Farming in Tubbervilla, Co. Wicklow, Gordon and Thomas Hudson – a father-and-son team – milk a herd of 120 cows under a spring and autumn-calving system.
Like the majority of farmers across the country that operate a grass-based system, the Hudsons had to supplement both silage and meal during the drought in order to maintain production.
Despite this, Gordon and Thomas welcomed the favourable weather conditions during the back-end of this year and cows were only housed – full-time – two weeks ago.
However, this year’s winter accommodation is different. Located beside the milking parlour stands a new 104-cubicle shed, which was constructed earlier this year and will be home to the herd over the winter period.
Both Gordon and Thomas acknowledged that new winter facilities were needed – the old accommodation was not suitable. The shed contained smaller cubicles and the floor had become problematic.
“The main reason was to cut down on labour. In the old shed, there was lots of manual scraping and it was taking too long. The floors were starting to show their age and the cows’ feet were getting sore,” Thomas explained.
Therefore, with easy management and cow comfort in mind, the Hudsons – with the help of Aidan Kelly from ADPS – developed the new site and cubicle house.
The site and the design
A location was decided upon close to the milking parlour which involved digging into a bank. Once this was completed, two 30.4m tanks were dug out. However, the contractor did not hit rock during the ground works.
These tanks stand side-by-side and are equipped with 14.6ft slats; they are located at one end of the shed. In addition, four agitation points are located externally.
The entire structure stands at 38.4m long and 18.1m wide. The building measures 4.0m to the eve gutters and 7.6m to the apex.
At either side of the unit, there is a 2.4m overhang which provides shelter along the feed-face. A concrete apron located around the structure provides a tidy finish.
Internally, the 104 cubicles are separated by a passageway. This – along with the passageways along the feed barriers – are kept clean with automatic scrapers.
Feed can be fed along three sides of the unit. This is especially useful as the Hudsons operate a spring and autumn-calving system. Thomas noted that it can come in very handy when it comes to buffer feeding the cows.
The shed was also designed so it could be split up easily and the three-sided feeding arrangement facilitates this.
The two internal passageways – located on the inside of the feed barriers – measure 3.6m wide and the middle passage stands at 2.4m in width. The shed can be accessed through three gates located next to the parlour.
The original plan was to leave the shed ‘open’ along the sides. However, during the build, Gordon and Thomas decided to install the sheeting to meet the feed barrier on the south-facing side, as Gordon noted that strong winds come from this direction.
However, the other side of the unit was left open as this is protected by the bank.
“To leave it completely open was a non-runner. But saying that, there is plenty of ventilation in the side; it won’t be stuffy,” Gordon explained.
A 450mm gap was left between the 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 between the top of the canopy and the apex.
A concrete ‘lip’ behind the feeding barrier allows the cows to feed easily. It also prevents the build up of dung between the wall and the scraper. Rubber mats are installed on the cubicles and they are limed every morning which takes approximately 20 minutes.
The shed contains four water troughs – two at each end. The water troughs are easily cleaned and can be emptied by simply releasing the pin and tipping the ‘bucket-like’ trough over.
On this, Thomas said: “One of the handiest things we did – when we were installing the water troughs – was ‘feed’ the water pipe through the cubicle bar down to the troughs at the other end; this saved us having to put it up at a height and it’s a tidy job.”
In addition, to increase cow comfort, a DeLaval swinging cow brush (SCB) was also installed and Gordon noted that the cows were slowly getting used to it.
Skylights (four/bay) are located on the side panels and eight artificial lights are located throughout the structure. Also, a number of head-locking feed spaces were installed in the unit, which the Hudsons can use for a variety of tasks.
An eye on the future
Preparing the site began in early May and the shed was completely finished six weeks ago; it was constructed without grant aid.
“We haven’t been rushing things; we started early so we wouldn’t be in a last minute panic to get it finished,” Thomas explained.
Thomas is currently studying at Gurteen College and has plans to upgrade the facilities on the farm further in the future. This involves a new collecting yard and an upgraded milking parlour.
In 2017, the existing milking parlour was doubled up so 12 cows can be milked at one time.
Commenting on the build, Gordon said: “It’s a case of so far so good. We’re only in it 10 days [at the time of the visit] so time will tell, but I’m not expecting any problems.”
Thomas intends to hold onto his winter milk contract, highlighting that this splits the calving and that it is handy for cashflow over the winter period.