In this article, Tom Fallon, Teagasc, Farm Buildings & Infrastructure Specialist, discusses building a shed for sucklers.
TF: What should farmers keep in mind when designing a shed for sucklers?
A shed is a long term investment. Therefore, the design of the shed should facilitate conversion for other uses such as housing weanlings or finishing animals.
How much space does each animal require?
Suckler cows need 3m2 or 5m2 per head for a slatted or straw bedded area, respectively. A creep area of 1m2 per calf or 1.75m2 for autumn-born calves is also needed.
How much space for food/water is required for each animal?
600-700 mm of feed barrier space is required to feed concentrates. 400-500mm may be adequate to feed silage ad-lib.
We need to acknowledge that animals all like to eat together so we should facilitate this as far as possible.
What type of shed do you think a suckler farm should build?
Why do you think this type of shed is best?
This type of shed facilitates multiple uses. Weanlings could be housed in the lie back area and fed on the slats (no suckler cows involved).
If housing was tight on the farm, the crush could be omitted and a feed barrier installed on that side as well.
In this scenario, it would house about 50 suckler cows and 50 weanlings subject to adequate slurry storage for the particular region of the country. The wall does provide good shelter for calves or young stock. The siting of the shed would be very important if this wall is to be omitted.
Outline the cost (approximate) associated with constructing a 50-cow suckler shed?
The above shed would cost about €102,000 or €20,400 per bay and another €13,500 for the handling unit.
What grants are available when building a shed for sucklers?
A grant under Targeted Agriculture Modernisation Scheme (TAMS) is available for a shed like this. In addition, there are two rates, 40% and 60%, under the Young Farmer Capital Investment Scheme (YFCIS).
Given that the cost is well more than the individual ceiling of €80,000, I would expect the maximum eligible grant aid would be achieved.
The current TAMS tranche closes on July 23rd, 2021, and there will be a further tranche closing on November 5th, 2021.
What should farmers consider from a time management and safety perspective?
Most suckler housing serves two purposes; it is where cows spend the winter and the place where they calve down.
Ideally, calving would occur in a dedicated facility, but this cannot be justified in smaller herds.
The Department of Agriculture Food and the Marine (DAFM) require that there is independent access to each pen. This is to ensure that animals can be moved in and out without going through another pen.
Safety is a big concern for suckler farmers, especially around calving time. This drawing needs more work in this regard.
A suckler cow should be calved in an individual pen. Calving an animal takes enough attention without having to watch your back in terms of other animals in the pen.
Apart from having enough individual calving pens, the other key consideration is the ability to restrain a cow in a headlock gate while the calf is receiving attention.
Ideally, each calving pen would have a calving gate or, at a minimum, a headlock gate. Angled feed barriers would be satisfactory, and it is hard to justify the extra cost of headlock barriers.
It should be possible to restrain the cow without having to enter the pen.
Feeding the cows through the headlock gate regularly can help in this regard. A freshly calved cow is often thirsty, so giving her a drink of warm water or a proprietary tonic while she is restrained is another option.
The use of the creep area for weanlings would work best if it is feasible to turn them out early to make room for the new calves.
What about cubicles for sucklers?
Cubicles are very suitable for sucklers. Of course, they will cost more than the conventional slatted accommodation, but bedding costs will be much lower.
An integrated slatted and cubicle system would work best because the dung from sucklers could be dry and difficult to scrape.
Many suckler cows have large frames, so the cubicle beds would need to be sized accordingly.
Lighting is important, especially in the calving area. Follow the DAFM specification S101.