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.
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.
A new 198-cubicle shed has recently been installed on the farm of Gerard and Emer Howard from just outside of Fermoy in Co Cork. The farm has steadily increased numbers since quotas went, moving from 80 to 140 cows.
However, with limited winter accommodation on the farm it meant that other sheds had to be rented away from the home yard. This meant a lot of time was spent on the road feeding cattle. The new shed was seen as key to reducing workload for the farm, with all stock now located in the one central yard.
“We were renting sheds away from the yard last year and some of them were within 5km of the farm but others were up on 20km away which could take three hours to feed,” Gerard explained.
The farm brings all youngstock through to slaughter, while also buying in additional calves to finish too. Therefore at any one time the shed could be accommodating cows, replacement heifers and cattle for finishing.
“We are happy at the numbers we have now,” Emer explained, “If we went up more numbers then it would just mean that we would have to hire in more labour, which is not what we want.”
Gerard added: “I like the beef. It’s good to have it (the beef) in a year when the milk price is bad and it helps not to have all your eggs in one basket. We like having a variety. It adds to the bottom line at the end of the day and we can make a good income from them.”
The shed is 52.9m long and 38.4m wide with a feed passage running down through the centre of the shed. A 7.7m-wide central feed passage was decided on to ensure plenty of room to accommodate the diet feeder. The shed stands at 4.5m to the eaves, rising to 10.4m at the apex of the ridge cap. The roof has a 15° slope.
The shed is used to hold beef cattle as well as cows, and while all cows will be stocked at one cow/cubicle, for the beef stock higher stocking rates are used. The shed will generally be used to hold over 200 cattle at any one time.
Cattle are fed along one end of the shed to provide additional space. “About 220 can eat at the one time if we needed, with the extra feed space at either end,” according to Gerard. Total length of available feed face is approximately 136m, which if used to accommodate 200 cattle would mean space of 680mm/animal.
Inlet ventilation is provided through a combination of vented sheeting and a continuous opening running directly below the eaves. As the shed is over 24m wide then a continuous opening of 450mm is required in addition to the vented sheeting.
“We are happy with the movement of air throughout the shed, but you do need the opening,” according to Gerard.
Excluding the central feed passage, area within the shed is 8m2 per cow, at 200 cows.
A three-row cubicle design was chosen for each side of the shed. Crossover points, fitted with tip-over drinkers, are in place at either end of the row of cubicles. Cubicles along the wall measure 2.45m while the head-to-head cubicles are 2.27m long each. The back passage of the shed is 3m wide while the front passage, along the feed barrier, is 4.6m wide. The wide passage along the feed barrier is in a bid to reduce bullying of young or smaller cows.
“We went with the diagonal feed barriers as it means that we can feed bales of silage or zero-grazed grass without worrying about it being pulled into the passageways,” Gerard explained.
“We had originally costed to just have a straight bar in but we said when we were doing it that we would do it once and do it right.”
Two bays are dedicated to a calving area within the shed, with a 146m2 straw bedded area on either side of the feed passage. Each pen is fitted with a calving gate while the gates at the front of the calving pen have been designed so that cows can be given access to one or two spans of the feed barrier. This means that if there are two cows in the calving pen they will not be taking up potentially where 18 cows could feed.
Dairymaster scrapers run along the full length of the four internal passageways, feeding into a double tank running across the bottom of the shed. Internally, the tank is 41m long and 8.5m wide with a spine wall running down the centre to support 4.4m wide slats. The tanks also run underneath the central feed passage, with a suspended passageway in place. The new shed provides 820m3 of slurry storage while there is also additional storage in other tanks in the yard.
As there are a number of different groups within the shed (dry cows, in-calf heifers and beef stock) one feature that the Howards find very useful are pen dividers which make movement of stock around the shed much more streamlined.
Every second span of the shed, along both walls, is fitted with a high-pressure water point to allow ease of cleaning. These pipes run along the top of the walls but have been kept independent from the drinkers in the shed. A valve is in place outside the shed to allow water supply to these points to be turned off and the pipes drained to prevent freezing.
One issue that farmers have had with tip-over drinkers is the pipe getting pulled when they are tipped over. One small adaptation was to put a hook on the wall which holds the pipe in place.
It is very easy to see that both Gerard and Emer take great pride in their farm. Their mentality is to be commended. Everything has its place around the yard and they put in the work to keep it pristine. Not only does it make management easier but it provides a safe work environment which helps to reduce labour.
