With countless dairy farmers throughout the country planning on expanding their herds in the coming years, this expansion will put increased pressure on existing farm facilities.

Calving can be the most stressful time of the year for farmers so it is vital to ensure that facilities are up to the job in an expansion situation. AgriLand spoke to Teagasc farm building specialist Tom Ryan this afternoon to get an insight into the key things farmers must have in place for calving.

“Farmers should look at the existing facilities and see if they are adequate for their current needs. If there not adequate now they won’t be adequate in an expansion situation,” he said matter-of-factly.

He also noted: “With calving becoming increasingly more compact, this is putting even more pressure on both man and facilities. Farmers must look at ways to make their lives that bit easier.

“There are some farmers who have all group penning and there are some with all individual boxes. Both systems have advantages and disadvantages. We are advising farmers to use a combination both.”

Ryan noted: “We would say that farmers are the best judges of their own needs. But enough group pens to hold 20 per cent capacity of the herd would suit most set ups. Coupled with this up to five individual boxes are advised.

“With the top farmers now calving 50 per cent of their herd in three weeks, group calving is the only option in that situation. However individual pens to deal with difficult calving, wild cows or sick animals are important also.

“The biggest problem is cows calving in the cubicle house, where there is a huge risk in terms of disease.”

He stressed: “In most good calving set-ups good access for cleaning out and feeding with a tractor is critical characteristic. Also some farmers like to be able to keep the cows away from feed for periods to prevent them calving during the night, which has been successful.”

Ryan was also keen to emphasise that good drainage is vital. “The farmer needs to be able to wash and disinfect the pen easily and quickly … Something that is often over looked in calving pens is making sure when cleaning one pen it doesn’t affect the pen beside it. Things like this can cause delays on farms and in busy herds turnaround time is important.”

According to Ryan other important element of calving pens includes good lighting, proper areas for storing important equipment at calving and finally hand-washing facilities.

“These are very important things from a labour point of view. It’s often the small things that cause the most trouble,” he added.

Ryan concluded: “Who knows what the correct amount of facilities is, farmers have to asses that for themselves.”

Teagasc and Animal Health Ireland are organising four calf-rearing farm walks throughout January, in Cork, Limerick, Offaly and Meath. All farm walks plan to address colostrum management, feeding for growth, managing the scouring calf, calf housing and Johne’s disease.