Irish turbine blowing energy into French farm
A Breton farmer has installed the first Irish-made wind turbine of the country on his land, cutting his electricity bills by half – and hoping to save more as energy prices rise in the future.

Gilbert Cosson’s pig and dairy farm, a short drive inland from the coast of Brittany, looks like any other – until you come up close and notice his new wind turbine. This is the first such machine in France made by the Galway-based firm C&F Green Energy, an established manufacturer of turbines in Ireland and Britain.

Cosson, 56, was the ideal candidate to bring Irish-made wind generators to the country after the failure of previous attempts. He already had solar panels installed and is always curious about new technologies.

“I like engineering and understanding how things are made,” he told the Irish Farmers Journal during a recent open day on his farm.

After seeing the turbine at the SPACE show nearby, he said he would buy one if C&F brought him to Ireland to see how they were made.

The company obliged, and the machine was connected to the farm’s electricity mains at the beginning of this year.

Milking robot and pig shed ventilation

This hilly site 20km inland from the sea is well located to get a regular breeze, and Cosson’s farm is ideal to benefit from the resulting steady stream of electricity. He milks 45 cows robotically and finishes 1,500 pigs in ventilated sheds. “I’m consuming at least 10kW at any given time,” he explained. He also keeps 200 sows on an outfarm.

His annual electricity bill is currently €8,000, but he expects this to go up from next year. “This is a long-term bet on rising power costs,” he said.

Cosson built the concrete slab and hut used to house the electrical equipment connected to the turbine. The machine itself, with a capacity of up to 25kW, and other ancillary works cost him €125,000 in total.

One bad surprise was the high cost of the underground cable linking the turbine to the farm buildings, at €8,000.

A local company, Diwatt, managed the whole process, supplying the equipment from Ireland and organising planning permission.

€4,000 annual saving

So far, wind power has been on track to cover half of Cosson’s €8,000 annual electricity bill. Such savings, rather than profit from selling power back to the national grid, is the attraction for French farmers.

“The goal is self-consumption,” said Diwatt head Florian Lucas. Farmers there pay 12c to 14c excluding VAT per kWh for electricity, while the feed-in tariff (FiT) to sell wind power back to the national grid brings in only 8.5c/kWh. The same logic applies in Ireland at the moment, but this could change with new incentives due to encourage renewable energy production next year.

The difference, however, is that electricity charges for small businesses rose by 9.5% in France last year – three times faster than here. And this is only the beginning: “The end of regulated tariffs for small businesses on 1 January 2016 will push electricity prices up,” said Lucas. “This is a good time for farmers to buy equipment.”

He expects a wind turbine to pay for itself within 10 years as a result of rising electricity costs – instead of three decades at current prices in the case of Gilbert Cosson.

High-tech features

To tap this emerging market – and others, such as Japan with its high FiTs or the US where grants are available for investment in wind energy – C&F has developed smaller turbines with the kind of high-tech features usually found in large, industrial units.

The machine installed on Cosson’s farm computes the best angle to catch the wind and rotates automatically, adjusting the angle of its blades in the process. It is connected to a maintenance centre through the mobile phone network. Irish-based technicians monitor it and can stop it if something goes wrong. Yet, it cannot be seen or heard by any neighbours, and Cosson had no problem placing it directly opposite his home.

“Our machines are not the megawatt, 80-metre towers you see on TV shows,” C&F’s global operations and business development manager Paul Fitzpatrick told the Irish Farmers Journal. ‘‘Their tip point would be under 50m and a passing car would make more noise than our turbines.”

C&F Green Energy is part of the C&F engineering group based in Athenry, Co Galway. Its range of turbines, starting at €75,000 for a 20kW machine, has proved successful in both Ireland and the UK, where the company claims to have 1,200 of them installed.

It is now competing with European and US-based manufacturers to expand internationally and its foray into the French market is supported by Enterprise Ireland.

“France is a huge agricultural market and with the removal of milk quotas and the expected increase in the cost of electricity, there is a huge opportunity here for C&F,” said Aisling O’Donnell, business development executive for Enterprise Ireland in Paris.