“We love what we are doing, it’s a great way of life and if you enjoy your work then you don’t really work a day,” said Gerard.
Emer and Gerard Howard from Carrigabrick, Fermoy, Co Cork.
The total cost of the project came to approximately €450,000 including VAT. Emer and Gerard are in a partnership so were able to avail of a 40% grant of a higher ceiling of €160,000 through TAMS (Targeted Agricultural Modernisation Scheme) which meant a grant aid of €64,000.
Once the grant element and VAT element are refunded, the net cost will work out at approximately €350,000, or €1,750/head if accommodating 200 cattle.
Having one central contractor for the project made life much easier throughout the project, according to both Gerard and Emer. “The workmanship of all the lads was second to none,” said Gerard. “All the people who worked here knew what they were doing and it made the whole project easier.”
Mulcahy Steel fabricated and supplied the shed while also completing all sitework and concrete work for the project. They also fitted the barriers and gates, supplied by Condon Engineering. Aidan Kelly of Agri-Design and Planning Services completed the drawings for the shed and the planning permission application.
Plumbing was carried out by Thomas and James Kearney, while David Barry and David O’Mahoney completed the electrical work for the shed.
Joe Collins of FDC accountants set up the partnership and completed the grant application. They also secured the finance for the project from Bank of Ireland. The Dairymaster scrapers were supplied and fitted by Richard Quane Dairy Services.
A new suckler shed has recently been built at the Teagasc Grange research farm at Dunsany in Co Meath.
“We had a similar shed on the farm already in the main yard that is working very well so we decided to go with a similar design again for this one,” according to JJ Lenehan, buildings officer with Teagasc based in Grange.
“It is a multifunctional shed.It is designed to hold 150 suckler cows but will also be used for other groups too,” JJ said. “This type of shed would suit someone who is finishing bulls at 16 months old so that they would be out of the shed again before cows would be housed for the winter. “We do a lot of different trials at Grange so the shed has to be able to cater for different groups of stock.”
Measuring 33.6m long by 33.2m wide, the shed is practically a square, with both sides having the same internal layout. The shed is seven bays long in total, with a double tank fitted on either side of a central, 6m wide, feed passage. The slatted tanks only account for five of the seven bays, with the remaining two bays dedicated to calving pens.
The double slatted pens have a span of 9.6m. The slatted area accounts for 7.6m of this, with 1m of a solid toenail along either feed barrier, which gives a larger-capacity pen without the expense of having a larger slatted tank. Floor area per cow works out at 3m2 while the tanks provide adequate slurry storage capacity in line with Nitrates Directive requirements. Each double tank has a capacity of 212m2, giving total storage capacity in the shed of 848m2.
The tanks themselves are 25.2m long, 2.4m deep and 7.3m wide, including a 300mm spine wall running in the centre of the tank to provide support for the slats.
The shed stands at 4.5m to the eaves, rising to approximately 8.6m at the top of the ridge cap, with a 12° slope on the roof. The walls of the shed are 2.3m high, with approximately 2.2m of vented sheeting in place above this. Vented sheeting is also in place at either end of the shed.
“We went for a big cubic air capacity in this shed with the high 4.5m eaves,” JJ said. “We have a lot of different sheds in Grange and found that it would be the lower sheds with eaves below 3m and smaller cubic air capacity that cattle would struggle in, especially with pneumonia.”
Outside of the shed, gates are being fitted to allow cattle to be moved from one side of the shed to the other at ease, by one man if necessary.
The decision was also made to install spaced sheeting throughout the roof of the shed. While some farmers may be anxious of the amount of moisture that gets in, JJ said: “I wouldn’t go any other way than the spaced sheeting. The amount of moisture that gets in is minimal but there is great capacity for gases and moisture to get out. If there are 150 cows in the shed they are producing a lot of moisture that needs to get out.”
Fibre cement sheeting was installed throughout the roof. This sheeting prevents condensation forming and dripping back down on cattle. It also helps to provide a stable internal temperature, more so than normal sheeting. This could be especially useful where bulls are being finished inside a shed over the summer when temperatures rise.
The shed was not built through the Targeted Agricultural Modernisation Scheme (TAMS) so there was no requirement to leave a continuous opening directly beneath the eaves. As the shed is over 24m wide, the Department specifications outline that a gap of 750mm must be left directly below the eaves. However, the shed is on an exposed site.
