During the week, Agriland got the chance to see an impressive 63-cubicle shed on the farm of John and John Joe Maher in Co. Kilkenny.
The father-and-son team are milking a herd of 90 British Friesian cows through an 8-unit parlour and are working off 120ac.
The duo, up until last year, were housing many of their cows in straw bedded sheds, with only 32 cubicles at the time on the farm.
Furthermore, the system in place has changed quite a bit in recent years, with the farm home to about 40 suckler cows in recent years, as well as milking cows.
However, the Mahers have decided to go down the route of solely milking cows and dispersed their suckler herd, which saw the last of the cows leave the farm last year.
So as well as changing the farm system, both John and John Joe wanted to move away from straw bedded sheds and also have in their heads to put in a new milking parlour, so it was decided to build a new cubicle shed with an eye on putting a milking parlour alongside it on a greenfield site beside the existing yard.
Speaking to Agriland during the week, John Joe said: “We wanted to move away from straw bedded sheds.
“With the rising costs of straw and the labour involved in keeping fresh straw under the cows over the winter and spreading the dung then, we felt that putting up a cubicle shed would obviously cut our straw bill but also reduce the workload during winter.
“Also keeping cows clean was tough on the straw bedding but thankfully, we didn’t have any cell count issues despite that.
“We had 32 cubicles on the farm and the only work involved with them was liming them – so with the grant available and also having moved to solely milking cows, we felt it was the perfect time to go ahead and build the shed.
“We also have it in our head to put in a new milking parlour at some stage and the cubicle shed is designed to incorporate one eventually.”
As mentioned already the shed was built on a greenfield site, which was once a paddock for cows to graze in.
The new cubicle house was designed by Aidan Kelly of Agri Design and Planning Services (ADPS), who also carried out the whole planning process for the Mahers.
The build was straightforward according to John Joe, with the digging out of the site commencing in May of last year and the shed fully completed that September, the same year.
Spencer Plant Hire carried out all the excavation work on the site.
Oldtown Construction did the tank, the rest of the concrete inside of the shed and put up the frame of the shed, while John Joe and his brother completed the concrete work outside the shed, which included the feeding passageway.
All of the electrical work was carried out by William Campion.
Looking at the design of the shed in more detail, it stands 8.49m to the apex of the shed, 6.775m to the eve gutters at the back of the shed and 4.395m to the canopy overhanging the feed passageway.
The slatted tank, which extends out past the back of the shed, measures 33.915m long and 5.140m wide and is 2.4m deep.
The part of the tank which is incorporated into the shed measures nearly 14m and again is 5.140m wide.
The shed itself is 13.965m wide and 29.1m long. The two rows of cubicles – which are back to back – measure 2.26m wide and stretch 19.2m long. While the cubicles at the back of the shed measure 2.45m.
At either end of the middle section of cubicles, is where the water troughs are placed.
This is where cows can move to and from the front and back of the shed to access either the cubicles to the back of the shed, or the feeding passageway and the rest of the cubicles at the front of the build.
This space measures 4.52 wide and 3.345m long.
Features of the cubicle shed
When you walk into the shed, your eyes are drawn immediately to a few nice features inside.
Cow comfort was a key element of the design of the shed the Mahers really wanted to focus in on and that hits you straight away when you look in at it.
The father-and-son team went with Easyfix cubicles and mattresses. John Joe said that it took the cows no time to get settled into the cubicles, with nearly all the cows used to them within a week and appear to be very happy on them from what they saw during their first winter using them.
At one end of the shed, hung onto the wall is a DeLaval Swinging Cow Brush. Again John Joe’ s father, John, said that there would be a queue for the brush, with cows knocking great enjoyment out of it.
Adding to this, John Joe said: “When I was in college in Kildalton, we made a trip up north where a lot of the farms would operate an indoor system.
“A lot of the farms we visited up there had the brushes in the sheds and the cows were shocking clean because of them.”
Two tip-over troughs were also fitted in the shed – and were sourced from O’Donovan Engineering.
The Mahers wanted to be able to be able to separate cows in the shed, and be able to divide the unit into different sections.
To do this, they have set up dividing barriers in four different sections of the shed – with sleeves cut out within the mattresses of the cubicles for the posts to be inserted. They aren’t fixed, so they can taken out and put back in whenever they are needed.
A rail going through the middle of the rows of cubicles in the centre of the shed was fitted also to prevent cows from moving between the front and back of the shed (pictured below) – which is an issue on some farms and helps to keep any cows that are separated from mixing with each other.
To keep the two passageways clean, two rope scrapers were installed – which John and John Joe have said have worked well so far, having first came across them at the National Ploughing Championships.
All of the gates, feeding barriers and cow brush were sourced from E.C Pratt & Co LTD in Abbeyleix who also supplied the two scrapers.
Extending the tank with an eye of putting a parlour in
As mentioned already, the Mahers, at some time in the future, plan on putting in a new milking parlour with the idea of having it side by side to the cubicle shed.
So to ensure plenty of slurry storage was there, the Mahers extended out the slatted tank out the back of the shed.
This will act as slurry storage obviously, but also form part of the collecting yard along with the cubicle shed for the parlour.
The plan is that cows will be able to enter through the cubicle shed and be held there while they go through the parlour.
To allow for cows to enter through the cubicle and out to where the extended tank is, instead of having a wall going the length of the shed, a gap the width of the tank was left.
A windbreaker is set up here and the cubicles occupying this space (where the windbreaker is) can be taken out when the time comes that the Mahers want to get construction underway for a new parlour.
The total cost of the new build came to €150,000 (plus VAT).
The father-and-son team were able to avail of the Targeted Agricultural Modernisation Scheme (TAMS II).
Therefore, this has brought the overall cost of the shed down to approximately €100,000 (plus VAT).
Speaking about the decision to go ahead and build the cubicle shed, John Joe said: “We are happy we went ahead with it. Looking back, we were lucky we started when we did with the way the cost of building materials have increased this year.
“If we were to build it this year, I don’t know if we would have, as you would be looking at adding another 20-30% onto what it is costing us.
“The main thing is the cows are happy in it and its basically a stepping stone for us to put in a new parlour in the future as well.
“Lastly, I’d just like to thank everyone involved in the build, the planner, contractors, neighbors and my brother; it turned out the way we wanted it so, only for all who were involved we wouldn’t have what we have today,” John Joe concluded by saying.