Buildings focus: A simple system made easier with the help of a 5-bay slatted shed

Farming just outside Thurles, in Co. Tipperary, Diarmuid and Eoin Delahunty operate a part-time beef-finishing system.

The duo work full-time off-farm, so a major emphasis was put on setting up an efficient system that would make life easy for the duo.

Up until 2006, the Delahunty family used to operate a dairy farm and, after that, they juggled running a suckler and beef-finishing enterprise.

However, in 2014 the two brothers took over from their father and went down the route of buying in heifers at 12 months-of-age and finishing them – depending on the breed – at 20-26 months-of-age.

In 2018, the duo decided it was time to upgrade their housing facilities. The two reasons behind their decision were so that they could increase their stocking rate and to make life easier for themselves.

Why go down the finishing route?

The main reason Diarmuid and Eoin went down the route of finishing cattle is purely down to time.

Diarmuid lives in Waterford, which is over an hour and a half away from the farm. Therefore, the farm is set up in a way that the duo can feed their cattle in as little time as possible.

Speaking to AgriLand, Diarmuid said: “When we were talking about what we wanted we knew we needed to run a system that didn’t involve us having to be on the farm all day every day.

“The operation we run here requires us to be on the farm for an hour in the morning and the same again in the evening – during the wintertime.

Before we built the new housing facility, the cattle were split between three different sheds. We had two decent sized buildings on the home farm and we were renting another one down the road.

“However, it was a lot of work bringing bales of silage forward and back and it just wasn’t working for both of us.

“Therefore, we made the decision to build beside the existing two-bay slatted shed and have all our cattle in the one yard.”

In total, the farm carries over 80 head of stock on 100ac of mixed-quality grassland.

Water issues

Once the duo were happy where they wanted to erect the shed, they brought in their local contractor – Padraic Kelly – to start digging out the site.

However, they hit a snag after about 2m deep into the site. The ground they were building on was completely waterlogged and required them to get in a pump to remove all the water.

Diarmuid added: “We had only just started and the first problem arose. In saying that, we weren’t surprised we hit water. The land around here is quite heavy – especially the few acres around the farmyard.

“The fact we had to get a water pump in for two months – and the cost of running it – added at least another €5,000 onto the overall cost.”

Layout

The shed was designed by Aidan Kelly – of Agri Design and Planning Services (ADPS). The concrete and the shed was laid down and erected by Laffan Farm Services.

The build began in October 2018 and was completed by the end of March 2019.

The design includes: a five-bay slatted unit; with a crush at the back; and a double-up feeding passageway.

The building is 24m long including the outer feed passageway. The unit stands 6.5m high at the apex and 4.0m to the eve gutters.

The concrete walls of the shed stand 2.4m high. The slatted tank is 27.1m long and 5.0m wide. There are two agitation points at either end of the shed.

The five slatted pens are 4.8m long and 5.0m wide. The outer feeding passageway is 4.5m wide. A roof overhang is incorporated into the design just over the outer feed passageway. The inside feeding passageway is 1.8m wide.

Inside the unit

The entire shed was erected by Laffan Farm Services. The steel for the frame of the shed was sourced from Gleeson Steel & Engineering.

Inside the shed, the feed barriers, gates and water troughs were sourced from Condon Engineering.

The design is simple, yet effective. In turn, a major emphasis was placed on good airflow and safe handling of livestock.

The fact that the inside passageway can be turned into a creep area if the Delahuntys decide to change systems and go down the route of suckler farming is an added bonus.

The crush – which is located in the inside passageway – was the one element of the shed the duo wanted to allow for easy and safe handling of their cattle. This is made easier again due to the fact all the gates are interchangeable.

Incorporated into the crush is a ‘Head Scoop’, which Diarmuid says has been a “great investment”.

He added: “Before this, we tended to use a lot of pour-on doses. However, now that we have the ‘Head Scoop’ we have started to orally dose the cattle and we believe it is a far more effective way of treating animals.”

Originally, the plan was to put gates at the back of the shed instead of feeding barriers. However, after discussing it with Aidan, they changed their minds and they believe it was the right decision.

The passageway at the back is used to feed concentrates mainly and, obviously, the crush.

In terms of ventilation, the shed is fitted with vented sheeting, with plenty of airflow coming through the front of the shed as well.

The roof over-hang is 1.5m below the apex of the shed. The idea of this to limit the amount of rain entering the shed.

Furthermore, there are five clear roof-lights incorporated into the build, with two spotlights at either end of the shed.

Diarmuid said: “The lights we installed – which are 150W each – have been a great asset – especially during these dark evenings when we are feeding the cattle late and it’s pitch black outside.

“We shopped around and I’m glad we did. Originally, we were going to install fluorescent lights. However, after getting a few quotes we ended up saving ourselves €1,500 by going with the ones we have now.”

Mats; yes or no?

The key message to get across is that the Delahuntys finish their cattle off grass, with concentrates supplemented for six weeks prior to slaughter.

This was one of the reasons they chose not to install mats when fitting out the shed.

Diarmuid explained: “We tend to buy cattle in August at 12 months-of-age. Therefore, these cattle are housed in late-October until April and from then on, until about September, they are finished off grass.

Furthermore, they get about six pounds of meal for the last six weeks before being sent to the factory.

“We did enquire and got opinions from other farmers about their experience with mats. However, the only thing we gathered was that cattle were more comfortable on them, but there has been no research done suggesting there is an increase in liveweight gain.

“Therefore, we couldn’t justify installing them and to be quite honest the cattle are very happy on the slats. Thankfully, we have not had any issues with lameness.”

2-bay slatted shed and cubicle house

Up until now, the main housing facility on the farm was a two-bay slatted shed that is adjoined to an old cubicle house.

Just over 12 years ago the slatted unit was erected and, according to Diarmuid, it cost nearly as much as the new shed they built last year.

He said: “The TAMS grant was a great help to us and it brought down the overall cost hugely.”

The old slatted unit can house up to a maximum of 30 cattle. Although there are more cubicles to fit more cattle, there isn’t enough feed space to house any more.

Cost

Despite going over budget on the housing facility, the duo are very happy with how it turned out.

The shed was built with the aid of the Targeted Agricultural Modernisation Scheme (TAMS).

Cost of the shed:

Combined cost of the shed; tank; concrete slats; and labour: €66,000 + VAT (€8,900) = €74,900.

Additional costs:

Digger work: €4,500;

Water pump plus associated diesel costs: €5,000;

Grant-spec stone (SR21 grade): €6,000;

Total: €15,500 + VAT (€2,090).

TAMS II grant: €26,000.

Net cost: €53,410.

(All VAT was reclaimed.)

Commenting on the build, Diarmuid said: “Overall, despite going about €10,000 over budget we are happy with the final product.

“Before this, it took us up to three hours to feed the cattle between our own sheds and the rented one. Now, it takes about an hour or even less.

“Like I said before, this shed was built for the main purpose of being efficient.

“We both love farming and, for us, because we have full-time jobs off-farm, it is more of a hobby. At the same time we have a huge passion for it and, with a bit of luck in three to four years when the shed is paid off, we can look at doing a few other bits around the farm.

“The new shed has taken the hardship out of farming for us. Moreover, the best bit of advice I would give to anyone thinking of building is to shop around and get quotes off as many people as possible, because it worked a treat for us,” Diarmuid concluded.

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