The company’s growth could benefit the Galway area, where it already employs 500 people.

“Everything is manufactured in the west of Ireland,” said Fitzpatrick – although the company is considering sourcing some products in its target markets, such as the masts supporting the turbines.

“You need a balance between the two: to sell in the US, you also need the stamp ‘Made in USA’,” he added.

As for Gilbert Cosson, he is already looking out for the next innovation: batteries to store electricity during high winds and use it later, increasing self-sufficiency. “The Chinese are working on it. I’m sure they will be available in two years’ time’,” he said.

Maintenance contract an essential part of the investment

Gilbert Cosson’s turbine is monitored remotely, self-greasing and attached to an articulated mast that can be lowered for a half-day annual maintenance service.

French distributor and installer Diwatt also provides the maintenance contract – a crucial part of the long-term investment in wind energy.

“We installed a turbine in 2010, but it broke down and the company that sold it to us has shut down,” said one of the farmers who visited Cosson’s farm on the open day.

A group of Scottish farmers recently contacted the Irish Farmers Journal to complain that C&F Green Energy, too, had trouble providing maintenance services there.

According to the turbine owners, they paid upfront for one- or two-year maintenance contracts, with servicing failing to take place in time. They also said that C&F asked to renew maintenance contracts before previously agreed services were completed.

The company acknowledged that there had been delays in servicing in the past because of the sharp increase in the number of turbines being installed, but added that it had contracted a new service provider in the UK more than four months ago, with more people to carry out maintenance visits.

“When you have 1,200 machines in the market, you cannot get to everybody in one day, but to my knowledge there is no conflict at the moment,” said C&F’s Paul Fitzpatrick.

Whatever the make and model chosen when installing a wind turbine, the cases above highlight the need to go through an established local installer to source and service the equipment.

At current electricity prices in France, Gilbert Cosson’s wind turbine would pay for itself in 31 years. To make the investment worthwhile within a more reasonable time frame of 15 years, French electricity prices would have to double. This may seem a lot, but with a near 10% jump in electricity costs for small businesses last year and deregulation on the way, the bet could prove to be a winning one in the long run.

What to look out for if milking on robots this spring
A recent robotic advisory training day held by Lely Center Mullingar highlighted key performance indicators farmers should be looking out for if milking through robots for the first time this spring.

Robotic milking can provide farmers with a raft of information that can be used to increase production and improve herd health.

For a farmer in their first year, the main focus will be on getting milk flowing and cows moving, but there are some figures that farmers should be aware of.

Responding to the information provided can be an efficient way to highlight issues and alter management, this was the message from the team at Lely Center Mullingar at a recent adviser training day.

Sean Callan, farm management support specialist with Lely, was speaking on the day.

A lot of information on cow performance can be got from the dashboard.

“When it comes to failures (cows that are not fully milked) the aim should be for less than five/day/robot. If it is over this, then there is a problem somewhere in the system, and more often than not that will be down to management.

“Every failed milking, the cow is coming out half-milked, which can lead to somatic cell count issues and milk quality issues.” Another indicator to be aware of is the number of attempts it takes the robot to attach to the teats. “Connect attempts should be 1.3 or lower/cow. Heifers or cows being trained-in can be higher than this, and dirty tails or udders can also cause issues,” Sean said.

Box time

Sean continued, “The box time for cows should be six to seven minutes. If they are under six minutes, then it means cows are coming into the robot too often, which can lead to cows being over milked.

“Slow milkers are also not suitable for robots but this will generally mean farmers only culling one or two cows from their system.”

Rest feed concentrate (%) outlines the percent of feed that a cow has been allocated through the robot that is not getting consumed. The target for this is to be less than 10%.

Cow box time should be between 6-7 minutes per visit.

“It could be a case that the cow is being allocated too much feed, or that they are not spending enough time in the robot,” Sean explained. “This could lead to issues where cows might not be getting enough minerals for example.”

