calving into it. When they are due to calve, they can be moved next door into one of the two calving pens. One of the calving pens at the opposite side of the shed is also fitted with a feed barrier (pictured above).
The back section of the shed, where the large group pen and calving pens are located, can be accessed by two sliding doors at either end, which makes it easy to come in and clean it out or feed cows at the feedface on the opposite side of the main feeding passageway.
‘Plenty of light and ventilation’
From looking at the old slatted unit built in 2008 – which currently houses the autumn calving cows – it’s clear to see how the times have moved on when it comes to how sheds are designed and built nowadays.
The old shed is dark and has a lower roof, which was typical of sheds built back then.
Seamus, on a number of occasions, said how much nicer the new shed is to work in, with plenty of natural light coming into the shed in comparison to the old slatted unit.
Ventilation was another aspect Seamus was adamant about getting right.
In order to meet regulations set out by the Department of Agriculture Food and the Marine (DAFM) in order to qualify for the TAMS II grant, Seamus had to tweak what materials he had to use.
Because the old shed meets the new shed, in order for sufficient circulation of air within the unit, instead of putting in ventilated sheeting which is what is on the old shed, he instead had to install Yorkshire boarding.
He wasn’t too enthusiastic about the idea at first, but because the new shed was built onto the existing one, he had no choice.
With the help of his Teagasc advisor, Glen Corbett, they were able to satisfy the department’s rules and after weighing it up, Seamus’s doubts were quenched, as he feels the Yorkshire boarding is far better than the commonly-used vented sheeting.
He said: “Originally when we had to go with the Yorkshire boarding I wasn’t too happy because I felt the shed would be too cold, but after observing it over the last few weeks, I think it’s a great job.
“When you walk in, the shed is neither too warm, stuffy or cold. It’s just right and the natural light coming in, makes it a nice environment to work in as well.”
The cost of the new housing facility came to €90,000 (including VAT). The Currys were eligible for a 40% grant as part of the Targeted Agricultural Modernisation Scheme (TAMS II).
A big part of the reason for “biting the bullet” and building the new shed was down to the fact that the Currys could avail of a TAMS grant.
Seamus further added: “Only for we could avail of a grant, I’m not sure how viable an option this would have been for us.
I just missed out on being eligible for the 60% grant, but still the fact we were able to get 40% was a big help. Realistically, if we didn’t build this new shed, we would have been in a situation where we would have to look at cutting back on cow numbers.
“So, I couldn’t be happier that we got where we are today, everyone involved did a super job and to have this new shed gives us the opportunity to push up to 60 cows – which was, and still is, our goal.”