Joe and Denis Lucey run a 300-cow herd in Ovens, Co. Cork. Joe has just recently installed an underpass on his farm and says this will allow an extra two hours a day for his cows at grass.
Two thirds of Joe’s milking block is directly across the road from the milking parlour and up until now, his cows crossed the road twice daily, with just two strands of baler twine keeping them in line.
While the Lucey’s cows were out to grass on February 21, Storm Emma saw the dairy herd return indoors where they have remained since.
The furthest paddock across the road is a 1.8km walk for the cows. Joe says he zero-grazes this paddock whenever possible rather getting the cows to walk that distance. “It doesn’t pay me to walk them that far, they’re burning too much milk”.
With two thirds of the farm the other side of the road, Joe and his father had to move the 300-cow herd at least eight times a week for milking.
“Safety is the main reason I got the underpass” says Joe. “Cows could be standing outside the shed, waiting to be let out to grass across the road for an hour and three quarters by the time I was finished milking.
“Otherwise, they were let out in two groups which just took too much time for me when I needed to be in the pit.
“Last year, cows escaped out onto the road. Young heifers went across into the field but walked back out when we were still milking,” said Denis, Joe’s father. “Only for the milk lorry meeting them on the road they would have travelled down to the main road and who knows what kind of damage they would have done.”
Joe also said that he couldn’t let them stand next to the gate because there was too much slurry gathering and once they started moving to walk across the road they were destroying the road.
He said that spending as little time as possible on concrete is great for the breeding season, with less cows bulling on concrete and less harm done to the cows.
Labour shortages around the country are proving to be a major problem for dairy farmers. Instead, the Lucey’s made the yard work as time efficient as possible by investing in machinery to cut down on labour hours.
However, Joe says that if you look after your staff you’ll have no problem keeping them. “One way to sicken any worker is to get them doing donkey work all day. I've almost 300 cubicles so I bought a Q-bed to scrape them down.
“I've straw bedding for the calves, dry cows and for the calving pen so I bought a straw chopper. It now takes 35 minutes and everything is bedded. If farmers look after their workers they'll look after them”.
After applying for planning permission for the underpass, six months later construction was underway on the dairy farm and within five days it was installed. The underpass which was designed by local engineer Michael O’Driscoll, who has a farming background, allowed for a very gradual climb in and out of the passage so as not to upset cow-flow.
“There was €1,800 spent on planning. I paid €15,000 to John Murphy Plant Hire who supplied a bulldozer, a 20t tracks machine and dealt with the council fees, opening and closing the road, traffic management and notices in the local papers which amounted to over €2000 alone.
“We spent a first day drawing 300 loads of soil away from the site which was 12ft deep.”
J. Loftus Crane Hire came on the second day with a crane and dealt with the transport of the pre—cast cement culverts, lifting them into place.
They each weighed 20t and the tracks machine pushes in the culvert while it’s still attached to the crane. The cement culverts were the most expensive single item of the build, costing around €30,000.
The culverts are 4 metres wide by 2.1 metres high internally and the underpass is 10 metres long. There is also a 2000-gallon pit below the underpass for slurry storage.
The Lucey’s raised the height of the walls that are on the road for safety reasons and according to Joe, his brother and young family live next to it, so safety was priority.
During digging, Joe and the team came across a spring under the road, which meant extra spend on drainage pipes.
“We thought it was huge problem at the time but it turned out to be a blessing-in-disguise. The field across the road, which was always known as the “bog-field” is now drained because of it, it worked out very well,” says Joe.
“It’s adding up to €65,000 in total including fencing and reseeding the field where the topsoil is now, but it’s money well spent in my eyes”.