The maximum feed per visit to the robot is 3kg of concentrates.

“If you want to feed 12kg for example, for high yielding cows, then you might need to look at out-of-parlour feeding. Ideally, you want to keep it to a maximum of three milkings/cow/day as any more than this and you will reduce the amount of cows that the robot can carry.”

The robot will also show how long it has been since a cow has been milked. The target here is to go a maximum of 24 hours without being milked. If more than 10% of the herd go over this then the cause needs investigation. Poor grassland management can be one of the main culprits.

Major investment in new underpasses for UCD Lyons Farm
Over the past few months, UCD Lyons Farm has undertaken a major infrastructure project, installing two underpasses on the farm. William Conlon reports.

An underpass is a substantial investment for any farm, but more and more are being installed on dairy farms to provide access to previously inaccessible blocks for grazing.

UCD Lyons Farm operates a mixed farm with a herd of 200 dairy cows, split into two herds, the dairy systems herd and the commercial/research herd. Additionally a flock of 360 ewes are kept on the farm.

There are a lot of considerations to be made when installing an underpass to ensure animal flow is not impacted.

Both underpasses installed on the farm are viewed as a long term investment and have been two years in the pipeline.

Unlike most farms, the research farm had to go through a public tender process to award the contract for the job.

Planning permission for the project was approved in October 2018, with one underpass installed at the end of December 2018 and the other installed towards the end of January 2019.

Underpass one

One of the underpasses installed on the farm will provide access to a 67ha block across a main road from the main farm. The new block will not only be used for grazing some of the dairy herd, but it will also be used for ewes and lambs.

Safety was a big consideration for the project, according to farm manager Eddie Jordan, “Previously we would have run ewes and lambs down the road to the block across the road, but the amount of people that was needed and in terms of road safety, this wasn’t viable moving forward.”

Animal flow was important when it came to the design of the underpasses. “We went for a 1:10 slope down to and back up out of the underpass to help animal flow. People would generally go with a steeper ramp but we wanted to try and show best practice,” said Eddie.

Cattle and sheep will have a straight entrance and exit from the underpass also, which should aid movement.

Compacted stone is in place on both ramps but they will also be blinded with a finer dust material to help reduce stones being dragged down into the underpass. Roadways either side of the underpass are 3.7m wide.

The underpass itself is made up of nine box culverts. These have an internal height of 2.1m and an internal width of 3.6m. Each culvert is 1.5m long, giving a total length of the box sections of the underpass of 13.5m.

“We could probably have got away with a narrower culvert but we didn’t want it to be a pinch point when it comes to cow flow,” Eddie said. Cow comfort and helping to reduce lameness were seen as important, so the surface of the underpass has Easyfix rubber mats installed throughout.

“We wanted a surface that would last and would be comfortable for cows so even if stones were dragged down into the underpass they would not go up into the cows’ hooves, as can happen if going from stone onto concrete,” Eddie said.

Collection of run-off was a strict condition of the planning permission. A 2m deep tank with 11.3m3 storage was installed at one side of the underpass.

The road was closed at 6pm on a Friday and reopened the following Monday afternoon after being tarred. The road is 5m wide with crash barriers installed on either side.

Underpass two

The second underpass was installed underneath the entrance road to the farm. As there is only one route to the farmyard, there can be a high level of traffic on this road. Only seven culverts were needed for this underpass but there was substantial groundworks required.

“This is a research and a teaching farm, but it is also a commercial farm,” Eddie explained. “We would have high volumes of traffic from students coming in and out this road and we have to try and balance that with a functioning farm.

“Labour has to be looked at too and this will greatly reduce labour when it comes to bringing cows in for milking.”

The road had a concrete surface and this is what was installed again on the surface of the new road. In an ideal world, concrete would be left 28 days to cure. However, in reality this was not an option so 40N concrete along with steel reinforcing was used. Clipex fencing posts were installed along the ramps either side of the underpass. “We were having a problem with cows standing on the roadway and blocking it, which also didn’t help the surface of the road itself,” Eddie explained.

