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From steel sheds to polytunnels – livestock housing options

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McGregor Polytunnels design, manufacture and supply high welfare livestock and poultry housing. Trusted by farmers worldwide for over 40 years.

There are a variety of livestock housing solutions available out there, but when it comes to your farm and livestock, how many boxes do these buildings tick? We look at the different options available.

The steel framed agricultural buildings

The steel shed has been a fundamental on most farms for generations. With its multipurpose usages (be it a grain store, livestock housing to machinery storage), the steel shed is a reliable and robust traditional livestock housing solution. Depending on the planning permission you acquire, this may add value to your farm’s property as a permanent building. On the other hand, steel sheds require a significant amount of time to construct. Before construction, factors such as acquiring planning permission1,2, builder’s lead times, and groundworks need to be completed. During construction, construction timescales can vary due to machinery hires, inclement weather, labour availability, and more.

If you find yourself needing an emergency solution due to TB reactors, pneumonia, and other infectious illnesses, a portal frame shed does not offer a quick solution to ensure the welfare of your livestock and farm business.

Speaking of welfare, ventilation can also be an issue, where farmers often spend more on installing mechanical ventilation systems as opposed to natural airflow for your stock due to seasonal temperature or barn location.

Housing calves in steel sheds can pose more of an issue due to the stack effect3,4,5. As calves are smaller than cattle, the heat from the calves does not reach the height of the ridge line for this air to be released out of the building. As such, the air cools before it reaches the top and the dirty air falls back to the calves, posing an unwanted welfare issue and a breeding ground for disease.

With both the hidden monetary, time, and welfare costs, the costs of a steel shed are one of the highest on this list.

© Pixabay

The roundhouse

The crème de la crème of livestock buildings, the roundhouse offers an adaptation to the traditional steel shed. Its innovative shape is interesting and can be used for multiple solutions such as beef and dairy cattle. It’s a perfect area for a top spec handling system, which improves efficiencies for routine TB testing and animal management. The intelligent water system means that water is controlled and harvested, cutting utility costs.

Though in terms of welfare, it closely matches the traditional portal framed shed. Livestock is exposed across all sides which, whilst allowing natural airflow, means that youngstock are prone to draughts and susceptible to infection and disease. The height of the roundhouse also matches the steel shed, meaning the same ventilation issue stands where calves are at a higher risk of infection due to the cool dirty air falling back inside the building.

From a practical standpoint, the roundhouse hasn’t been designed with current farm machinery and equipment in mind, which could cause awkward mucking out and feeding issues. The roundhouse requires both planning permission and a significant investment with additional ground works needed for the water management system. It comes at a substantial cost too, at our most pricey on this list.

Hutches, igloos and pods

Given the flexibility of being placed outdoors, calf hutches and igloos offer an alternative housing solution for calves. Fully protected from draughts, the pods also allow for adequate airflow. Available in assorted sizes, calves can be individually penned and grouped as they grow older. In the early days of the calf’s life, their immune system is vulnerable so penning them individually means that they get that added protection they need6.

The calf’s health can be easily monitored when they are by themselves meaning illnesses such as diarrhoea and pneumonia can be diagnosed and treated quickly. These hutches are easy to clean which offers hygiene benefits. With calf hutches, the calves must be in contact with other calves to ensure they get the social interaction they need. If they don’t, their health can deteriorate. The pods aren’t as diverse as other livestock housing solutions. They serve one purpose which can cost the farmer valuable space when not in use.

The hutches and pods can vary in price putting them in the middle of the pricing spectrum on this list (Igloo averages at £1,700, hutches cost £195 per single calf7).

The polytunnel

At the other end of the scale, polytunnels offer a seasonal livestock housing solution. Ideal for those peak lambing or calving seasons, the polytunnel has become an established part of the farming landscape. Initially designed for fruit and vegetable farming, the polytunnel was soon adopted for livestock too. The modularity of the polytunnel is a clear benefit to farmers who are looking to adapt. Farmers can install and take down the polytunnel whenever it’s needed.

Polytunnels are the least expensive on this list, making them a budget-friendly solution. Although a grey area, polytunnels can generally be erected without prior planning permission8, which makes it a more flexible solution. Polytunnels are often self-installed with little specialist machinery, so you don’t have the additional cost of a construction team.

The drawbacks of the polytunnel can be the integrity of the structure. Made of steel hoops and a polythene roof sheet, a polytunnel’s structural integrity is often not as strong as a permanent shed. The polythene roof sheet, if not properly tensioned, can rip in high winds, which then needs to be repaired. The lifespan of one sheet is 5-10 years9, meaning you’ll have to replace your sheet as part of ongoing maintenance.

From a welfare standpoint, the polytunnel was originally designed for fruit and vegetable growers, creating a microclimate that promotes heat and light for their crop. However, from a livestock perspective, a clear polythene cover does not regulate your livestock’s temperature in the summer and can lead to illnesses such as heatstroke.

Pricing can vary with this structure depending on sizing.

Bridging the gap: Agri Span™

© McGregor Polytunnels

Although both the steel shed and the polytunnel have their place in the farming world, we’ve designed a structure that offers a happy medium. The robustness of a steel shed, with the adaptability of a polytunnel. That’s where the Agri Span™ comes in. More than just a polytunnel, the Agri Span™ is a versatile alternative to the steel shed.

This livestock housing solution can be easily and quickly installed, giving you the emergency shelter solution, you require. As a semi-permanent building, it’s a movable structure which can move with you, wherever that may be. The Agri Span™ is an adaptable space that can be used for multiple uses. Ideal for calf rearing and lambing, the Agri Span™ can also be used as machinery or hay and straw storage. Gable end ventilation and livestock mesh sides promote healthy, natural air throughout the structure creating an ideal environment for calves and sheep.

The optional stokbord panels mean your calves are protected from draughts, reducing the risk of diseases such as pneumonia. The gable end framework can be removed for ease of tasks such as mucking out and strawing up. There is also a gate at either end of the structure, providing easy access to the building. Our specially designed ground screws offer the strength and security you need to protect your animals from all-weather environments, all year round, and are calculated to exceed EU standards for wind and snow loading. Whatever the weather, the Agri Span™ stands strong.

The combination of strong galvanised steel and PVC roof sheet also provides added reassurance that your livestock are safe and sound. The Agri Span™ is a modular design. If you are looking to grow your business and your herd or flock, and seeking an affordable option, the Agri Span™ can grow with you.

Are you looking for a calf rearing building? Or preparing for lambing season? Why not speak to one of our livestock specialists today for more details: or 08083 015254.

9 Berry BPI agriculture