An adjoining shed was constructed with the continuous opening running directly below the eaves which had to be boarded up due to the amount of rain entering the shed, and falling on the creep area, even with an overhang in place. This filtered into the decision not to have the opening in this shed and maybe highlights that standard ventilation requirements may not work for all sites.
“We would also be feeding bulls ad-lib on meal in this shed and birds can be a real issue so we had to try and keep it bird proof where possible,” JJ said.
Between seven and eight cows can fit in each pen, according to JJ. Cows can be fed along the back of the pen at a straight feed bar, while the small gate into the pen has also been designed to provide additional feed space. The neck rails can be adjusted depending what age stock are in the pens.
There is a 15cm step up from the slatted pen to both the creep area and the feed face, which allows cows easier access to reach silage while also preventing slurry from getting out on the creep area.
The creep area will act as a feeding passage for most of the year, but is fitted with gates that can be closed to provide a separate creep pen for each slatted pen. This may be needed if weather conditions are challenging during the spring once cows have calved, as was seen this year.
“The shed is set up so that cows can feed on both sides of the pens,” JJ said. “Then, as cows calve down and stocking rate in the pens reduces, we can convert the feed passages into creep area if needs be, but the hope would be to get cows and calves out to grass as soon as possible after calving.”
All lights fitted in the shed are LED. However, one uncommon design aspect has seen all lights fitted to the stanchions as opposed to hanging from the roof. Safety was a key consideration when making this decision.
JJ said: “Our role as a research farm allows us to do things like this and see how it works. We have plenty of sheds at Grange where lights are hanging from the roof on chains and they are difficult to replace when they go. We are confident that the design will provide adequate light in the shed.”
The shed has impressive calving facilities, with eight calving pens, four on either side of the shed, all of which are well equipped. Escape gates mean a farmer can move from one pen to another with ease, providing a quick escape route if dealing with an agitated cow. A small gate with wire mesh is in place at the front of the headgates to prevent calves coming out through them.
As the shed is over three bays long, agitation points are required at both ends of the tank. However, with no internal agitation point, another option had to be examined.
The decision was made to install an aeration system throughout the tank which would mean air would be continuously moving through the slurry.
This means the tanks would not have to be mechanically agitated prior to spreading in the spring.
While the pipes have been fitted to the tank, the system itself is not yet installed. The plan for next year will be to recirculate slurry above ground using pipes.
Due to the average suckler farm size, the number of suckler sheds of this scale that are going up in Ireland is limited, but it is important to remember that this shed is first and foremost to be used for research purposes. The total cost of the investment came to €344,000 excluding VAT.
Whatever size of unit is under consideration, buildings constructed to the current Department specifications will have long working lives. This combined with improved labour efficiency and optimising slurry storage and management will ensure a cost-effective investment. There are several interesting design aspects incorporated into the design that farmers could apply to future developments on their own farm, even at a smaller scale.
Oldtown Construction, Portlaoise, Co Laois supplied and erected the shed. They also completed the concrete work for the project. Cembrit supplied the fibre cement sheeting for the roof of the shed. Tegral supplied the metal cladding for the sides of the shed. Condon Engineering supplied and erected all penning.
As part of a recent Irish Farm Buildings Association (IFBA) study tour the Irish Farmers Journal visited the farm of Joe and Maria Connolly who farm in partnership with their two sons Kevin and Stephen near Roscrea, Co Offaly. The farm itself is 106ha of which 94ha is owned and was purchased in 2008, originally starting out as a beef and suckler farm.
However, in 2012 the decision was made to convert to a dairy enterprise with a 15-unit milking machine installed with the help of a TAMS I grant, to milk the newly established 60-cow herd.
“The farmyard we are standing on now was a greenfield site,” according to Jim Myles, Teagasc advisor who organised the visit. “One of the advantages of a greenfield development like this is that we could decide where to put the parlour and sheds, so one of the key aims was to minimise cow walking on the farm by locating the farmyard as centrally as possible.”
Joe Connolly echoed this sentiment: “We wanted to make sure cowflow would be right, that was our number-one priority when we first installed the milking parlour. After this, we wanted to have a good flow between the cubicle and the parlour.”
The farm is currently milking 209 cows with the aim to push this up to 230 in 2019. The whole farm is currently stocked at 2.25LU/ha. In 2017, the farm sold 459kg/cow. Cows averaged 5,655 litres at 4.27% fat and 3.62% protein.
“If there was the possibility of making silage on an outside block we could maybe push up to 300 cows on the 94-hectare milking block,” explains Joe.
