Farm Ireland

Thursday 14 December 2017

Plan now to expand later

Farmyard design experts outline the principles of 'future-proofing' farm development plans

Caitriona Murphy

Caitriona Murphy

With dairy farmers planning for higher milk output in the coming years, bigger herds will require extra housing, more milking facilities and a complete revamp of many farmyards.

Traditionally, Irish farmyards have developed in a piecemeal way -- a new calf shed here, a slatted unit there.This type of development may suit the farmer in the short term but can lead to difficulties in expanding the farm later.

Farm design experts Bertie Troy and James O'Callaghan of Dairytec help farmers make the most cost-effective decisions on farm layouts.

They maintain that farmers should always plan any development on paper first, before investing in concrete and steel.

"Planning any development in advance means that the farmer can choose from a number of different scenarios before any work is carried out," Bertie says.

"A well thought out plan will lead to fewer mistakes and ultimately a far better layout will be created."

James is an architect from an agricultural background, which means he has experience of working and milking on dairy farms and operating machinery, which he can use when designing for his clients.

He outlines some of the common problems encountered by farmers when it comes to expanding their farms.

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1. Thinking for tomorrow

"Too many farmers tend to think short term when they are planning and constructing farm buildings, instead of asking or planning for a layout which will suit the farm in five, 10 or 15 years time," says James.

"For example, 15 years ago, a herd that would have been 80 cows is closer to 120-150 cows today and likely to increase again post 2015.

"Farmers need to think more about what will be needed in the future on the farm and what the next generation will need to run the farm efficiently."

2. Avoiding extensions

"A common situation on Irish farms is that everything in the yard revolves around an old building.

"You might find an old building 50 years old, with various additions over the years as the farm developed, with the farmer saying after each extension is completed they won't want it any bigger."

3. Filling the gaps

Some farmers tend to limit their future development options by filling up the spaces between sheds with more buildings. "Instead of thinking to the future when they might need a bigger collecting yards behind the parlour, they build a calf shed that could be better suited further away."

4. Creating labour efficiency

"Farmers need to choose building designs that are labour efficient.

"Buildings with limited machinery access will require more manual labour than a building where a tractor or other machine can be used to do the same work."

5. Accessing machinery

Low roof heights on older buildings are another common problem, particularly as machine sizes increase with every new model that comes on the market.

Cubicle sheds are often designed with passageways that are too narrow to allow vehicular access in an emergency.

"What happens if you have a cow down in the cubicle?" James asks. "If you can't get in with a tractor, how are you going to get her out?"

6. Controlling cow flow

Narrow doorways, narrow passageways and badly designed holding yards are a common feature of Irish farms.

These result in slower movement of cows in and out of parlours, affecting the time required for each milking and reducing the overall efficiency of the parlour.

7. Choosing the cheapest option

While farmers are understandably inclined to choose the cheaper option when designing their farm buildings, the result can be to limit the farm's future development potential.

"A lot of farmers see a building that is already there and decide to use it but that's not always ideal," says James.

For example, the existing building may not be suitable for access for certain machinery or may not be in the correct position to allow for future extension."

Planning for 10 or 15 years might seem adventurous, but it gives the farmer direction, and they can build the building or buildings at various stages as the need arises or as they can afford to, but at least they have a master plan to follow. (See diagram, right).

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