“This should also ensure that we have no cows standing waiting for gates to be open.” Again, crash barriers were installed at either side of the road, above the underpass.

Costs

Dancor Civil Engineering from Louth, were the main contractors for the project, and Shay Murtagh supplied the culverts.

The total cost for the project reached a combined €247,000 excluding VAT. The price was evenly split between the two projects, according to Eddie as the smaller installation required additional groundworks.

The culverts themselves came to approximately €100,000 ex VAT. Power cables were installed to both underpasses in case pumps were needed, this came to a cost of €10,000 ex VAT. A road safety audit was also completed for the project, this came at a cost of €6,000 incl VAT.

In pictures: setting up for expansion with 24-unit parlour
There are many young farmers putting clusters on their own cows for the first time in 2019. We visited a young Tipperary farmer who has been milking for the past few months. William Conlon writes

Tommy Hogan comes from a mixed beef and tillage farm outside of Borrisokane in Co Tipperary. Over the past year, the farm has been converting some of the 200ac block around the home yard in preparation for a 100-cow dairy herd to begin milking this spring.

While the majority of new entrants will purchase yearling heifers in the year before they start milking, a path less travelled is to purchase cows after they have calved down. However, this is the route that Tommy chose.

“I really wanted to hit the ground running,” Tommy explained, “Not having cows to calve down or calves to rear in the first year will help me to settle in and allow me to concentrate on the cows and grassland management.

“I decided to buy second-, third- and fourth-lactation cows from the beginning of December once the parlour was up and running. I didn’t want any cows here until the parlour was finished. The way I looked at it, three months extra milk production was worth more than a dairy calf,” Tommy said.

“If I had been calving later in the spring I might have gone the yearling heifer route.

“I had a lot of discussions with my vet and he said that buying cows that long before they were due to be bred would give me enough time to implement a comprehensive vaccination programme.”

However, buying freshly calved cows was the more expensive option but Tommy didn’t see this as the area to skimp on.

The farm also operates a considerable beef enterprise and contracting business.

“Cattle were always my first passion but the risk factor with beef is just too high,” Tommy said.

“Feedlots are only getting bigger and bigger. If you are up against someone from a feedlot at the sales ring they could have 2,000-3,000 cattle.”

The central location of the yard on the 200ac block also persuaded Tommy towards beginning a dairy enterprise.

Pictures one and two

While there were plenty of sheds on the farm that could have been adapted to accommodate cubicles, the decision was made when installing a new parlour to also install a cubicle shed that would accommodate the newly established 100-cow herd.

Picture one.

Two adjoining A-roof sheds were built.

Under one roof are the parlour, handling area (which is over slats), and an area that will be used to house calves next year. The adjoining shed has the cubicles and a roofed passageway.

Picture two.

Pictures three, four and five

A 24-unit DeLaval parlour was installed, with the stall work and pit constructed to allow 32 units in the future.

High-yielding Holstein-Friesian cows were the breed of choice as Tommy aimed to maximise milk production while maintaining a one-man unit.

“I want to move to 120 cows and get as much milk as I can as a one-man unit,” he said.

“The plan is to max out a one-man operation with cows at an average of 9,000 litres.”

Picture three.

The Targeted Agricultural Modernisation Scheme (TAMS) was used to help pay for the milking equipment as this was the most straightforward aspect to pay for.

"The milking machine came to approximately €72,000 excluding VAT.

"Tommy no longer qualifies as a young farmer, as he has been farming more than five years, so he was eligible for a 40% grant. He hopes to claim back a grant of €28,800.

A new milk machine, or an extension to a current milking parlour has a reference cost of €2,986.17/unit.

The parlour is fitted with automatic cluster removers while it also has milk yield indicators.

Picture four.

“The milk indicators were the best investment I have made. When you are trying to put a herd together you need to know straight away what cows are milking well and what cows are not. It is something that a lot of farmers going for a more basic parlour will miss out on,” Tommy said.

