The priority when planning Leweston Farm’s 176-cow cubicle building was a simple design that ensured cow comfort, good ventilation, regularly scraped passageways and easy-to-clean, damage-proof feed areas.
Dorset farmer Paul Roper spent a lot of time planning the new cow accommodation at Leweston Farm, near Sherborne.
“Until recently our youngstock have been housed in some old kennel buildings away from the main dairy,” he explains.
“But that made for something of a headache with feeding, checking and bedding.
Leweston Farm near Sherborne, Dorset
- Farmed area 243ha
- Cropping Grass 146ha, maize 75ha, wholecrop winter wheat 22ha
- Stock 330 Holstein cows plus 440 followers
- Machinery Tractors – MF 7616, 6475 and 135, plus 46hp Iseki 5470. Loader – Merlo 40.7. Feeder wagon – 22cu.m Shelbourne Reynolds PowerMix Pro
- Staff Paul Roper plus four others
“The old buildings had paid for themselves several times over and were at the end of their life so we decided on a plan that would see all the stock at the main farm.
“Rather than splash out on new accommodation for the heifers, we opted to spend that money on a top-end shed for the milkers and put the youngsters into the old cubicles.”
The plan saw a 60x30m galavanised steel frame erected to provide space for 176 Holstein cows.
While fabricator Rose Engineering built the shed, local contractor Ian Chandler was employed to do the groundworks and concreting.
After some careful consideration, Northern Ireland firm Teemore Engineering was selected to supply and fit the cubicles and mattresses and, having had some 22 years experience with Dairymaster auto-scrapers in the farm’s old buildings, Mr Roper opted for more of the same in the new shed.
While all of this might seem fairly mainstream, there was a huge amount of attention to detail that went into the planning for the new building with an emphasis on doing the job right – but not at any cost.
A 300mm-high concrete panel spans the 6m gap between each of the steel uprights.
Above this, at 125cm, a single tubular rail acts as the feed barrier, set 175mm further out than the panel to allow the cows plenty of room to reach forward.
“We priced up locking yokes but they were going to work out at well over £50 a cow. By opting for this much simpler barrier set-up we saved more than £7,000,” says Mr Roper.
Left: A 1.5m strip down either side of the building was power-floated and coated with epoxy resin to provide a cheap, easy-to-clean, mirror-like feed surface.
Right: Downpipes get protective steel sleeves while stanchions are clad with sloped concrete plinths to shed silage and to deflect errant loader buckets and yard scrapers
“We were planning to spend that money on a special surface or tiles for the feed floor but the more I looked into it, the less I could see how to justify it.
Instead we simply power-floated a dead-smooth 1.5m-wide strip down the edge of the barrier and coated it with a layer of epoxy resin sealer, which gave us a mirror-like finish.
“At about £400 it was by far the cheapest option and there is no risk of damaging it with the loader bucket or scraper. I’m sure it will wear out with time, but slapping on another coat of resin is about as cheap as it gets.”
Another simple detail was to concrete a sloping plinth around each stanchion.
By stopping any build-up of silage around the steelwork, it is hoped that it will extend the building’s lifespan, deflect collisions from the loader, make cleaning up the feed passage easier and improve hygiene.
Guttering downpipes with purpose-made rodding points also get a protective galvanised steel jacket made up by local fabricator Edwin Perrott.
Up top, a 2m cantilever extension provides shelter for the two feed runs along the outside of the building.
The Teemore cubicles are a standard set-up spaced at 1,172mm to suit Holstein-sized cows. However Mr Roper specced them with a cranked headrail that channels the animals to stand centrally in the stall before lying down.
“The zigzag rail works really well in stopping cows lying on an angle and dunging on the cubicles.
“And being comfortable makes a huge difference too. The thick, rubber chip- and silicon foam-filled mattresses make a huge difference.”
Attention to detail is key here as well. While the cubicle concrete has a 100mm fall to the scraper passage, the tail end of the mattress is also tapered, with the result that liquid is naturally inclined to travel off the lying area.
At the front end, Teemore’s bolt-down plastic “pillow” further helps to ensure cows lie in the correct position and are less likely to get trapped.
In addition, it limits the throw of sawdust bedding from the farm’s 15-year-old Primex spreader.
On the runs of cubicles closest the outer edges of the buildings, Mr Roper has come up with another simple solution to limit wind blowing bedding off the mattresses.
The 50x250mm boards originally employed as shuttering have been reused and are bolted in place with some redundant feed-barrier brackets to form a low-level windbreak.
Clean drinking water is vital in dairy herds. But while rollover troughs are a common feature in many housing set-ups, Mr Roper had his reservations.
“Having tanks that are easy to clean means the job does actually get done.
On that basis, rollover troughs make sense but I have seen so many with leaky swivel joints that I was put off by the moving parts – and the fact you often end up filling your wellies.”
Instead he opted for Teemore’s tapered fast-empty troughs.
With a 75mm dump valve at the lower end, debris is flushed out and, being flat-bottomed, a single swipe from a brush gets rid of any remnants.
A clever latching system makes getting to the ballcock a quick job too. Paying £100 more for stainless steel was felt to be an easy decision.
Mr Roper is a big believer in cows having a light, airy environment, especially through the winter months.
“If nothing else it makes checking the cows over that much easier with good lighting and if we’re getting better yields that’s a definite bonus,” he says.
“With the help of our electrician we looked closely at how to go about getting the best set-up for the new shed.”
To provide the cows with 200 lux for the 16-hour light period, 40 150W metal halide (sodium discharge/SON) fittings would be required.
The cost of running those lamps over a year worked out at £5,150 whereas LED units would have cost less than half that annually.
Add into the equation the fact that LED lifespan is massively longer (approximately 50,000 hours) than conventional bulbs, and it looked like a no-brainer.
However the initial outlay was significantly more – LED units of the sort required generally come in at £500-£800 each, making the total cost £20,000-£32,000 before any fitting costs.
Not satisfied with that, but not wanting to fall back on old-school technology, electrician John Churchill set about finding something more affordable.
Eventually he stumbled across Venture Lighting’s 120W VisionLED floodlights for just £220 a fitting with a five-year guarantee – a potential saving of between £12,000 and £24,000.
These are wired into a complex timer and light sensor-controlled system that ensures the cows get exactly 16 hours of light each day.
The fittings are wired up so that manual switches control every other unit to provide low-level lighting for staff checking the cattle through the night.
“We’re saving a huge amount on our lighting costs and, with 50kW of solar panels on the roof, hopefully we’ll be shaving a big chunk off our electricity bill.”