“We started off with 110 roofless cubicles in 2014. When we first looked at putting in the outdoor cubicles we knew that we would always end up roofing them if we were able to afford it,” Joe said. Four slatted tanks were also installed as part of this development. A herd of 80 suckler cows was sold throughout 2014 which helped to finance the first lot of topless cubicles installed, meaning a loan did not need to be drawn down. Total cost for the 110 roofless cubicles and slurry storage came to €95,000 including the VAT.
The next development of the farm was the installation of five bays of calving and calf-rearing pens, adjoining the roofless cubicles, in 2015.
These were installed with the help of a TAMS II grant. Additionally, 55 of the initial cubicles were also roofed, meaning half of the entire shed was completed at this point.
As cow numbers continued to push up additional cubicles and calf-rearing facilities were required. With 164 cows on the farm in 2016 an additional five bays of calving and calf-rearing pens were installed along with an additional 58 roofed cubicles and two slatted tanks.
In total, the developments in 2015 and 2016 involved 10 bays of calving and calf-rearing pens along with roofing 55, initially, unroofed cubicles and installing 58 roofed cubicles.
The total cost came to €190,000 with a grant of €80,000 got through TAMS, as the farm was in partnership, this meant that €110,000 had to be borrowed on a long-term loan, extended over 15 years.
Finally in 2017, with 185 cows on the farm the final 58 roofed cubicles were installed along with two slatted tanks to give total net storage capacity on the farm of 1,600m3. As the farm is located in Zone A, the requirement is to have 16 weeks of storage on the farm, meaning storage is currently in place for 303 cows. This section of the investment came to a further €78,000 including the VAT.
At this point in the development, three-quarters of the shed is now roofed with a total of 226 cubicle spaces; of which 55 are still unroofed. The plan is to roof the remaining section in 2019.
While the current facilities are bright and airy it will be interesting to see how the shed works when fully closed up as it will be a completely different movement of air within the shed.
Between 2012 and 2019 the facilities on the farm have expanded slowly in a sustainable manner in conjunction with an increase in cow numbers which has helped to fund the investments.
“We always planned on roofing the cubicles but it would have been difficult to do it all in the first year,” Joe explains. “Instead we tried to design a shed that we could build in sections and the hope is that we will finish it off next year.
“From what we have seen here, the cows would prefer the roofed cubicles. If they have the option of either, they would always come in under the roof,” according to Joe.
Once completed, the shed will be 48m wide by 48m long so ventilation becomes more of an issue. Outlet ventilation is provided by spaced sheeting throughout the entire roof of the shed, including over the calf pens.
A central ridge cap also provides outlet ventilation. As Joe felt that the shed could be relatively dark once fully closed up with no translucent sheeting in place throughout the roof, the decision was made to install translucent sheeting as part of the large unorthodox ridge cap. This also serves to join up the two sides of the shed.
The shed stands at 4.5m at the eaves, rising to 10.3m at the apex so does have a large cubic air capacity which will help with ventilation requirements.
Cows will be moved from the cubicles to the calving pens on the point of calving Joe explains, with calves then going to individual pens before moving to group pens. “We always wanted to keep everything under the one roof,” Joe said. “I know some people will prefer to keep the airspace between cows and calves separate but I believe there is enough air movement in the shed and it hasn’t caused any issues.
“I am happy with the calf pens, there is never a smell of ammonia which is a good indicator that air is moving,” said Joe. “Calves have done well which is the real test.”
Inlet ventilation is provided to the calf pens through a continuous opening left between the eaves and the sheeting adjacent to the calf pens.
“It was a battle the whole way along, with finance the biggest battle of the lot,” Joe explained. “It was the end of 2016 before we had the overdraft paid off ,so it was 2017 before we were in profit. The good year of 2017 meant that we could finance the €78,000 spent that year from cashflow.”
The total cost of the shed so far has come to €363,000 including the VAT. Development on the farm is not yet complete with loan approval received for €320,000 to install a new 44-unit rotary that is intended to be commissioned for milking in early 2019.
“Labour is the number-one reason why we have decided to go with a rotary,” Joe outlined. “We had looked at putting in a 30-unit herringbone parlour but then you would be looking at having another person in the pit too and you would be limited if you expanded further down the line.
“With the rotary we could go to 400 cows in the future if the opportunity arose.”
A Waikato rotary was chosenfor one main reason according to Joe: “The simplicity of the parlour is what caught our eye and I milked in one and I liked it. It will have an auto-retention feature, automatic teat spraying and an autowash system installed along with an AI platform.”