Optimum Design of a Cattle House – A close look at the building process and scheduling that can make all the difference, by Donal Flanagan

People sometimes lose sight of the overall objective by the time the slatted tank is built, and the shed frame has been erected and all that work is paid for, but any aspect of a farm building that animals are in contact with should be planned and specified properly, not just the basic frame.


My name is Donal Flanagan – B.Agr.SC. – Farm Buildings Services Ltd., Ardscull, Athy, Co. Kildare. Our business has been trading in the farm buildings business for the last 44 years now, providing a complete project management service for building works across the farmiong and agri industry all over the island of Ireland.

My father doanl Senior started the business in 1974, at a time when slatted cattle housing andmodern farm buildings as we know them today were just coming on the horizon and sometimes seen as new ideas that were pushing the boundaries. Over the years in business he developed unrivalled experience and knowledge of how to construct farm buildings in a cost-effective manner while ensuring that clients needs were met in line with their farming system.

To say that i have benifitted greatly during the transition where day to day responsibility now rests on my shoulders is an understatement. From dealing with swampy, bottomless ground under sections of large grain stores to shifting rock under slatted tanks, the problem was always engineered out and a solution found.

And so I push into 2018 with sadness due to my father’s death over the Christmas period, but happy and thankful for the benefit of 14 years’ experience sharing his knowledge and experience in a professional capacity. I am a firm believer in the values he held, honesty, integrity, behaving in a professional manner while at work, giving value to your clients and being careful because you are responsible for someone else’s money.



Having a professional plan means the work is done on time and any potential problems are flagged and solved early

1. Advice on design and layout according to requirements. This can take from two weeks to more than a month depending on the complexity of the proposal. Some farmers know exactly what they want while others require ideas and advice before full agreement is reached on a design. Working in existing yards, adding on to existing buildings is generally more difficult than moving to a green field site. This project took a little longer to design due to the topography on site making certain options prohibitive due to the costs involved. Significant changes in ground levels would have called for steep ramps in the farmyard, lots of filling to tie in with existing yard levels, and significant engineering detail to erect the buildings safely and securely.

2. Once agreement is reached this is progressed to a full set of drawings and submission and processing of a Planning Application to the local Authority. Preperation of drawings and documentation required by Local Authorities will take another two weeks. It is important to take the time to prepare a submission clearly, with accurate details on the existing farm yard and farming operations. This allows the Local Authority to make an informed decision and understand the need for the proposed development.

A Grant of Permission will take a minimum of 12 weeks from the time the Application is lodged. This is generally achievable for most agricultural developments.

Where further information is requested the process may take up to six months longer. No problems were encountered in this case and planning Permission was granted without any questions being asked.

(Some projects may require the preparation of Environmental Impact Statements or specific chapters such as Site Assessments or Ecological Reports where development is taking place in or near a sensitive area such as a Natura 2000 site or perhaps a graveyard which may require an Archaelogical Report. These reports may take a number of weeks to prepare but can be provided as part of our service).

3. When Planning Permission is in place we can provide cost estimates or tender the proposed works. The overall cost and value for money are significant with any new development. Accurate costings that account for every element of the works will give the farmer a true picture of the requirements.

A lot of farmers carry out some aspects of the work themselves which is fine, but they do not account for the cost of their own labour, which can be a false economy.

We are finding that in larger dairy units the farmer does not have the time to acrry out any work on new development, but they don’t assess this properly beforehand, and then view the requirement to employ the contractor as an extra cost.

This process will usually take two to three weeks, depending on the scale of the project and what decisions a farmer must make. E.G. milking machine supplier. It is important to note that in a busy time like the industry is currently experiencing, costs are tending to rise so careful management of the figures is necessary to secure the best prices.

4. The best package (i.e. building contractor, shed contractor, gates, railing, stall work contractor, plumber, electrician etc.) is chosen and contractors appointed.

5. Supervision of the works to completion forms the majority of our work. As part of this service we complete the necessary paperwork, e.g. Grant Aid Applications, Commencement Notice. a Commencement Notice is a legal document and must be submitted to the Building Control section of the Local Authority at least 14 days and not more than 28 days before site work begins.

Health & Safety requirements can be quite onerous and should be handled very carefully. Only competent contractors who are in compliance with regulations should be used, and promoters are obliged to fulfil their obligations.

Regular site visits are important to co-ordinate the works, ensure compliance with Dept. of Agriculture specifications and other standards and to ensure that the projects run safely. This project will take approximately six months to complete fully.

6. Certification of payment to contractors for works completed. Where required we act on our client’s behalf to certify that works are completed and payment can be made to the various contractors employed.

7. We employ a Chartered Engineer to prepare all our drawings, provide certification/specifications for works where necessary and to help with compliance under various codes such as Health & Safety.

We are in contact with a large range of builders, contractors and suppliers around the country on a rgular basis. The cost of a professional planner should be easily recovered by their pricing and planning knowledge when compared to self build.

“Having a professional plan the job means the work is done on time and any potential problems are flagged and solved early”


While there is general acceptance of rubber cubicle matting for dairy cows, there is a wide variation in the quality of material available.

Selection of product used is usually dictated by price rather than examining the cost: benefit ratio of fitting a higher spec. or better product. Very few people consider the possible benefits in providing rubber matting along the feed face where cows feed for around 8 hours per day during the housing period. It should be acknowledged that the dimensions specified in modern dairy cubicle housing are more generous in recent times.

Passage widths within animal areas have generally increased which certainly allows greater freedom of movement but is also partly a function of greater animal numbers housed in one area, leading to a greater density which requires a larger area to be provided. Increased width of crossovers, particularly where drinkers are situated is a very noticeable improvement over older cubicle houses where as as little as one cubicle space was taken out to allow for circulation of stock. It is very important to note that a lot of more recent houses don’t make sufficient provision for crossovers when cubicle houses are stocked in seperate groups.

Gates are generally placed across passageways with no provision for stock to circulate so they hit a dead end. This is not a good setup and should be avoided through more thorough planning and provision of more crossovers to suit any system of grouping cows according to weight, age, milking or dry etc. being employed on each individual farm.

Cubicle bed widths haven’t changed greatly and usually don’t need to be more than 1.15m to 1.2m centre to centre unless cows are quite big. The widespread use of cantilever style cubicles play their part in this, allowing cows to stretch their legs more comfortably and with less risk of damage.

We find more recently that as the particular style of cantilever cubicle division has changed, the position of the neck rail, combined with the overall length of the cubicle bed and whether a brisket board is used or not along with the presence or absence of a head wall are all parameters that need to be examined and set up very carefully in terms of positioning the cow correctly so thta she doesn’t lie up too far and dirty the bed, while maintaining enough lunging space for the cow to stand up comfortably. a liitle more time invested, and maybe money also to get this setup right will pay for itself many times over in the lifespan of the building.


The importance of sufficient ventilation – without draughts – and appropriate volumes of fresh air including cubic air capacity cannot be overstaed.

Plentiful natural lighting is another vary important factor. In our opinion there is no such thing as too much. Standing in a nice airy livestock shed that is as bright inside as the day is outside makes for a very comfortable environment and very happy, healthy and productive cows.

I will expand on the points made in future issues and comment on the picture above as a conventional milking parlour recently completed, along with a project due to start shortly – see drawing below comprising of adding extra cubicles, slatted tanks and robotic milking facilities to existing cubicles.

If you wish to engage our services or chat about a proposed project feel free to contact me (Donal) at Tel: 087 9947743.

Article can be found in the Irish Farm Business Dairying magazine, Volume 5 Issue 1 Spring 2018 Edition