Buildings focus: A slatted unit, pens, crush and dungstead in Co. Tipperary

Farming just outside Cashel, Co. Tipperary, Anthony and Paul O’Connor – a father-and-son team – operate a suckler-to-beef enterprise.

A herd of 35 Aberdeen Angus suckler cows are the backbone of the operation. In the future, Paul – who works full time as a mechanic for Templetuohy Farm Machinery – may explore the possibility of rearing and finishing calves from the dairy herd.

With this in mind, a four-bay slatted shed was constructed during 2017 and was ready for use in October of last year. The project incorporated a new pen and crush area, while a dungstead was positioned at the rear of the unit.

The project was constructed under the Targeted Agricultural Modernisation Scheme (TAMS II) and Paul received the 60% young farmers’ grant.

Paul said: “I saw the availability of the TAMS grant as an ideal opportunity to take on the project. The cattle handling facilities on the farm also needed to be upgraded.

“I needed a new crush, holding yard and dungstead. And, I needed a larger shed, so I decided to build them all together.

“The finished project is basically a one-man operation. The majority of the time the two of us are here; but if we ever needed to do anything on our own it was a disaster.

“The old yard was in the wrong place and the facilities we had just didn’t work; it was a 10-man job to do anything with the cattle,” he joked.

Planning and preparing the site

As Paul is a freelance mechanic, he spends a lot of time on different farms and different enterprises. It was by talking to various farmers and looking at completed builds that he got his ideas from.

From there, Paul – with the help of Aidan Kelly from Agri Design and Planning Services (ADPS) – designed the shed and the planning permission was submitted.

“From the time I submitted the planning to the time I got approved for the grant, it was approximately a year. Then, I started to build in January 2017 and I had the shed ready for animals in October.”

Paul opted to develop a new site for the unit to the corner of the yard. However, to do so, the site had to be brought up 7ft to coincide with the level of the existing yard.

This was done with gravel that was dug out for the slatted tank. On this, he said: “I was lucky that the gravel we dug up consisted mainly of limestone gravel. It saved a lot of time and money.”

For the O’Connors, this gravel – along with additional fill from an on-farm gravel pit – was a major saving on cost.

The layout

The four-bay shed is 7.0m high at the apex. It is 19.2m long and 12.2m wide. The concrete walls of the shed stand at 2.4m. The shed is 4.3m high to the eve gutters at the front of the unit and 3.6m high at the rear.Large sliding doors are also located at either end of the unit. Four lay-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 6.4m long and 4.8m wide.

The four slatted pens are 4.8m long and 6.4m wide; however, the tank is spread over five spans. It is 27.1m long, 4.7m wide and 2.4m deep. Two agitation points are located at either end of the tank.

“I wanted an extra span on the tank. I was always tight for slurry storage because I only have a small tank in the other shed. I was lucky given the year that came and I have loads of comfort now,” Paul explained.

A concrete slab (apron) accommodates feeding along the face of the shed, while a slab measuring 4.6m was poured at the side of the unit.

The dungstead, which is located at the rear of the shed, is 7.5m wide and 7.4m long. It’s surrounded by 2.4m high and 10in wide walls.

The floor of the dungstead is sloped to a drain, where the effluent is piped into the slatted tank. When the area is clear, the pipe can be ‘blanked’ and the rain water can be diverted away.

Inside the shed

Inside the unit, the pillars can be lifted to facilitate cleaning out. Gates are located on the inside of the sliding doors to protect the door. These gates also allow the doors to be opened to improve ventilation.

“Everything in the shed can be taken down. It would be very easy to remove the penning and feed barriers and the shed could be used for machinery; tractor slats are located throughout the unit,” he explained.

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

“I’m going to put something along the lines of a railway sleeper at the division of the slats and lie-back area. However, it won’t be a permanent job. I’ll be able to move them if I have to; it’s just to keep the straw back off the slats,” Paul added.

Eight skylights – equipped with safety bars – provide natural light, while one LED light can be used at night time; X-braces give support to the shed.

A 3.3m door – through to the pen and crush area – allows cattle to be turned out from the shed. This, Paul says, works very well.

The crush and penning area

Paul’s job with Templetuohy Farm Machinery involves unpredictable hours and the Tipperary-based farmer often has to work with the cattle in the evening or night-time. The upgraded facilities make life a lot easier for Paul.

He said: “I don’t know myself since we finished it. It has made both our lives a lot easier; it has also made handling the cattle a lot safer.

“During the winter months especially, most of the work is done in the dark; having the facilities and the lights to be able to work with ease is great.”

The roof of the shed is extended over the crush, which provides Paul with shelter when working with his stock. Lights are also located here, which allows Paul to work away easily in the dark.

Safety rails were also installed to provide a barrier when the farmer is working on the cattle in the crush and when his back is turned on the stock in the pen.

The front of the crush was extended. Initially, Paul had planned to stop the crush at the end of the shed. However, allowing it to run on allows an animal to be accessed from both sides if needs be.

Paul can also get in behind an animal safely when scanning or using AI. On this, he noted: “I now have five separate pens that allows me to separate animals with ease.

“I enjoy bringing in the animals now that the facilities are in place and I can fit seven or eight cows comfortably in the crush,” he added.

The cost

The overall cost of the entire job was €95,000 (excluding VAT) and Paul received a €49,000 grant. This left the total cost to the farmer at €46,000.

Commenting on the build, Paul said: “I probably built everything a little bit bigger than what I needed for the moment; but looking down the line, I didn’t want to have to make adjustments to this unit.

“If I was to give any advice to farmers thinking about building a new shed, I would have to say shop around; don’t just go for the cheapest man out there. Spending an extra few pound in the long run is definitely worth it.”

Paul is extremely happy with the end product and when asked whether he would do anything different if he was to start over, he stated: “It’s a case of so far so good.

“I’m just finished my first winter in it and there’s nothing I would change. Down the line – depending on what system I go with on the dairy-beef side of things – I might install rubber mats on the slats.

“I’m finished building for the near future anyway. That’s not to say I won’t build again; we will see what happens,” he concluded.