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Ger McSweeney September/October Update

Assessing lying space, feeding space and ventilation for sheds

Assessing lying space, feeding space and ventilation for sheds

  • Measure up the lying space for cattle before housing to avoid losing out on weight gain over winter
  • Calculate the feed space available for your cattle, weanlings will require 0.45m/head/day
  • Check the air inlets and outlets in your shed to make sure there is enough space for letting air in and out to prevent disease outbreaks over winter
Autumn closing targets

Autumn closing targets

  • Continue to record graze dates of paddocks on PBI
  • Aim to have 60% of your farm closed by early to mid-November
  • Use the autumn rotation planner on PBI to check closing progress on your farm
Improving water quality through the ACRES scheme

Improving water quality through the ACRES scheme

  • Identify priority watercourses on your farm with your advisor
  • Discuss what actions can be taken to reduce the risk of nutrient/sediment loss
  • Can any of these actions be funded through the ACRES scheme and put into your plan?

Animal Health

The bulls are all weaned and the heifers are in progress. Ger used the nose paddles this year which were put into the calves’ noses for 6-7 days. They were fed hay out at grass and got 1kg of ration/head/day up until weaning. They were creep grazing ahead of the cows on the best grass all summer as well.

Work in Teagasc, Grange and across the world has shown a 20kg difference in carcass weight of 650 – 700kg for steers housed from 2 – 3m2. The lying and feeding space calculations were completed for the bull shed and the heifer shed on Ger’s farm. The pens in the bull’s slatted shed are 4.4m x 4.95m. At a lying space of 2.7m2/finishing bull there is sufficient space for 8 cattle. However the feeding space is the most limiting factor in the pens and at a feed space requirement of 0.65m/head, the pen should only have 7 bulls in it. Ger has 3 of these bays and 17 bulls to house so there will be more than enough lying and feed space for them at 5-6 bulls per pen.

Each pen in the heifer shed is 14.2m x 4.4m and it is a straw bedded shed. The weanling heifers require 2.7m2 lying space in a straw bedded shed and this would allow sufficient space for 23 weanlings. However they need 0.5m of feed space and due to the width of the shed there is only enough space for 8 weanlings. Ger is aware of this and simply adds in an extra feeding are at the back of the shed to allow for this. Each pen will hold 8-9 weanlings so this allows sufficient lying and feeding space for the priority young stock on Ger’s farm.

Good ventilation happens when enough clean air moves through the shed to remove gasses, odours, dust and bacteria. It should also remove the moisture and heat generated by the animals. To be effective it needs to work on calm days. Fresh air is actually a disinfectant, if a virus is coughed up in a building, it will last for 20 hours. However, if the same virus is coughed up outside in fresh air, it will last for about 20 minutes. Air actually deactivates the virus, so we need to make the maximum use of fresh air in sheds. The ‘stack effect’ is a ventilation method and is driven by the heat produced by the animals and by the roof slope. The animals produce heat and warm the air. The warm air rises following the slope of the roof, escaping through the outlet (highest point of the house) and is replaced by clean fresh air via the inlet.

The ventilation inlets and outlets were calculated for both sheds on the farm, which is computed based on the average animal weight, the number of animals to be housed, the total shed floor area and two charts (to get the ventilation outlet area and the height factor). The air inlets should be double the air outlets.

The bull shed had more than enough air inlets (windows) and outlets (raised sheeting, doorway and high windows) for the number of finishing bulls being housed there. The heifer shed had sufficient inlets for air (above the feed barrier and through the roller door) but not enough of an air outlet in the slits cut into the sheeting on the side of shed. This can be rectified by adding two slits in the sheeting of 1m x 0.5m.


Ger’s plan was to graze 60% of the farm by 25th October and the remaining 40% up until 7th November. The latest grass cover was completed on 17th October where he had 61% of the farm closed and the target from the autumn rotation planner was 48%. However considering the challenges grazing heavy covers due to recent rainfall, he is in a good situation to be ahead of target and is set to have cattle housed by early November. This will allow sufficient time for grass to row back on paddocks over winter and have sufficient covers for early turnout next spring. The autumn grazing targets are being easily monitored on PastureBase Ireland as per the graph below.

Water Quality

There is an important watercourse running at the bottom of Ger’s farm which was identified as a priority area by the local ASSAP advisor and by the ACRES maps from DAFM. Part of this is running directly beside a passageway on the farm. Ger has been considering his options for the ACRES scheme and as this is an important section of his farm for water quality, he has decided to make some changes to the layout. He will remove the current passageway and run it along the top of the field so that it is not directly beside the watercourse. A hedgerow will be planted along the entire watercourse at the bottom of the field to act as a buffer zone to trap any nutrients before they enter the watercourse. It will also be fenced to prevent any livestock access. Ger was not satisfied with the flow of cattle in the fields either and found it difficult to get them out of two paddocks so he is hoping that changing the layout of the land block will help this. Instead of 5 square paddocks he will put in 4 rectangular paddocks of 0.85ha each which will still allow 1.5 to 2 days grazing for his group of 40 cows and calves. While the rectangular paddocks are not ideal, Ger expects that re-rerouting the passageway will make it easier for him to separate cows for AI, he will make better use of the reclaimed land at the bottom of the land block and it will also be a huge step towards protecting the water quality in the watercourse.