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Estimating Farm Building Costs

Article by: Tom Ryan, Teagasc Specialist Service, Kildalton

Expenditure on farm buildings is by its nature a long-term capital investment that needs careful planning, both from a financial and a technical point of view. Good workmanship and correctly specified materials are also essential if it is to stand the test of time and prove good value for money.

After coming up with ideas for a farm building project, the first question on everyone's mind is, how much is it going to cost?

Generally, the best approach is to divide up the proposed structure into its parts and write a detailed schedule of costs item by item. This is the method used by farm building contractors when they are writing a quotation.

Having an itemised quotation is of benefit both to the farmer and the contractor. It helps to avoid disputes over what was or was not included in the price. In that way, charges for extras or for modifications to the original plans won't come as a surprise.

Itemised Costs

Itemised costs for a dairy unit and a slatted cattle unit are outlined in Table 1. Floor plans for each of the units are shown in Figures 1 and 2. The costs are based on standard costings compiled by the Irish Farm Building Contractors Association for their members.

In order to write an itemised costing like this, it is essential to refer to detailed plans/drawings of the proposed development. These drawings will have to be prepared for grant purposes and planning permission.

After the recent changes in the planning permission regulations, practically all farmyard developments will now require planning permission. The drawings prepared can be used to accurately price the job by multiplying measurements from the drawings, e.g. roof area (m2) by the cost of that item as shown in the second column in Table 1.

Follow the same procedure for each element of the building. The total cost calculated can be compared with quotations you get from contractors.


 Table 1.  Itemised costs for a dairy and cattle unit


Cost per item


Dairy unit costs (€)

(Fig. 1)

Slatted cattle unit costs (€)

(Fig. 2)

Roof 55 (per m2) 25,355 10,760
Side-cladding 18 (per m2) 1,800 502
Tank 72 (per m3) 27,979 22,240
Cubicles and cubicle beds 120 (each) 8,040 -
Mats 41 (each) 2,747 -
Concrete floors 19 (per m2) 4,950 1,696
External walls 127(per linear metre) 5,360 1,968
Sliding doors 75 (per m2) 3,825 -
Path, meal trough and shutters 175 (per linear metre) - 3,360
Feeding barriers 150 (per bay) 900 600
Automatic scrapers 2350 (per passageway) 4,700 -
Water troughs 200 (each) 400 400
Electrical work 330 (per bay) 1,980 1,320
Concrete apron adjacent to gable ends 21 (per m2) 1,680 650
Total Costs (+ VAT) - 88,939 43,496
Number of animals - 67 60
Cost per animal - 1,327 725
Grant (@40%) - 20,320 17,400
Net cost - 68,619 26,096
Net cost per animal   1,024 435
Roof, tank and cubicles for dairy unit (% of total) - 71% -
Roof and tank for cattle unit (% of total) - - 76%

The dairy unit has cubicle accommodation for 67 cows and the cattle unit has room for about 60 finishing cattle (2.33 m2/animal). An alternative floor plan for the dairy unit would be to have tanks running parallel to the cubicle beds, using fully slatted passages instead of a combination of scraped and slatted passages. This would increase the slurry storage capacity and the extra cost of the tank would be somewhat offset by the savings on the scrapers.

The three big cost items with the dairy unit are the roof, tank and cubicles which together amount to over 70 per cent of the total cost. In the case of the cattle unit the roof and the tank account for over 75 per cent of the total cost. In the two examples shown I have deducted a 40 per cent grant from the total costs giving a net cost of €68,619 for the dairy unit (€1,024/cow) and €26,096 (€435/animal) for the slatted cattle unit.

Look at all options  

In the initial stages of planning it is important to keep an open mind, looking at all the options including the most expensive of building on a green-field site. It is only then that the best option can be chosen.

For example, the best option might be to convert an existing silage pit into cubicle accommodation as part of the new plans. However, this location can often be ruled out in the belief that the silage pit is in good condition or that it would cost too much to replace it. This may be the case, but the option should be considered and compared with all the other options, otherwise in some cases wrong decisions will be made.

Existing facilities should be used as much as possible provided there are not too many compromises. Where the total cost of the conversion amounts to 70-80 per cent of the cost of a green-field site option there should be few, if any, compromises to the design. Savings can be made by phasing the development, if that is possible, and by doing without some items until funds become available, e.g. expensive feed barriers, some sliding doors, cow mats, in-parlours feeders, silage pit walls, etc.

Silage pit walls cost about €280 per metre run. As long as the overall design of the building or conversion is right and it allows for further improvements and expansion, other desirable additions can be added later.


Figure 1:  Six Bay Slatted house, with cubicles for 67 cows and extended slurry tank


Figure 2:  Four Bay Slatted unit for 60 finishing cattle