safety: ensure calving pens are up to the job
Even a quiet cow can become very agitated around calving and for that reason it is vital that the correct facilities are in place on the farm to safely deal with them.

Calving pens should be a common feature on every farmyard calving cows to ensure the safety of both livestock and the farmer. However, a poorly designed isolation pen can also be dangerous if there is no quick exit available and may place the farmer in danger.

Calving pens on a farm will generally end up being used for a multitude of reasons but ideally then should be kept purely for holding cows on the point of calving.

They should never be used for holding sick animals as this can lead to bacteria being present in the pen that a newborn calf could be particularly susceptible to.

Man escape gates provide a quick escape route from the pens.


It is vital to be able to view cattle without entering the pen. Additionally, there should always be a quick way to exit the pen. There are several options for slip-through points. Some will form part of the gate, while another option is to have two posts positioned far enough apart that you can easily and quickly exit through them.

Many farmers will include a calving pen when installing a new suckler or cubicle shed through TAMS but it is important that they are mindful of the Department specification S147.

The minimum dimensions of a calving pen must not be less than 3.5m by 4.8m, while the maximum dimensions must not exceed 6m, according to these specifications.

Access to calving pens must be either from directly outside the building or from a suitable passage within the building. In no case can the only access to calving pens be through another pen.

This can be achieved through having an access door to each pen along the back wall or by having a double creep. The third option is to have a small passage, similar to a crush, running along the back wall of the shed. Not only does this provide safe access, it also allows for easy observation of cows.

It is recommended that at least one calving pen must be provided for every 15 to 20 cows.

A slip through point can also proivde a quick ropute of escape. Gaps should be no more than 325mm wide.

Key requirements

Every calving pen must also have access to a calving gate within a pen. It is strongly recommended that a separate calving gate is installed in every calving pen. However, there must be at least one calving gate between every two calving pens. Where a calving gate is shared between two pens, a system must be in place to restrain the cow and calf in the other pen while the calving gate is in use.

All walls within the pen are strongly recommended to be constructed of mass concrete. Gates within the pen must have at least four rows of rails. It is also mandatory to have a tying arrangement for cows available in each pen.

A lighting level of 100 lux must be provided for calving pens. This is a higher requirement than a standard shed, which only has a requirement of 50 lux.

Calving pens do not require a separate collection or disposal system from that of the main herd, unlike isolation pens.

Angling the crush out from the wall allows access to both sides of the animal.


Many farmers will often install a crush in close proximity to caving pens and there are a few areas to be conscious of if doing so through TAMS. There must be a minimum distance of 4m (and preferably 6m) between the front end of the cattle crush and any facing wall, solid barrier or door (less than 3m wide). This is to allow cattle to exit the crush safely. Where possible, to allow for caesarean sections to be carried out, where the crush runs along a wall then it should run from right to left. This is because it is necessary to access to the left-hand side of the animal for undertaking a caesarean section. One option for the crush is to have it angling out from the wall to allow access to both sides of the animals whether it is for inspection or injecting of cattle.

For holding pens, there is a requirement to have at least one slip-through point. It must be no more than 325mm wide. It helps improve safety as it reduces the incidences of farmers climbing over side rails.


The reference cost for a calving pen through TAMS is €205.20/m2. The cost includes the entire structure and all fittings including the calving gate.

Investment to suit all sizes
In this week's focus we examine handling units for small and large suckler herds as well as a new lambing shed. All three investments focus on reducing labour around the farm.

Investing in handling facilities for your herd or flock can result in a big financial burden on your farm. However, the savings that can be made with labour, efficiency and safety should not be understated.

If farmers are smart with their design and avail of the current grants available, then they can put up a very cost-effective investment.

In this design, the handling unit was constructed outside of the shed. While this system does have its drawbacks, having a larger pen than would be possible with a creep area means the unit is better suited for the sheep flock on the farm too. And for a net cost of little over €20,000, the farmer did get bang for his buck.

Such a project would have been extremely difficult to finance if it wasn’t for the 60% grant aid available through TAMS (Targeted Agricultural Modernisation Scheme).


As we enter into the final two years of the scheme, young farmers in particular should assess their farmyards and identify areas that may need improvement. It does not have to be a €80,000 shed but is there scope to do some sheep fencing, or install an outdoor handling unit, for example, to make management easier for yourself?

We also go to the other end of the spectrum with a top-of-the-range semi-automated handling system with a hydraulically controlled crush box. Such a system will not be an option for many farmers. However, for larger herds or feedlots it provides a very safe way of handling large numbers of cattle.

Finally, we look at a new sheep shed recently constructed to make life easier around lambing in Co Galway. The 150-ewe flock can now be housed under the one roof, with individual lambing pens in situ, greatly reducing management during the busy spring period.

Over the past few years, as the economy has recovered, we are seeing fewer and fewer young people in rural Ireland to work on farms, so any investment that is made in facilities should be aimed at making handling of stock a one-person operation with safety a key consideration.

Building on a budget with outside handling unit
Housing for suckler cows can be a major investment for any farm, but this young farmer wanted to get bang for his buck. William Conlon reports.

Keeping startup costs to a minimum is a top priority for any prospective suckler or beef farmer with margins so tight. However, young farmers do not have to spend a fortune to construct suitable housing, as is seen on the farm of John Moran from Gortnadeeve, Creggs, Co Galway.

