Buildings focus: A 5-bay slatted unit and a new silage slab in Co. Tipperary

Farming in Middlequarter, Newcastle, Co. Tipperary, Francis Hallinan operates a suckler-to-weanling enterprise; the Tipperary-based farmer also works full-time off the farm.

It is only in the last three years that Francis has taken the reins on the farm. While he is happy with his overall performance to date, he is exploring the option of bringing all progeny to beef in the near future.

This year, the herd grew in size as 10 additional heifers calved down this spring. However, the availability of land is an issue and Francis hopes to focus on both efficiency and grassland management to improve output.

To facilitate this progress and create more slurry storage, a 28.6m long and 4.4m wide tank was installed. A five-bay shed was constructed over the tank; the unit also has a 2.4m lie-back area.

Francis said: “We were at our limit with slurry storage; that was our first and foremost issue. Secondly, we were making all baled silage. Baled silage is super stuff but there’s a fierce cost associated with it.”

To facilitate pit silage, a new 19.4m long and 15.4m wide silage slab was constructed in the corner of the existing yard.

Francis also outlined the availability of the young farmer grant as an incentive when it came to building the unit and silage slab.

“Because of the 60% grant, it made sense to put in extra storage and a new slab; I had limited housing available, so putting up the shed also allowed us to increase numbers,” he added.

Timeline and design

The overall build took approximately 18 months. The time from when the planning permission was submitted to the time when the first sod was turned stood at 10 months.

Commenting on the planning and grant application, Francis said: “It’s a bit of a process; it’s not straight forward. I thought I’d be able to do everything a little bit quicker, but that wasn’t the case.

“I had no planning issues or anything like that; it just takes time. It was finished in January 2018,” he added.

With the help of Aidan Kelly from Agri Design and Planning Services (ADPS), Francis explored many different designs.

“We looked at several different options in the yard. We looked at grafting off an existing shed and putting in a tank beside it; but we came to the conclusion that it would be a lot easier to go with a stand alone unit.

“By doing so, this will allow me to expand in the future; there’s nothing behind the shed,” he added.

The layout

The five-bay shed is 6.3m high at the apex. It is 24m long and 8.2m wide. The concrete walls of the shed stand at 2.4m. The shed is 3.8m high to the eve gutters.

Two sliding doors are also located at either end of the unit. Five lie-back pens are positioned at the back of the slatted pens. The floors are sloped in the pens back to the slatted area – which keeps the straw beds dry – and measure 2.4m long and 4.8m wide.

The five slatted pens are 4.8m long and 5.8m wide. However, the tank is 28.6m long, 4.4m wide and 2.7m deep. Two agitation points are located at either end of the tank.

The site where the shed is located required some fill in order to increase the height of the foundation; this was done with fill from an on-farm quarry, so cost was kept to a minimum.

Inside the unit

Speaking about the fit-out, Francis noted: “To be honest, I had a fair idea of what I wanted. I needed the 14.6ft slat and I wanted the 8ft lie-back area at the back. The lie back doubles as a calf creep; but it will also be used for feeding meal if I move to finishing cattle.

“To let the calves in and out, I just pull back the extending gate and they can move in and out as they please,” he added.

Vent sheeting was installed as per grant regulations; bung water troughs – which the gates open around – are also installed throughout the shed.

A 450mm gap was left between the vent sheeting and the roof to assist airflow. A 450mm overhang on the roof provides adequate shelter, while not interfering with airflow. There is also a gap located on the front of the shed between the top of the canopy and the apex.

Commenting on the airflow, he said: “I was nervous when it came to the ventilation. But it’s a super job and I’m very happy with it. The shed is very cosy and there’s great airflow through it.”

Light is provided via skylights equipped with safety bars as per grant speculations. Francis has provisions in place to insert a crush – inside the shed – along the back wall.

On this, he said: “The crush will narrow my creep area, but I don’t need that area to be too big; it’s only for young calves.

“It would be a lot easier to have a crush there rather than bring them to the other side of the yard, especially as I’m not here full-time,” he explained.

The silage slab

The new 19.4m long and 15.4m wide silage slab was installed in the corner of the existing yard. A concrete apron was also left to the front of the slab; this will be used for dung and measures 7.0m long and 7.7m wide.

Both the silage slab and dung apron are surrounded by effluent shores. These are piped to a slatted tank located a short distance away; a stopper can be placed on these shores when the slabs are clear.

On this, Francis said: “I used to store the bales where the new slab is and the ground was on the high side; we lowered it down so all the yard would be the one level.

“We put in two separate shores; one to take the run off from the silage and one to take the run off from the dung,” he explained.

Francis plans to cut as much silage as possible this year and on the day that AgriLand visited the farm (May 23), the contractor was on the way to mow first-cut silage.

The cost and the future

The overall cost of the entire job (including the silage slab) was in the region of €100,000 (including VAT).

On the build, he said: “Everything is movable, adaptable and changeable; it allows for every possible scenario that we would encounter on this farm.”

Francis has a clear focus on where the farm is going in terms of efficiency and production targets. By breeding cattle with superior genetics, he aims to increase the profitability of the offspring he is producing.

Commenting on the future of the beef industry in Ireland, he said: “The suckler cow does need some form of support, but I don’t think a coupled payment is any good to anyone. Perhaps increasing the incentive to join the Beef Data and Genomics Programme (BDGP) would be a better option.

“It goes without saying that we need to be paid properly for the stock we are producing; there’s no comparison between a ‘black and white’ cow and a suckler continental.

“I’m in a heavily dairy populated area, but I still wouldn’t go down the road of dairy beef. Going forward, I would be open to change; it is a business at the end of the day, so I will adapt what ever way I have to.

“However, I like the suckler cow, but I know there’s a cost to keeping her,” he added.

Francis will now turn his attention to improving infrastructure on the farm. He has plans in place to improve his handling facilities, roadways and fencing in the coming months.