How this Tipp dairy farmer developed a modern dairy unit to milk over 200 cows on a leased farm

Graham Swanton, farm manager; Donal Mullane, Teagasc area manager, and Bill Carroll on Bill’s farm at Kilsheelan, Co Tipperary
Graham Swanton, farm manager; Donal Mullane, Teagasc area manager, and Bill Carroll on Bill’s farm at Kilsheelan, Co Tipperary

Martin Ryan

When Bill Carroll set out to develop a modern dairy unit to milk over 200 cows on a leased farm at Gurteen, outside the tidy village of Kilsheelan his objective was to make it "as cheap and easy" as possible to do the job.

Completing the job for under €1,000/cow, including provision for a 50pc increase in the herd, was the target.

His success in achieving this is proof that labour-saving, efficient milking parlours can be had at a reasonable outlay.

Working within the existing structure on an old farmyard had a mix of benefits and constraints for Bill who said that "bells and jingles" that did not add to the profit line were not included in the plan.

The businessman, with interests in pig farming as well as dairying, said the 20-unit, 2ft6in DeLaval parlour with herringbone 50 degree zig-zag stalls and adjustable break rails, and scissor type exit gates has delivered "good value for money".

An auto-wash and heat recovery system - considered essential - were also included.

"You would nearly think we are sitting in a museum here, (in this farmyard) when you look around at all of the stone walls and we protected everything - we didn't touch any of the existing buildings and we completed the unit for under €1,000/cow."

Making the best use of existing buildings as far as possible delivered some cost savings for the unit which has a throughput of 209 cows in 90 minutes, including washing up.

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Future plans

Bill plans to expand his herd to around 300 cows over the next couple of years and he says this will be achieved without any additional expenditure on facilities within the farmyard.

"The point we are making on this farm is that it is possible to invest in cows at an economic level that does not put financial pressure long term into the system. If you want to upgrade in time, you can have that option.

"I see no point in going for a Ferrari style unit, if a more modest investment will do the job just as well.

I have seen systems on dairy farms that were so sophisticated that the farmers did not know how to use them, and a lot of money was spent that was not necessary to do the job. My attitude is keep it simple," he said.

The day-to-day operation is run by farm manager, Graham Swanton, who finds that throughput of 140/cow/hour, inclusive of the washing up time, very workable.

"It is a grass based system and labour efficiency is very important. Ease of management of large numbers with smooth cow flow and simplicity" is what the chosen system is delivering, he says.

Getting the layout right

Bill's agricultural advisor, Pat Clarke, puts a lot of emphasis on getting the layout right when planning the farmyard.

"From a milking parlour point of view seriously think about cow flow," he told farmers attending the Teagasc event which took in three expanding dairy farms in south Tipperary.

"This parlour is in use 300 days each year, which is 600 milkings requiring a smooth flow. In laying out the parlour you want to eliminate as much work as possible because with a large herd you don't want problems with the cow flow leaving you with more work to do."

"There are three areas that need to be looked at. The existing site where the parlour is. Do you expand and develop that site or like this farmyard go to a different location within the farmyard, if that is appropriate. The third consideration is going to a green field, adjacent to the farmyard or a different position," he added.

"The first thing to do is have a look at a map of the farm and get a clear picture of where the milking parlour is in relation to the farm. If you are going for development within the existing yard or buildings you have to be satisfied that it is being planned so that it reduces work.

"You have to consider who you are planning the parlour for and how well will it be suited to them, yourself, your own family, a future generation and will it be a nice place for someone coming in to work on the farm," he stressed.

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