“The most important reason for them is herd health. If there is something wrong with a cow the first thing she will do is slow down in terms of milk production. The earlier you can pick up an issue the better.”

There are individual feeding stalls and a zig-zag rump rail to position cows correctly for milking.

Stalls are installed at 2ft 6in centres and at a 50° angle to the pit.

Picture five.

Portumna Farm and Dairy Services installed the parlour and all associated fittings.

“Like most people, the most important thing for me with a parlour is after-sales service, especially when you are a new entrant starting out,” Tommy said.

“Any issues I have had so far I have been able to sort over the phone with a bit of guidance.”

After researching a few different options, Tommy decided to go for a secondhand bulk tank from Intercool Engineering in Ashbourne, Co Meath. The 12,000l tank came with two new 5hp compressors and a new auto-wash unit.

The tank is three years old and cost €21,000 plus VAT. A new tank of the same size would have cost €30,000 plus VAT, according to Tommy.

Picture six

The milking machine is compatible with a feed-to-yield system.

However, while not the first choice, batch feeders were installed to keep control of costs when starting out.

The plan will be to fit individual feeders in the future.

Picture six.

“With high-yielding cows, one of the biggest challenges is to get them back in-calf,” Tommy explained.

“So being able to designate each cow’s feed would be a bonus but we have to stagger the investment.”

Picture seven

The positioning of the parlour means cows have a straight entrance into the collecting yard when they are out at grass.

It is at the edge of the yard so milking will not interrupt other work around the yard.

Picture seven.

The position of the collecting yard means that it can be extended straight back if the herd expands.

A 1.2m-deep slurry channel runs across the back of the parlour, or across the front of the collecting yard which will collect dirty water and channel it to a large slatted tank.

Picture eight

When cows exit the parlour they will do a U-turn and move back over a slatted handling area, out towards the milking platform.

Picture eight.

Cows have 3.7m from the end of the parlour to the wall to ensure cow flow is not compromised upon exiting the parlour.

Picture nine

A large crush has been installed running along one wall while an automatic drafting unit is to be installed along the other wall before the grazing season starts.

The large tank is approximately 36m long and fitted with 4.4m slats.

The tank has an internal width of 4.1m and a depth of 2.4m.

Picture nine.

This tank will be used for dirty water and parlour washings and has a net storage of 324m3. This is including a 200mm free space at the top of the tank which must be left.

Water for washing is harvested from the roof of the sheds and from the plate cooler and stored in a 25,000l underground tank.

Between the milking parlour and the cubicle shed is an area that will be used to hold calves from next spring.

For this year, it is only used for storage as no calves are present on the farm. There will be a total of eight pens here, with five used to hold groups of calves.

Pens are 8.2m by 4.8m, meaning there is 39m2/pen. This would give space for approximately 20 calves/pen at 1.95m2/calf. In an ideal design, cows and calves would be housed in individual buildings so as to not share the same airspace.

Grasstec completed the drawings and planning application for the entire project.

Pictures 10 and 11

A new three-row cubicle design shed was also constructed.

A single row of 2.74m-long cubicles lines the back wall of the shed, with 1.84m mats and a 0.9m lunge zone.

Picture ten.

Head-to-head cubicles measure 4.63m with a 0.95 lunge zone between mats.

Cubicles were supplied and fitted by O’Donovan Engineering, while mats were supplied by Easyfix.

Along the back of the shed is a 2.74m-wide passageway.

The slatted passageway along the feed barrier is 5m wide. Automatic scrapers run along both passageways and feed into the L-shaped tank in the shed.

The shed was supplied and erected by O’Dwyer steel while all sheeting was supplied by Tegral.

Picture eleven.

Fibre cement sheeting is in place throughout the roof of both sheds. All concrete work for the shed was completed by Liam and Dermot O’Mara of OMB.

Tommy had a special word of thanks to his family for the support over the past year.

“This would never have been done if it wasn’t for the support of my wife Michelle and my parents Martin and Mary throughout the entire process.”