Cork farmer John Dunne who, along with his wife Noreen and son Billy, has just completed a major development on the farm. This involved constructing a new 200-cow cubicle shed and 26-unit parlour under the one roof on their dairy farm near the seaside village of Garryvoe, in east Cork.
“We were milking in a 12-unit parlour and morning milking was taking three and a quarter hours. We came very close to expanding that parlour a few years ago, but I’m glad now that I didn’t, because it still wouldn’t be right – not when you compare it to what we have now,” John says.
What they have now is very impressive. Built on a greenfield site next to the existing yard, the new complex consists of an 11-span cubicle shed, with central feed passage and three rows of cubicles at each side. At one side there is a loose bedded area for calving cows. At the bottom of the shed is a double 16ft slatted tank with a feed face. This slatted feed face also doubles as the walkway for cows to get to the covered collecting yard and 26-unit Dairymaster milking parlour, along with the covered drafting and handling unit.
What changed for the Dunnes in between deciding not to expand the old parlour and now is that they got the opportunity to purchase 70 acres of land on the milking platform, and their son Billy returned home from Clonakilty Agricultural College to work on the farm full-time. This enabled the Dunnes to increase cow numbers from 120 pre-expansion to 250 cows.
Noreen says that what they have now is like a dream come true, with milking times cut to 1.5 hours in the morning and it being a pleasure. Another point that John made is that they have no difficulty in getting relief milkers now, whereas it was more of a challenge in the past.
It’s very much a family farm, with all three very active in all aspects of the business. Sport is also a big part of their lives, with Billy playing corner forward on the Fr. O’Neill’s senior hurling team. The Dunnes are also extremely accomplished greyhound breeders and trainers, and have had a lot of success since they took up the sport just six years ago. With their busy lives outside of farming, having an efficient milking parlour is essential.
There were 120 cubicles already on the farm, which are old but still very functional. Over the last few years, an outside farm yard was leased, and cows and heifers were wintered there, as well as on the home farm. With the new cubicle shed, that yard is no longer needed. This has saved time and hassle in not having to move cows and feed cows in two yards.
Building work started in March 2022 and the cubicle shed was ready by October. The first cow was milked in the new parlour last February. The entire project was built by local firm Mulcahy Steel, who carried out the groundworks, concrete tanks, manufactured and erected the steel structure, and built the milking parlour. Cubicles, swing-over gates, crush gates and tip-over water troughs were supplied by Condon Engineering.
The 26-unit Dairymaster plant was installed by local firm East Cork Dairy Services and has plenty of extras, including automatic cluster removers, swing-over arms, milk meters, automated meal-feeders, automatic wash unit, sequential bailing, automatic drafting and cluster flush.
Cows enter the collecting yard from either side at the rear of the shed, depending on what part of the farm they are coming from. The collecting yard is concreted and sloped to the slatted slurry tank at the rear of the yard. The concrete part of the yard is scraped with a yard-scraper once a day.
After milking, the cows leave the parlour by turning right and enter the automatic drafter. This can draft them one of two ways: either straight on through a slatted passaged to the fields, or to a holding pen. The crush is located against the wall with a walkway for the operators between the crush and the slatted cow passage.
“We considered putting in a batch crush, but we were advised not to by the AI man and a few other farmers we visited that had them.
“They said if you only have a couple of cows to do, it’s better to do them in the crush, and that’s working out great so far. The only thing I would do different is to make the walkway at the crush a little bit wider,” John says.
A new dairy and bulk tank together with a plant room, chemical storage room and a toilet were also built with a new office/canteen area being built in the loft above the plant room. This room has a window looking out on to the milking parlour.
The substantial development came at a significant cost to the Dunnes, but it needs to be seen in the context of a well-established family farm business with a long track record of achieving good technical performance. The development probably made up for a lack of significant development over previous years when the farm wasn’t expanding.
The plant and associated equipment cost €180,000 excl. VAT or €6,923 per milking unit before the TAMS grant was claimed. All the building work was priced as one job and came in at €625,000, excluding VAT. This doesn’t include the cost of wiring, plumbing and some additional costs associated with the build, such as extra filling.
The project was completed in 2022 at a time of significant cost inflation, and while the project did go over budget, the milk price was also higher, so that was a help in terms of cash flow.
John says that planning takes time and financial planning takes even longer:
“We used to carry a lot more beef animals, and our initial plan was to gradually phase them out and gradually increase the cow numbers. But after doing the financial budgets and getting financial advice, it made far more sense to increase cow numbers quicker to have the cashflow to pay back debt,” John says.