Farm Ireland
Independent.ie

Saturday 10 December 2016

Building blocks - budgeting and design are crucial in farm building

Proper budgeting and design should be the foundation of farm building projects write engineers Simon Hennessy and John O'Callaghan

Published 10/02/2016 | 02:30

A comfortable parlour for the cows is a comfortable parlour for the operator.
A comfortable parlour for the cows is a comfortable parlour for the operator.

How much does it really cost to create an additional cow place on either a greenfield site or on an expanding farm? Are roofless sheds really worth it? Can robots really make sense?

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These are all questions that are to the fore of farmers in dairying, and those considering the switch. Unfortunately, too many sheds and facilities are erected on farms without a lot of thought, despite the huge capital investment and effect it will have on the ability of the farm to expand further in the future.

But before you start to design a layout that will allow you to expand further in the future, a clear idea of the budget required to finance the project needs to be established.

Let's start with the milking parlour. When describing what's required from a parlour, a client of ours put it best: "I just want it comfortable enough that I don't mind spending my morning and evening in it, but I don't want to spend all day in it."

A comfortable parlour for the cows is a comfortable parlour for the operator. To achieve this, it needs to be an inviting and stress-free environment for the cow. This can be achieved if it is a bright and airy space, with no steps or sharp turns at entry or exit. Equally, it should be sheltered so that it isn't cold, draughty and uncomfortable for either the operator or cows.

This doesn't mean that it has to be a fancy set-up. A basic spec milking plant in a well-designed milking parlour can be cheaper to build and maintain and easier to operate than a high spec milking plant in a poorly designed milking parlour.

Quite often, we have seen farmyards where large investment has been made on a high spec plant at the expense of cow flow. Cow-flow through at the entry and exit to the parlour must be smooth in order for it to be easily operated and for cows to be relaxed. The milker should not have to leave the pit to get either cows to flow into the parlour, or draft them as they are leaving.

Sometimes the budget would be better spent achieving efficient cow flow by building a well-designed collecting yard and drafting/exit area and spending less on the plant. The space that these ancillary facilities require often makes an existing parlour redundant due to site restrictions. Most machines can always be upgraded later with swing over arms, automatic cluster removers (ACR's), or milk meters if higher specification is still required.

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The table outlines costs for typical milking parlours. The lower end of the herringbone parlour includes a very basic milking parlour with no dump line, ACR's, or swing-over arms.

The high end of the scale includes a fully automated milking parlour including dump line, ACR's, milk meters, sequential bailing, and swing-over arms. A similar range of specifications apply to rotary parlour costs.

The robotic milking unit prices do not include the shed. Buildings to house robots can cost anything from as little as €8,000 if converting an existing building that houses an old milking parlour, up to €50,000 if a complete new-build is required.

Simon Hennessy and John O'Callaghan work as farmyard design engineers with www.grasstecgroup.com

Case study

Costs for 100-cow unit

Let's look at a cost comparison between a roofless, concrete cubicle pad and a roofed cubicle shed for 100 cows in Cork. The slurry storage requirement for 100 cows works out at 116,000 gallons while the soiled water storage requirements are even higher at 130,000 gallons.

The latter is based on an average winter weekly rainfall of 37mm, which would need to be accommodated over a 16 week period.

A 1,460m3/321,000 gallon slurry lagoon is required in a roofless scenario.

An overall construction cost of €32,650 should be allowed for the lagoon.

This equates to €327 per cow for slurry accommodation.

In a roofed shed scenario, a 528m3/116,150 gallon slurry tank is required.

An overall construction cost of €55,000 should be allowed for the slatted tank. This equates to €550 per cow for slurry accommodation for an indoor slatted tank scenario.

If the farmer opted instead to go with a slurry tower that would accommodate the slurry for 100 cows housed indoors (without the need for a slatted tank) a capacity of 632m3/139,000 gallons would be required.

This would cost about €35,750. This equates to €358 per cow.

Building costs are set to rise

Farmyard building work in recent years was completed at good value due to a relatively low demand.

But the very competitive prices being quoted for agricultural projects may not last for a number of reasons.

Price inflation is likely to set in as larger numbers of farmers start to proceed with work approved under the TAMS II scheme. Outside of agriculture, the construction sector is beginning to find its feet again.

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