For this week’s Buildings Focus, Agriland made the trip to Co. Meath to speak to dairy farmer Noel Burke about his new 24-unit milking parlour and handling facilities.

Noel re-entered dairy in 2015, having seen his father previously milk cows in between a period when the farm had changed systems to keeping sucklers.

In 2015, he was able to pick up where his father left off and start up the original five-unit double-up milking parlour.

For this he bought 50 heifers and 20 cows, starting him off with a 70-cow herd which he has grown steadily to reach 200 today.

“We started back into dairy in 2015 and we had a good base to start from since my father used to milk cows here at one time,” he said.

The only issue Noel had to contend with as cow numbers grew, was the size of the parlour. More pressure came on the parlour, as well as those inside milking the cows, and as such it came to a stage where plans had to be put in place for a new milking parlour.

Noel Burke

“As cow numbers increased, so did milking time in the parlour and once we got to the 200-cow mark, we were spending seven hours a day milking,” he said.

“This left time for any other jobs to get done minimal and I always knew at some stage I would have to look at putting in a new parlour, it was just a case of when and that time came this year.

“We are just a week into the new parlour but already the difference is huge and once we properly get used to it and the cows do, we won’t know ourselves.”

Parlour and handling facilities layout

The new parlour and handling facilities were built on ground that once had old outhouses on it.

Noel said these small sheds were primarily used for housing calves at springtime and could hold up to 50 head at any one time.

Having conversed Aidan Kelly of Agri Design and Planning Services (ADPS), they came to the decision to build the dairy unit on this land. From there, Aidan did up the design and completed planning for the job.

By having it the dairy unit at this location, the bulk tank and meal bin used in the old parlour didn’t have to be moved and it tied in well with the existing buildings in the yard, namely the cubicle shed.

Also, cows would be coming from the same direction as they would have been into the old parlour.

Design source: ADPS

The 24-unit parlour

When deciding on what make of parlour to go with, Noel had only one on his mind: a 24-unit DeLaval swingover parlour.

Having seen other parlours in action and after doing his own research, he felt a 24-unit parlour was the ideal size for him and his farm.

Then, it was a question of what brand to go with. Having a reliable and close by back-up service was a priority, and so he went with local DeLaval dealer Peter Brennan of Alfatech, who installed the parlour for him.

In terms of spec, Noel went automatic cluster removes and an auto-wash system, with the parlour coming with a variable speed and vacuum pump also.

After that he felt any other features he could have added to the parlour, in the grand scheme of things, wouldn’t be used as frequently as he would like but if in time, if he wants to add any extras he can do so.

Speaking about his first week in the new parlour, Noel said: “It’s early days, but already cows have taken to it very well.

“The first day we brought them in, we had plenty of bodies to help us and although it took a while, which was to be expected, once cows knew they were getting a bit of meal, they soon got used to going in and out.

“There during the week, all the cows, bar five, came in by themselves, which after a week is nothing.

“The big win for us has been the saving in milking time already. We are milking 200 cows in just over an hour.

“In the old five-unit double-up parlour it was taking three and a half hours. Even at peak next year in the new parlour, I’d be thinking we’d be able to milk 200 cows in just over an hour and a half.

“So, the saving in time we’ll be making will be huge and free up time to get too other jobs that need attending to.

“It’s also a far more inviting and spacious environment for both the cows to come into and also for myself or whoever is milking, even the clusters are a lot lighter and less tasking on the shoulders,” he added.

“I also put in mats as well to save on the feet.

“We have had two so far milking in the new parlour but I’d say once we get into the swing of it, one person will be fit to milk away themselves and have the run of the place.”

Other features in the parlour include air-powered auto entry and exit gates at either end of the parlour. Noel also went with a batch feeding system, with a straight trough that comes with an anti-jump rail.

Speaking about going with a straight trough rather than individual feeders, Noel said: “I didn’t see a need for individual feeders to be honest or to be giving certain cows extra feed.

“In fact, I find with the straight trough that the cows are nearly more content, they can turn their head around and having that bit more freedom seems to keep them happy while their in milking, compared to individual feeding systems.”

Zig-zag rump rails were also installed to angle cows nicely for cluster attachment in the pit.

A drain was incorporated on either row and at the front of the parlour for quick and easy washdown of the parlour. There are two hoses in the pit to wash down the parlour, along with one on the other side of the wall to wash down the handling facilities.

The handling facilities

Once cows exit the parlour, they have ample room to turn and head down one of three exit points, either back into the shed this time of year or out to grass during the grazing season.

For the majority of the year, cows will walk down through the exit race, which is fitted with a drafting system. The entire length of the exit race is slatted.

If, for example, Noel was scanning cows or cows were due for artificial insemination, they could be drafted right down into the herringbone crush or into the large drafting pen.

If a herd test was being carried out, cows could be drafted left, down a third route, bringing them down to a crush.

Speaking about the handling facilities, Noel said: “I haven’t had much use of it yet, but once I do, it should give me great comfort when I need to draft cows and take the hardship out of the job without needing to leave the pit when milking.”

A safety and ease of access feature seen in a many new builds is the incorporation of a slip through point (below) between the different sections of the handling area.

Collecting yard

A sizeable collecting yard, which can hold 250 cows, was also built. At the back of the yard is a slatted tank too.

The rest of the area is a concrete surface sloped down from the where cows enter the parlour to the tank. This is for ease of cleaning the yard.

Walls were stood either side of the collecting yard, with gates then at the end where cows enter through to the collecting yard, for milking either from the shed or from the grazing platform.


Noel was eligible for a grant under the Targeted Agricultural Modernisation Scheme (TAMS II).

Taking the value of the grant into account and also VAT reclaimed, the cost of the new dairy unit is standing to Noel at €346,000.

The concrete work for the build was completed by Tom Conaty, with the shed sourced and stood by Sean Brady Construction and Engineering. The entire handling area was sourced from Condon Engineering and erected by Matty Briorton

Speaking about going ahead with the new dairy unit, Noel said: “I’m very happy with it I must say.

“We are only in a week, but it’s already the difference in unbelievable. We had plenty of bodies here to help us on the first day to get cows through the parlour and it took time that day.

“But already, only a week later, out of 200 cows, I had to leave the pit for only five cows to get them into the parlour.

“They have taken to it very well and once they knew they were getting their bit of meal they were happy to come in.

“For myself in the pit, having 200 cows milked in just over an hour is compared to how long it took us before is just like night and day.

“And like I said, once we get fully accustomed to it, I feel as if one person in the pit would be more than enough, meaning more free time for other jobs to attend to outside of the parlour.”