Fifteen farmers focus on design

Producer Adam Quinney of Reins Farm, Sambourne, Warwickshire, admits the current accommodation for his expanding 50-cow suckler herd and 200-head beef finishing unit is not ideal.

“There’s a 19ft fall from one end to the other and at the lowest end we have a watercourse,” he told visitors at a recent DEFRA-funded Better Returns West Midlands focus day organised by EBLEX.

Fifteen beef producers operating different systems were invited to Reins Farm to help Mr Quinney design improved facilities ahead of building work this summer.

It had to be simple or jobs would not get done, explained Mr Quinney.

“I’m on my own here, so it’s a one-man operation – feeding, bedding, handling,” he added.

Ideally, Mr Quinney wants to accommodate an 80-cow spring-calving suckler herd that will calve indoors.

Youngstock pens must be incorporated, as well as space for a 200-head finishing herd.

On hand was Mike Kelly, former head of building design with SAC, to ensure producers had a grasp of the important factors of good building design.

Access is directly off a village lane. An access track rises slightly, bisecting the two tiers of the existing site.

On the higher level and to the left of the track is a twin-pitched open-sided yard of about 60ft x 100ft housing younger stores and an adjoining feedstore.

To the right and at 90 to the track, the lower tier of buildings consists of a disused polytunnel for sheep, a dual-pitched beef finishing yard, handling race and second dual-pitched yard with space beyond for a 200ft x 70ft yard backing on to a shelter belt of young trees.

The site was fairly typical, said Mr Kelly.

“Every solution is a compromise, particularly where there are existing buildings.

The secret is thinking 10-15 years ahead.

“It makes sense to make the building as big as you can.

The cheapest element of any build is erecting a framework and roofing – typically a third of total build costs,” explained Mr Kelly.

Consideration of available floor space, accommodation required, ventilation, drainage and potential cost had to be made before getting down to the practicalities of internal pen design, he said.

Split into three design teams, the visitors took turns to present their solutions.

Team one included Mr Quinney and put forward a monopitch, open-fronted building at right-angles to the existing sheds allowing better access.

This would see suckler cows split into groups of 11 for easy management and incorporate shared water troughs and front feed fence.

Bedding could be blown in over gates at the rear of the yard to ease day-to-day management. But Mr Kelly wasn’t wholly convinced.

Team two focused on redeveloping the upper tier finishing yard.

This house lent itself to housing sucklers and new-born calves due to its airy nature and benefited from being well away from the watercourse, it was suggested.

A central passage created within the existing building would mean re-fabrication of pens in one-half of the building, but allow fresh-calved cows to be moved easily to a calving/isolation pen in the nearby feedstore.

Team three also picked the upper site for development for the same health benefits.

This design saw an external passageway added to ease access and moving stock to calving/isolation pens again accommodated in the feedstore.

Mr Kelly agreed with both latter groups on the arguments for developing the upper site.

“But adding a bay to the current feedstore would be uneconomic – adding two or three bays to spread costs,” he added.

Mr Kelly’s own solution was erecting an 80ft x 100ft dual-pitched building at the back of the site running in-line with existing sheds.

“This is a standard size, so manufacturers knock them out on volume.

“You could house cows here next winter and allow more time to consider what internal infrastructure you want and can afford,” he suggested.

Each solution had its own supporters.

Mr Quinney aired concern over the impact on ventilation of the existing beef shed if Mr Kelly’s new dual-pitched building was erected.

“I’m also reluctant to alter the existing feed store on the upper tier; it’s a useful building as it is,” he added.

After a period of reflection Mr Quinney plans to start redevelopment of the site this summer with a view to the group returning to appraise alterations with Mr Kelly’s help later this year.