Clare and the west of Ireland is synonymous with suckler farming. Small suckler farms producing top-quality AI cattle, from marginal or heavy ground, has been the foundation for the strong beef industry that we now have here.

John Hanrahan is one of these farmers, operating a 40-cow suckler herd just metres away from the Atlantic Ocean. Next stop, America.

Salt breeze and cement-fibre

With the salt breeze coming in off the sea, rust is an ever-present issue. A slatted shed that John built back in the late noughties, also under a grant scheme at the time, has had to have all of the roof sheeting replaced due to corrosion.

Keen for this not to happen again, John opted for fibre cement sheeting for the new slatted shed, which was recently constructed on the west Clare farm.

While cement-fibre sheeting was traditionally seen as too expensive for agricultural projects, high-steel prices over the last few years have brought it more in-line on price with steel cladding.

While the sheeting can be trickier to install, due to pre drilling and the additional weight of sheets, it is ideal for situations where corrosion of steel cladding is a worry.

Use of cement-fibre sheeting also helps with thermos regulation of sheds, keeping them cooler in summer and warmer in winter, particularly useful for calf housing.

The lean-to style structure has a 2.4m canopy to the front to protect fodder from rainfall.

Increasing accommodation

With increased pressure on cattle accommodation, John and his son Martin, who farm in partnership together, made the move to construct a new slatted shed with a creep area.

Planning permission was received and ground was broken out in the summer months by Declan Fennel, Cooraclare.

A four-bay tank with external agitation points at either end was poured for slurry storage. The tank extends to 22.2m length, 2.4m depth and 4.1m in width.

Subtracting 200mm of freeboard from the tank, a usable capacity of 200.4m³. With Co Clare requiring 18 weeks’ storage, there is sufficient capacity to store slurry from 38 cows in the tank.

A 14ft 6in slat was overlaid on the tank, with 300mm of toe space at either end. This gives sufficient lying space or eight cows per pen, or 32 cows in the entire shed (excluding the creep).

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Cement fibre sheeting was used on the roof, with all structural steel galvanised for longevity.

At 4.8m of feed space per pen and a required 600mm feed space/cow, lying space and feed space tie in well together.

We’ve seen this in previous suckler sheds, such as the Tullamore Farm suckler shed, where a 14ft 6in slat with 600mm of toe space provides the required lying space and feed space for eight suckler cows, where you are using your standard 4.8m bay.

A tank depth of 2.4m will also provide ample slurry storage, though farms in heavy soil areas could further increase capacity by installing a 2.7m deep tank.

Regardless of the tank depth, 200mm of freeboard is required.

Switching from 2.4m to 2.7m depth will only add an additional €455 in concrete and a small amount in labour and steel where a rock breaker is not required in digging for extra depth, but will increase slurry capacity by an extra 13%.

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Layout

The pen spacing and space have already been described, with 300m of toe space at either end of the slat. The front of the shed has been fixed with four diagonal swinging barriers that are covered over by a 2.4m-wide roofed canopy.

This canopy sits 900mm below the top of the eaves of the lean-to building, which has been left to allow stale air to exit the shed. The steeply pitched roof angle will funnel the warm stale air up and out this opening.

A wall protrudes out the width of the canopy, with side sheeting also installed. This was done to further protect fodder from wind rainfall.

To the rear of the pens are creep gates, leading off to the creep area. All the gates, barriers and troughs for the shed were sourced from Condon Engineering by Declan.

The creep area features a 9.2m long crush with a semi-automatic skulling gate to the front.

A nice feature on the creep gates is that the two round bars can roll when pressed against, rather than being fixed. This is especially useful for stronger calves to prevent rubbing or reduce the risk of them being stuck in the creep gate.

Each creep area also has access to its own mini-trough for any instances where calves may be locked into the creep with no access to the slatted area, eg, for breaking the cow-calf bond to induce reproductive cycling in the cow.

A sliding door at one end of the creep allows for access with a tractor for cleaning out and rebedding.

Handling

In lieu of self-locking barriers to the front of the shed, John and Martin opted to install a small crush area in the creep.

The crush runs two bays of the shed (9.2m) with four swinging gates making up one side, with the crush running parallel to the rear wall.

Micro-drinkers are fitted in the creep area, with larger bowls fitted to the slatted area for cows.

A semi-automatic skulling gate is fitted at one end for ease of handling. Two 220-volt power outlets with three-pin plug adaptors are fitted along the crush to provide power for clipping cattle, etc.

For farmers applying under TAMS III, the option to install cattle handling facilities is now grant aided at a 60% rate, regardless of age, education or gender.

Longevity

As well as the previously mentioned cement-fibre sheeting being used, all steelwork is hot-dipped galvanised, as this is a requirement under TAMS.

Declan uses imported, kiln-dried timber that is treated for all roof and side purlins. There are two X-braces in the roof at the first and last bays for improved strength. While there are no clear roof lights installed, the open front of the shed allows ample light in.

On the day of our visit, it was a typical cloudy mid-winter evening, but the shed still felt bright and airy. Readers will notice that there is no vented sheeting or space boarding fitted to the rear of the shed.

This is due to the extremely exposed nature of the site, with the prevailing wind hitting this backwall. The open-fronted nature of the shed was deemed sufficient as an air inlet.

Four LED tube lights were installed for night time work, with a small work light also installed facing out towards the yard area.

Cost

Table 1 breaks down the costings of the shed. Declan manufactured the shed frame and cast the concrete slats in his Cooraclare base, with all concrete for the shed itself coming from McGrath’s Quarries.

The barriers and crush, as well as the drinking bowls, were all sourced from Condon Engineering.

The shed is finished to an excellent standard and is built with longevity in mind. At €22,635 per bay and eight cow-calf pairs per pen, it shows how far building costs have risen in recent years.