He has been with the Kildare-based firm since 1977 and, for the past nine years, has been a sales representative for fibre cement cladding. In this role, he has been involved in the building of hundreds of farm buildings around the country, from small suckler houses to beef company feedlots.
He is a former president of the Farm Buildings Association and has viewed farm buildings in other European countries. Michael is from a farming background in Ballingary, Co Limerick and is still within the county, living in Mungret.
I asked Michael how farm buildings have changed over his 33 years in the business. ’’Back in the 1970s, farm buildings were not as wide and not as high. The engineering skills and the technology were not as advanced as now. A typical shed was 40 feet wide, now sheds of over 100 feet are common.
’’The typical livestock shed was nine feet high at the eves, now they are 14 feet high or more. Herd size was smaller and animal performance lower. In the 70s and 80s, the quality and the size of stock increased significantly.
’’We changed from the British Friesian to continentals. We now had the potential to produce animals weighing 17 or 18cwt. That animal required more space and a lot more ventilation. The Department specifications helped a lot. Spec 101 has done a lot for farmers. A lot of materials and design have migrated over from industrial buildings.
’’The need for ventilation has been a huge driver of change. Teagasc research led to the development of the single-sided slatted unit. This certainly increased the ventilation in sheds at reasonable cost. A lot of cutting edge research work was done in the Scottish colleges.
’’Spaced sheeting has rightly become very popular. This is because buildings are now so wide. Natural ventilation works very well up to a shed width of about 60 or 70 feet. Once you go over that, you need to do something different. A cheap solution is to space the sheeting or, alternatively, raise a row of sheet by one or two inches.
The idea for spaced sheeting originally came from the timber industry. Freshly sawn logs were put into sheds for drying with spaced roofs.
At first, sheets were just turned upside down so that the edge lap was facing upwards, to deflect rain. Now, we trim the sheet specifically for spacing. We cut off half of the overlap. This makes the sheet itself narrower, but with the spacing, it still covers about 1m. Metal sheeting can be rolled to make it suitable for a spaced roof.
’’The upflow of warm aid keeps out the rain. A gap of 10mm to 12mm is ideal and caters for most sheds. Given the height of buildings now going up, there should be plenty of air going in.
’’The fruits of this work are there to be seen. Ventilation is not a problem in modern Irish sheds. You can tell that by just walking into sheds. It used be a topic that was raised regularly by farmers, not so now.
’’Actually, the big feedlot sheds have taught us a lot of lessons regarding ventilation. I know of one big feedlot shed that was re-roofed because of a lack of ventilation. The new roof was spaced with 60mm gaps. With that size of a gap, rain gets in but the operators expected that and accept it and the animal health is good.’’
’’The design of sheds and farmyards has improved enormously. The big driver has been labour efficiency. When I started, farmers were using scrapers behind a tractor to clean yards. Now, we have automatic scrapers with sheds, passages and yards built at right angles to a collection tank.
’’Farmers now do more research themselves before putting up a shed. They talk to other people, other farmers. They try to get the best shed available at an affordable cost. There are some fantastic buildings in Ireland.
’’Most farm buildings now require planning permission. That requires the input of planners and others in the local authorities.
’’At the end of the day, this has done good. It has led to more discussion and pre-planning. It has required farmers to do more landscaping around sheds.
’’Painting of buildings, much of it driven by REPS schemes, has made them very attractive. They look good in the landscape, even large scale buildings. People like the end result, including the owners.
’’Pre-painting of metal cladding has made a significant difference, removing the chore of painting and generally lengthening the life of buildings.
’’Farmers saw the value of it. When pre-painted sheeting came out first, the longest guarantee was 10 years.
’’Now, Tegral’s Agribuild Plus has a guarantee of 20 years - the longest on the market.’’
However, Michael warns that because no major grant schemes are now open, there is no requirement to use sheeting approved by the Department of Agriculture.
’’A lot of sheeting of light gauge is now being used, driven by competition and a lack of cash on the part of farmers.
’’A farmer may think he is getting 0.6mm but could be getting just 0.4mm or 0.5mm. Some of this sheeting is so light that you can’t walk on it without damaging it. Sheeting like that will have a shorter working life.
’’Galvanizing of steelwork has become popular in the past 10 years. I think it is good. It took the mystique away from what paint was being used. It’s done to a Department standard. That has preserved the life of buildings. Before that, a lot of steelwork wasn’t shot blasted, primed and painted properly.
’’As a result, you would see corroded chunks falling off. That was a particular problem near coasts, stretching from Casteltownbere to Donegal. Galvanizing helped in these areas.
’’Gutters continue to cause problems. It is down to what fellows are using. There are great PVC gutters available - they don’t rust. In England and Wales, most sheds are fitted with PVC gutters.
’’The gutters that are folded were never designed for the severe environment they face. I know one pig farmer in Cavan who had all his gutters done in stainless steel. The job will be done once and once only. Some pig farmers have cut PVC pipes in half to make gutters,’’ he said.
Tegral is operating in Ireland for over 75 years. It is now part of the giant Belgian-headquartered Etex Group. It employs about 20,000 across most continents and is a world leader in fibre cement technology, the dominant part of its operations. It has a steel sheeting division too, here manufacturing and selling under the well-known Agribuild Plus brand.
Picture Above:Cashflow is a limiting factor on farm building activity in 2010, according to Tegral’s Michael O’Kelly.