Ray Phelan and his dad John have just finished building a four bay slatted shed with a straw lie-back on their farm in Toor, Kilcash, south Tipperary.

New four bay shed and lay-back in south Tipperary.

The shed was finished over a month ago and the herd of suckler cows are getting settled into their new accommodation. According to the father-and-son team, the shed was built to help reduce labour. Before its construction, they were dependent exclusively on straw bedded sheds. “Every Saturday, about five hours of our day was gone cleaning out straw beds under cows and re-bedding,” Ray explained. “The new shed gives us the option of expanding our suckler cow numbers and it will take out a lot of the labour of holding those cows.” The Phelans currently run a herd of 27 suckler cows, but they have plans to increase their numbers now that they have the winter accommodation to do so.

A 150mm pipe is installed at the top of the wall along the side of tank, for agitation purposes.


When it came to designing the shed, Ray called on Aidan Kelly from Agri Design and Planning Services. After a site visit, they decided on a four bay shed over a 9ft deep slurry tank, which would give them adequate capacity for expansion in the future. Because this shed was to be built adjacent to another existing shed, they could only install one agitation point. This is due to Department of Agriculture specifications, which state that there must be at least 9m of a clear space left between the gables of two buildings, when an agitation point is located there. To ensure slurry can be properly agitated with just one agitation point, a 150mm pipe was installed along the top of the tank wall and can be connected to the agitator to aid slurry agitation.

A lie-back was an important element in the design, so that young calves could have a clean and comfortable place to lie when housed with cows. When full planning permission was granted, they made a Targeted, Agricultural, Modernisation Scheme (TAMS) II application through McGrath Agri-Consultancy. Once they received approval, they were free to start building work.


In March, Patsy Marley broke ground on the site. He dug out the tank and organised all the concrete work with 37N concrete used throughout. Corbett Concrete 14ft 6in slats were laid before work started on the main frame of the shed. Norris Bros, based in Co Waterford, erected the shed and the Phelans specified that wider girders (stanchions) be used (5.5in) and that the timber purlins were put in at 4ft centres (you are allowed a spacing of up to 4.59ft). “We are on the side of Slievenamon here and snow can be common in the winter so we need to be prepared for extra weight,” John explained.

The straw bedded area at the back of the shed can be used as a creep for calves or a lie back for finishing animals.

Both Ray and John are gifted with their hands and took on the job of fitting the penning and feed barriers themselves. Both the pens and barriers are Condon Engineering-brand and were sourced in FRS Cahir. Five-bar internal gates were used throughout and three creep gates were installed to allow access for calves to the lie-back. The Phelans also installed extra timber supports at the gable ends of the shed to further strengthen the structure. They also did all the plumbing for the new water troughs.

The electrical installations were carried out by Michael Lawlor from Clonmel.


The total cost of the building work came to €65,000 including VAT. Approximately €6,500 of this will be claimed back in VAT and they will be able to claim a further €33,000 of grant aid. Ray is a qualifying young trained farmer so he can avail of the higher 60% grant rate. The Phelans estimate that the shed will cost them €26,000 out of pocket. Ray claims that with the price of straw and labour it took in terms of bedding, the shed will have paid for itself within ten years. Usually, the Phelans would take on more of the building work themselves, but because the 60% grant was available, they decided it was the best route. “We are also in the process of building a cattle crush and yard.We decided to do this without grant aid, as we can fabricate all the steel penning ourselves and we estimated between that and doing the erection ourselves it will cost less than going through the grant,” said Ray.

Liam, Emma, Jack, Ray, Ryan and John Phelan.


The Phelans have both worked in the construction industry in the past and are well capable of differentiating good building work from bad. The main advice they would give fellow farmers embarking on a building project is to make sure the builders are capable of carrying out the work to a high standard. “Check their work on other farms and talk to their customers before you take them on,” said John. Ray said if it is a grant job, it would be a good idea to check if they are familiar with the Department’s specifications before you employ their services. During the building phase of a project, the Phelans recommend inviting an expert to check the standard of the work, if you are not in the know about the standards yourself.