In 2015 the management at the Salesian Agricultural College, in Pallaskenry, Co Limerick realised that their farm infrastructure was inadequate for its herd of 250 cows.
With plans to increase the herd to 450 cows by 2021, the farm infrastructure would have to be upgraded to match the expanding cow numbers.
Paddock sizes, originally installed for a 160-cow herd, were far too small. The herd’s water supply was no longer fit for purpose, and additional roadways were required to gain better access to fields.
The college engaged with Grasstec to look at an overall development plan for the farm. College principal Derek O’Donohue says they were a great help.
“Using an outside agency was invaluable. They offered really practical advice and were on the same side of the farmer throughout the process.”
One of the first steps was upgrading the farm water supply and increasing paddock sizes. Water supply is extremely important for milk production. A dairy cow can be satisfied long before she is full, so if the water is slow to come through to the trough, she may be quite contented, but milk yield can suffer by over 20pc.
The college installed a looped water system. 40mm pipe was installed, up from ¾-inch hydrodare on approximately one-third of the farm, which was the main grazing area for the dairy cows.
At the same time, 300-gallon bottom-fill, open-top troughs were installed. All troughs were placed in the centres of paddocks, to minimise cow walking time to water, but also to allow for easy subdivision of paddocks in early spring and late autumn. Since then the remainder of the farm has been completed in a looped water system.
Paddock sizes were more than doubled to from around 1.5ha to over 3.5ha in some cases.
Derek O’Donohue says the system, which cost €20,000, has more than paid for itself.
“Beforehand, we had paddocks that were too small, around 1.5 ha, so we had to split the herd in two because the fields were too small. Since then we increased the size, it has made grass management much easier and means there are fewer labour requirements.
“The new water system served us well, especially in the drought of 2018. We had four roads to cross, where we bored underneath the road at the cost of €300 per crossing. In total, we have almost 10km of pipe installed.”
Another important step was increasing the farm roadways. This was done on a gradual basis since 2015 and was completed this month. The old roadways were 4m wide, which was increased to 5m. In total 4.2km of roads were added, meaning all areas of the farm could be accessed by road and the farthest cows have to walk is 1.7km, up from 1km.
The base of the road is a low grade of 4” down limestone from Roadstone Quarry in Shanagolden, with the top layer of red sandstone coming from Finbarr O’Neill Quarries in Cork.
The new roadways mean there are now very few lameness issues on the farm.
“Lameness was never a big issue, but the cows now have to walk almost double what they did previously, so having high-quality roadways has helped us cut out potential lameness.
“This was our first year using the dust and it makes a perfect roadway surface for the cows.”
The college also installed an underpass to allow easier access to 150 acres of grazing ground, across a public road. The underpass is 5m wide and cost €78,000.
“It was a significant investment but it is a significant piece of land, we wouldn’t have done it for a small bit of ground. It is the other side of a busy public road near the village of Pallaskenry, so it reduces the likelihood of a serious accident, especially on dark mornings in the early spring and late autumn.”