Outside Newcastle West in Co. Limerick, are father and son duo Nelius and Ross McEnery who have recently installed an underpass to connect their two main grazing blocks.
Ross, alongside his wife Laura and two kids, Kilian and Carragh and his father Nelius milk 100 cows through a 10-unit parlour, which is soon going to be decommissioned and replaced with a new 20-unit parlour.
Like other dairy farmers across the country, the McEnerys, up until last month, have had to walk their cows across a public road, which splits their grazing platform into two blocks.
As well as milking 100 cows, the McEnerys keep their own bull calves as well as buying in some and then sell them all on as forward stores, as well as running a sizeable poultry operation.
This year, about a month ago to be exact, Ross and his father decided enough was enough and opted to put in an underpass, to connect up their two blocks of land.
It’s only been a month, but from speaking to Ross during the week, it’s as if the underpass has always been there, with the new tunnel relieving them of many headaches and worries.
The struggles before having the underpass
Before the underpass was put in, Ross’s will to carry on walking cows across the road was getting thinner. It had come to a stage where it was getting too dangerous to continue that way.
He explained: “Before we put it in, it was just an endless amount of headaches.
“First and foremost, the biggest headache was having to walk cows across the road over to the parlour.
“Today, here as we speak, the road has been unusually quiet, but in general it’s a very busy road and every morning you would have a line of cars waiting for me to get the cows across and to open up the wire again to let them pass through.
“In my head, and probably in every farmer’s head that has to walk cattle on a road, is [the concern what] if a cow ever tipped off a car or something like that. It was just a constant worry.
“As well as that, it also restricted me in ways to get away from the farm for a day. For example, if I was to bring in a relief milker to milk the cows for me, I’d have to keep the cows over on the grazing block where the parlour is.
“I wouldn’t be able to relax, even if you had the best, most reliable person looking after the cows for you; I couldn’t relax knowing they would have to walk the cows across that road in fear anything would happen.
“Another reason for putting it in was because every morning I would have to get my father out of the house just for the single purpose of helping me to walk the cows across the road.
“As well as that, I have young kids and safety is of utmost importance, so as well as myself, I didn’t want to be putting my father or kids or anyone working on the farm at risk.
“It benefits other people too. No more will I be holding up my neighbours or people passing the road to work in the morning/evening again.”
‘No disadvantages to an underpass’
The first thing Ross said was that he couldn’t find any disadvantages to having an underpass. It was all positives.
He said: “I honestly can’t find any disadvantages to having the tunnel. It has first and foremost eliminated any health and safety risks with regards to moving cows across a busy road.
“Knowing I will never have to put up string across a road and hold up people and hope that nothing bad happens is such a weight off my shoulders.
“Most importantly, I will never have to ask my father or kids when they get older to stand out on that road for me while I bring the cows in.
“I can go out now and drive the quad through the underpass and go get the cows no bother and not be holding up anyone again.
“Other than the safety element, it also offers opportunities to possibly move up in cow numbers, now that I have the comfort of the tunnel.
“One opportunity it offers me, that we haven’t tried out yet, but will be trying is pumping slurry with an umbilical cord through the underpass over to this block of land.
“Again, there won’t be a need for a slurry tanker to be going back and forth from the yard across to the other grazing block.
“There are so many advantages to it and regardless of cost, it’s definitely worth it because it just relieves you of so many headaches.
“The cows took to it straight away. I remember the first day they went through it, we were milk recording and I decided to hold them in the collecting yard until all the cows had gone through.
“My father said when we were nearly finished, ‘will I let them off’ and I said go on. About 20 minutes later, when I had the milk machine washing , I walked over and all the cows had gone through; not a bother. “
The construction of the underpass took less than four full days to complete. Work began on a Monday morning and finished a few days later on the Thursday.
Ross had to apply for a road closure licence from the county council which was approved and lasted for five days. The day before the digging began, Ross went around and told all the neighbours that the road would be closed for a few days.
The road was closed at 11:00am on Monday morning and it was back open again on Thursday afternoon by 3:00pm.
The underpass was designed, excavated and installed by Croom Concrete. Joe Costello of Croom concrete said that the project ran very smoothly.
The underpass is 10m long, 3m wide and 2.1m deep. Water and any faeces from the cows is collected into a tank on one side of the tunnel leading up to the main yard.
The entrance – at either side of the tunnel – is sloped with a stone surface. Ross thought about putting down a concrete surface and even stepping it.
However, after seeing how the surface that is down already is faring out, he feels it’s very adequate, as cows won’t be travelling on it every day.
Speaking about the project and the construction process, Joe Costello of Croom Concrete added: “Before even the road was closed and construction began, we did a great deal of investigation work and had everything in place ready on Monday to get started and get cracking on with the job on Tuesday.
“For every project we do, we want to get the road closed on the first day and then get all our units in the second day.
“We want to get the road opened as quickly as we can again and thankfully we were able to do that here.
“A straight underpass like this is generally straightforward. Once the site is dug out and ready, a crane is there to place the precast tunnel into place and then straight afterwards, backfilling can begin.
“There’s no pouring of concrete on site or anything like that. Everything comes precast so it enables us to get the job done quicky and efficiently.”
The cost of the entire project came to just under €49,000 including VAT. The cost of applying for the road closure from the country council cost a little over €2,300.
The work Croom Concrete did which involved digging out the site, putting in the tunnel and restoring the road to what it was beforehand, came to €45,000 including VAT.
A friend of Ross’s came in with a digger and laid the sloped surface roadway either side of the tunnel and road leading up into the main yard – which came to €1,500.
The installation of the underpass isn’t the last construction that will be taking place on the McEnerys farm.
Work has already begun on building a new 20-unit milking parlour, drafting area, collecting yard and calving pens.
The tanks have already been put down, with work on the milking parlour hopefully going to crack on in the coming months.
Speaking about the decision to go ahead and put in the underpass, as well as plans for the rest of the farm, Ross said: “Look, it’s probably the best bit of money I’ve spent on the farm to date.
“It’s only in a month but it feels like it’s been there years. It’s really invaluable to us now. It now has given us options to further expand the herd and most importantly access that block of ground safely and with ease.
“Hopefully now, we can kick on with the rest of the building work we plan to do this year such as the new parlour,” Ross concluded.