Buildings Focus: Milking 80 cows through a brand new 20-unit parlour in Co. Tipperary

In this week’s Buildings Focus, AgriLand spoke to Daniel Fennelly from Ballingarry, in Co. Tipperary, who has recently converted over to dairy farming.

Farming alongside his father, John, the duo milk a herd of 80 British Friesian cross Holstein cows – through a 20-unit herringbone milking parlour.

Up until two years ago, the father-and-son team operated a mixed enterprise of suckler cows and sheep.

However, the decision was taken in 2018 to convert over to dairy. As of now, only 60 of the original 140 suckler cows remain on the farm, while all the sheep have been sold.

Speaking to AgriLand about the move to dairy farming, Daniel said: “There is a large block of land around the yard, so it was ideally set up to milk cows. There were some roadways in place already, so it was a smooth enough transition in that sense.

My grandfather used to milk cows years ago and it was always in my mind to go back doing that. When my father took over the farm, he built up a herd of suckler cows and a flock of ewes.

“However, like I said, the farm was set up to milk cows and it was a career I wanted to pursue, so it made sense to go and do it.”

Site and layout

The new milking parlour, collecting yard and drafting area are located in the centre of the farmyard – either side of the housing facilities.

The site where the new milking unit was built was an old piece of waste ground that was generally used to store bales in the past.

The site was slightly sloped, which meant a great deal of excavation work had to be carried out, especially at the back of the build – where the collecting yard is. A roadway had to be dug out from where the collecting yard is down around the old sheds that leads out to the milking platform.

Aside from that, the rest of the build was straightforward enough, according to Daniel. Work began on the site last July and it was finished in December 2019.

The excavation work was carried out by Eugene Burke, while the concrete work – including the tanks and precast walls – was carried out by Denis Doheny Construction.

The building itself was sourced and erected by Gleeson Steel & Engineering. 

The building itself, which includes the milking parlour; drafting area; office; and bulk tank room is 28.7m long and 12.75m wide. The unit stands 6.2m high at the apex and 4.4m high to the eve gutters. The concrete walls of the shed stand 2.4m high.

The 20-unit milking parlour is 19.5m long and 5.85m wide. When the cows leave the milking parlour they walk through the exit race that will either divert them down the roadway to the paddock or into the drafting area.

The handling area – beside the parlour – is split up into: a crush; an exit race; three pens; and a footbath. Slats are incorporated along the entire length of the exit race, while the rest of the area consists of a solid concrete floor surface.

An office and the 12,000L bulk tank are located at the front of the build, while a large collecting yard – that is split into three sections – is located at the back of the build where the roadway is that leads out to the milking platform.

The project was carried out with the aid of the Targeted Agricultural Modernisation Scheme (TAMS).

20-unit milking parlour

Daniel – who supplies milk to Glanbia – opted to install a 20-unit DeLaval swing-over milking parlour. The main features of the parlour include automatic cluster removers (ACRs) and an auto-wash system.

The milking machine was installed by Nigel Hanrahan of Remen Agri & General Supplies.

He opted against installing automatic entry and exit gates and individual feed-to-yield feeders – as he just wanted to keep the parlour simple.

Instead, cows enter and exit the parlour through manual gates that Daniel can operate from the pit.

Currently, it takes Daniel about an hour and a half to bring in the cows, milk them, and tidy up the parlour afterwards.

He added: “I wanted a simple parlour from the beginning. The ACR’s and auto-wash system are a great job; it makes the whole milking process much quicker to do.

“To keep the system simple and not complicate the job, I opted against going with feed-to-yield feeders. At the moment, the cows are getting 4kg of concentrates and they’re doing well [production wise]. It’s probably even too much to be giving them, as they are going into fairly heavy covers of grass.

“I sourced the batch feeders and the 12t meal bin from Crowley Engineering. It’s a simple setup that suits me perfectly.

The pit is quite wide and deep, which was something I wanted from day one. I’m fairly tall, so I didn’t want to have to be bending down – constantly – putting on the clusters.

“If you were to do that [bending your back every day] for the next 30 or 40 years, you wouldn’t be in great shape.

“I’m thinking about putting in mats in the pit as well. At the moment, the actual milking process takes less than an hour, so standing on the concrete for that length of time isn’t too bad, but if I expand cow numbers and it ends up taking me an hour and a half or longer to milk, I’ll have to think about putting in mats.”

Drafting area

Daniel has spent a great deal of time in the drafting area, ever since the breeding season kicked off four weeks ago.

The gates and barriers for the drafting area were sourced from Gleeson Steel & Engineering. The entire area was erected by Denis Doheny Construction.

He explained: “It has been a busy couple of weeks. All the cows were AI’d in the last four weeks or so. I was kept on my toes trying to keep an eye on the cows and record any heats that I saw.

The drafting area has been a huge help. If I see a cow in heat – in the parlour – I can separate her from the rest of the cows without having to leave the pit – which really saves time.

“Once the cows that I want are in there it takes no length of time to run them up the crush – to allow the AI man to do his job – and let them straight back out to the field with the rest of the herd.

“It has got great use [the drafting area] over the last few weeks on account of the breeding season and also the fact that I have been running the cows through the footbath regularly. I have one or two cows a bit lame, so I’m trying to get on top of it and keep it to a minimum.

“My handling facility is a bit different from what you would see on most farms. The front of the crush – where the headlock is – is sloped at an angle from the main shute.

“The idea behind this is solely down to the fact that you can handle a cow from either side of the crush, as opposed to one side, which is the way most crushes are designed.”

Collecting yard

The majority of the excavation work took place at the back of the build where the collecting yard and roadway are.

The yard at the back of the build is split up into three sections. One part is the collecting area, which can be further split into two areas. The collecting yard is divided up into a solid concrete floor surface and also a slatted area.

While the other section is where the cows exit the parlour, through the exit race and back out onto the main roadway – which leads to the milking platform. There is also a small pen beside the exit race.

At the moment, all 80 cows can fit into the front section of the collecting yard, which consists solely of a concrete floor surface. In time, if Daniel decides to expand cow numbers, he has the option to hold more cows by just taking down the temporary gates that separate the two sections.

He added: “For the number of cows that I have I didn’t need to build such a big collecting yard, but I hope to expand in the future, so it’s handy just to have space there.

I have temporary gates separating the front and back yard, which helps to keep the cows up close to the parlour and, sort of, encourage them to head into the parlour.

“If I was to give them the whole run of the yard, I’d have to be getting out of the pit constantly to get them to go into the parlour.

“The hardest part of the job was training the heifers into the parlour. There were days when you would be saying to yourself will they ever learn, but, thankfully, it worked out well in the end.”

Final word

The last year or so has been a very busy time for Daniel; however, he is happy that he took the leap and went down the route of milking.

He added: “It has been a massive learning curve for me over the past few months. I still have a lot to learn, especially on the grassland management side of things.

“I hope to move up to about 100-120 cows in the near future, which I feel is a number I would be comfortable at.

At the moment, the plan is to keep reducing the suckler herd and keep adding to the milking herd. I hope to buy a couple of in-calf heifers at the end of this year.

“There are still a few bits and pieces to do before it’s the finished article but, so far, I am happy with how everything has turned out. I felt this was the best route for this farm going forward and, so far, I feel my decision was the right one.”