Buildings Focus: A cheap and tidy 3-bay slatted unit for 20 cows in Co. Galway

In this week’s Buildings Focus, AgriLand caught up with Michael Boyle from Milltown, in Co. Galway, who runs a suckler-to-beef enterprise.

Michael, who works full-time off-farm, installed a three-bay slatted unit for his suckler cows back in 2017.

The farm has gradually been expanding over the last few years. A machinery shed was erected on the farm back in 2015. Then, in 2017, a new slatted house was built beside it.

The plan is to convert the machinery shed into a calving area and build a new machinery shed at the back of the slatted house that was erected three years ago.

Speaking to AgriLand about the slatted house and his plans for the future, Michael said: “You need a lot of housing to keep a couple of generations of cattle.

The new slatted house allows me to house my 18-20 cows with comfort, as before, I would be struggling to house all my cattle.

“The plan is to turn my machinery shed that was built in 2015 into a calving area. It’s right beside the slatted house, so it makes sense to do it.

“I would normally have to walk the cows – when they were due to calve – across the road to the other side of the farm, so to make life easy I’ve decided to just convert the machinery shed and build a new one out the back of the slatted house.”

Layout

Michael dug out the site and kitted the entire shed himself, including the feed barriers, gates, door, water troughs and the electrical work.

Damien Ryan Contracts carried out the rest of the work, which included: putting in the tanks; concrete work; and erecting the frame of the shed.

Construction began back in May of 2017 and it was completed not long after in July of that year.

The steelwork was provided by Langan Steel in Ballinrobe, Co. Mayo. The water troughs were sourced from JFC.

The design includes a three-bay slatted unit, with feeding space at the front and creep gates installed in each pen. There is also a small access door at one end of the shed. A canopy is also incorporated into the design, which protrudes out over the feeding passageway.

The three-bay shed is 4.7m high at the apex and 3.7m high to the eve gutters. It is 14.4m long and 5.4m wide. The concrete walls of the shed stand at 2.4m.

The slatted pens are 4.8m long and 5.4m wide. However, the tank is 14.8m long and 5.4m wide and 2.4m deep. There is one agitation point located at one end of the tank.

The canopy that protrudes out over the feed face is 2.4m wide.

Inside the unit

Looking at the shed now you would only think it was built recently. After each winter it is washed thoroughly, according to Michael.

The design of the shed is simple but effective. The three pens can comfortably fit six cows in each one.

The entire inside of the shed including the feeding barriers, gates, lights and camera were installed by Michael.

A major reason that Michael opted against applying for a grant was that he wanted to be able to make a couple of alterations to different aspects of the shed – that wouldn’t have got grant approval.

He explained: “Like I said, I kitted out the entire inside of the shed. I bought the steel and from there I put my own ideas of what I wanted into action.

“For example, I reinforced the barriers that the gates lock into by extending the steel down into the tank itself.

I have seen in other sheds, that the barriers that hold up the gates aren’t that strong and if a cow hit against them or fell back on them, she wouldn’t be long knocking them out of place.

“Same with the water troughs; I incorporated a steel frame around them so that cows wouldn’t be able to knock or ‘puck’ them. In most sheds, the troughs – especially the plastic ones – are generally just hung onto the steel frame and have no protection around them.”

Michael added: “Even all the latches on the gates are homemade. I have them made in a way where you can drop a pin into them like you would on a bale handler. This is to ensure that the cows won’t be able to pull back the latch on the gates.

“I made everything myself [gates and barriers] so that it will last a lifetime. If I was to go down the route of the grant and the specifications I’d have to meet, I could see myself having to do a lot of maintenance and repair work in the shed over the coming years.

“If you notice, everything is bolted. I don’t believe in welding barriers on to steel frames or anything like it. Bolting the gates and barriers into the walls and steel frames is the way it should be done, in my opinion.”

Looking at the rest of the shed, vented sheeting was erected, to increase airflow in and out of the unit.

Three lights – one in each bay – were also installed, as well as a camera, which Michael says “is a great job” not only for when cows are calving but just to be able to keep an eye on them when he is working off-farm.

Commenting on the creep gates he installed, Michael added: “I think they are a must-have if you have cows. I generally don’t have the cows separated. I usually have the three gates open and let them have the run of the shed.

“However, when they are close to calving I can divide them up and free up a pen for the calves to have for themselves if I wanted to – which is very handy to be able to do.”

Cost

Michael opted not to apply for a grant saying that the whole process of applying for it would have delayed him and that it was just as cheap to build it without it.

He explained: “I didn’t apply for the grant. It would only have held me up and by not going for a grant I was able to add a few elements to the design, which I wouldn’t have been able to do if I had gone down the route applying for a grant.

The entire cost of the build was €30,000. The big thing that helped keep the cost of it down was that I was able to do a fair amount of the work myself, such as the digging of the site and the entire inside of the shed.

“Even though I didn’t go for the grant, it’s as near a grant-spec shed as you’ll find anywhere. I added a few extras that I feel will make the shed more durable. I dipped everything, so it should do me a lifetime.

“It took no length of time to build. I started work on it around this time of the year [May] and then Damien came in and did his part of the build. I’d say we had it all done in the space of three months.

“Once I build the new machinery shed out the back and turn the existing one into a calving area, it will make my life a lot easier, especially at calving time, as it will only be a short walk from the slatted house to the calving area.”

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