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Avoid Irritating Problems in Farm Buildings

Hugh MacEneaney, Teagasc Dairy Adviser, Mullinavat, Co Kilkenny

Many of the irritating design problems and deficiencies seen in farm buildings could have been avoided by forward planning and good advice.

Good facilities allow farmers to expand production and incomes and add to the asset value of the farm. They also lead to a better quality of life for the farm family by reducing the workload and the drudgery. In many cases, particularly on dairy farms, buildings pay for themselves over a 7-10 year period. This is especially true when capital grant and tax savings are available.

There is no point in investing heavily in new facilities or conversions that cannot be justified on financial grounds. When borrowings are needed to finance any building improvements, caution and financial analysis should be adhered to, and professional advice sought.

Many farmers fall into the trap of jumping into a major building project, only to discover later, it lacks the essential design feature to ensure smooth and efficient operation of the building.

Time spent planning and seeking good advice or visiting other similar projects, is always time well spent and will stand to you when you undertake your own building. Many farmers are conscious of quality in every aspect of construction and ensure that buildings comply with relevant specifications, others fall down in the finer details leading to irritating problems.

I have encountered design problems and deficiencies, which could have been avoided by forward planning and good advice.

Landscape and Buildings

Buildings should not, if at all possible, be sited on a ridge on the highest point in the locality. Buildings can be integrated into the countryside both by the use of graded earthen banks and by the planting of screens and shelterbelts. Species like alder, beech, larch and rowan are best.

Many buildings stick out like a sore thumb on the landscape. Silver galvanized sheds can be seen for miles on sunny days. Good use of colour makes farm buildings appear smaller and more sympathetic to the traditional country buildings. The choice of appropriate colours is influenced by the colour of existing buildings on the farm.

Dark colours on roofs reduce the apparent size of buildings and blend them into the landscape un-intrusively. Accordingly, roofs should be painted darker than walls. Suitable roof colours are dark grey or very dark green.

Slurry Tanks

Agitation facilities for slurry tanks should be outside the building. Extended tanks are often roofed over to provide extra feeding area for animals resulting in no outside facility for agitation. External agitation is also often not provided for in the conversion of existing buildings.

These inadequate design features can often have serious consequences when agitating slurry. Machinery not having access to both agitating points can also cause a serious problem. Other problems, which I have encountered in the design of slurry tanks, include the opening between tanks being inadequate for slurry to circulate and beams bridging the opening between tanks hanging too deep.

Feed Barrier Design

A well-designed feed barrier will allow maximum access to feed, minimise feed wastage and prevent livestock getting out on the passage. These requirements are often lacking in many barriers, resulting in reduced animal performance and extra labour.

The rail and post barriers most widely used in cattle housing are often not sufficiently adjustable. Weanlings can range from 150 kg in October to 350 kg in April and a badly designed head rail restricts animal reach as well as resulting in unsightly humps over the shoulders. The feed rail normally set 550-600mm above the feed wall should be adjustable by 150mm up or down.

Various different types of feed barrier are available for dairy housing. These include diagonal feed barrier, straight bar, dove tail and bail barrier. All barriers should be set at a height of 1,200mm from the floor. The stub wall can be far too thick at 200-220mm restricting animal reach significantly. A 100mm wide stub wall, suitably reinforced, is sufficient resulting in better access to silage.

Feed space - cows need 600mm with enough space for two cows to pass behind. Often this area is too small, leading to cows getting insufficient feed, resulting in endless problems.


Separating clean water from dirty water should be the first priority on all farms. However, this is often overlooked and properly constructed channels are not available to convey dirty water and effluent to tanks. All roof water should be collected and piped to the nearest watercourse.

A major problem is broken or blocked eve gutters, down pipes and manholes, which can be easily and cheaply repaired. Attention to detail in the design of systems and facilities will ensure better farm waste control and reduce labour requirements.

Feed passages and doors

This is an area of design that has improved dramatically over the last number of years with errors mainly occurring in conversions. In new buildings the recommended minimum width of a central passage is 4.0m. This should be increased to 5.0m if you wish to facilitate the use of a diet feeder in future years. Too many feed passages in converted buildings are narrow (2.7-3.0m), resulting in no secondary silage handling by tractor. This leads to a lot of undesirable hand forking.

Doors to central passages should always be sliding for greater safety and should preferably incorporate a wicker door for personnel access.


Farm buildings require good ventilation for health and performance of housed livestock. Good ventilation results in better and more clement working conditions and a longer lifespan for buildings.

The aim is to provide the minimum ventilation required in calm conditions and to prevent draughts at animal level in windy conditions. The rate of ventilation is directly proportional to the size of the openings and the height difference between the inlet and outlet. New livestock units should have a minimum height at the eaves of 3.0m and a minimum roof slope of 15o.

Apart from the traditional eave and ridge ventilation, spaced sheeting (i.e. 12-15mm between sheets) and raised sheeting are now being used successfully as a means of getting better air movement, particularly where reconstruction is involved and conventional design is compromised. It is now an absolute requirement for grant-aid that the specifications for ventilation are adhered to in detail.

Full ventilation should be provided in any conversion or extension of existing buildings. Inlets should be provided beneath both eaves using either a continuous opening, louvered sheeting, plastic mesh, or space boarding. The size of the opening will depend on the width of the building.


Many excellent buildings were erected by building contractors and farmers in the late eighties. However, many have since deteriorated significantly because farmers have not paid attention to good maintenance and management.

The condition of many farmyards also leaves a lot to be desired and problems like effluent by passing storage tanks because of badly maintained channels and broken gullies are all too common. Better maintenance and management of on-farm facilities is essential to derive maximum benefit. Roofs with galvanised material should be painted with an appropriate colour to blend in with the surrounding environment. This will also help to increase the lifespan of the building and enhance the value and appearance of the farm.


When planning a building or conversion, farmers should have clear drawings and specifications prepared which include the financial, labour and environmental implications.

Geo membrane lined lagoons

Geo membrane lined lagoons are one of the few alternatives to conventional slurry storage that are accepted and grant aided by the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development. The lagoon is dug out and lined with geo textile to prevent any wastes escaping. It is a cheaper alternative to conventional slurry tanks.