Having completed the Green Cert a few years ago, John always had plans to put up a shed to house his mainly Angus suckler herd. Working full-time off-farm means the system has to be kept as simple as possible. “We calve the majority of the cows outside and it works well. The Angus are hardy,” said John. “We had no issues with scour last spring which really helps to keep the workload low during the spring.”

As John was at work, his father Eamonn Moran showed me around the new shed and handling unit.

John and his father Eamonn both work off the farm, collecting milk for Arrabawn. “When you are working off-farm you have to make the farm simple and make it suit,” Eamonn said.


A simple four-bay slatted shed was chosen by John. However, he decided to go for 4.4m slats to allow bigger capacity in the pens. Pens are 4.8m wide with a span of 5.2m. “You could fit eight cows in each pen comfortably, probably nine if you wanted to,” said John. In a bid to keep costs down, he decided against putting a roofed creep area to the back of the pens. An outside handling area was chosen instead. The entire unit has been installed with the help of a 60% TAMS (Targeted Agricultural Modernisation Scheme) grant.

All pens were fitted with Easyfix rubber mats which came fitted to the Banagher slats. Spaced sheeting was installed throughout the roof of the shed. “We had seen the spaced sheeting in other sheds and liked it. Anything that can help ventilation in a shed is worth doing,” said John.

The shed is on a fairly exposed site but the plan down the road will be to construct other sheds adjacent to the current one. “I would prefer a shed that is open and has a good airflow through it than one that is closed up and stuffy,” said John.

The shed stands at 4m to the eaves with a 15° slope on the roof. The apex of the shed rises to 5.6m.

Vented sheeting runs above the back wall of the shed to provide inlet ventilation also. The shed is 19.2m long with an agitation point stretching out 1.5m at either side of the shed. The tank is 21.6m long internally and 4.1m wide internally. It has a depth of 2.4m. For nitrates purposes the shed must have 200mm of freeboard at the top of the tank, meaning that only 2.2m of slurry can be stored. This gives net capacity in the tank for slurry of 194.8m3.

As the farm is located in Zone B, 18 weeks of storage is required. With each cow requiring 0.29m3 per week, if each pen were to hold eight cows (32 in total), there would be enough storage for 21 weeks. In reality, there will be a mixture of stock in the shed so there will be ample storage for at least a five-month winter.

If eight cows were in a pen there would be feed space of approximately 600mm per cow, which is more than enough, especially as cows are generally being fed ad-lib silage.


John decided to put a large pen out the back of the shed to act as his handling unit. There is access to the handling unit from the two pens at either end of the shed. “The doors at either end work really well for testing cattle as everything can be rotated around,” John said. Both doors are on sliders as opposed to hinges for safety.

Running along the back wall of the shed is a 12m-long race, fitted with a skulling gate. An anti-backing bar that slides in and out was supplied by Gibney Steel. The system is fitted to the gates along the side of the race and can be slid in behind cattle. This way they do not have to push by the bar. For any handling unit put up through TAMS there is a requirement to have the middle rails of the race fitted with notches to hold a retaining bar or if a wall forms one side it must have suitable sockets. The other option is to have an anti-backing bar that can be secured at a range of distances along the race.

The race is made up of five different gates. For safety reasons, all rails or sections of a race must be fitted with a quick-release mechanism so they can be removed in the event of an animal becoming trapped.

There is over 3m left between the front of the crush and the penning and 3.9m at the back of the crush. The pen itself is 19.2m long and 6.4m wide, divided into two pens. As sheep are also kept on the farm, sheep gates have been put around the edge of the enclosure.

The floors of the pens have been designed so that they are sloping towards a channel that diverts any slurry into the slatted tank. The enclosure is cleaned following each use. Creep gates are in place at the back doors of the shed to allow weanlings out for creep-feeding.


“If it wasn’t for the grant there wouldn’t have been a hope of this shed going up,” according to John. The total cost of the shed came to approximately €60,000 including VAT. The VAT element will be approximately €8,000, which can be claimed back. The remaining €52,000 is eligible for a 60% grant which will leave the net cost at approximately €21,000.

“We were probably eight or 10 months waiting to get planning permission,” John said, “and then it took another three months to get TAMS approval. We knew that it could take time to get the applications done so we gave ourselves plenty of time. There is no point trying to rush things as you are only putting pressure on yourself.”

All penning for the handling unit and all barriers and penning for the shed were supplied and fitted by Gibney Steel.

“It is a nice simple system, especially for a young farmer starting out,” according to Philip Smith of Gibney Steel. “You don’t always have to go with a fancy system. Something simple and practical can work very well as John has done here.”

The shed was supplied and erected by Halcon Steel while Enda Ward did the concrete work for the job. John O’Connor completed the TAMS application while O’Brien Survey and Design Services completed the drawings for the shed and the planning application.

The one drawback is that the race and crush are not covered, where in an ideal world they would be, but for anyone trying to get a foothold in farming, cost has to be factored into every decision. Also, such large pens would not have been possible if it was a creep area; the larger pens are needed, especially for handling sheep.

Watch: new shed reduces workload for 150-ewe flock
For any one-man operation, streamlining management should be one of the key aims for the farm, William Conlon writes.

With 150 ewes lambing down from 1 February on, Patrick Fahy from Clough, Tuam, Co Galway, wanted to streamline management as much as possible during the busy lambing period. For sheep farmers more so than other enterprises, having poor facilities, especially when it comes to lambing, can greatly increase the potential workload required. “When you are a one-man operation, you really have to try to make things as easy for yourself as possible,” said Patrick. “I did the shed in such a way that all of the penning can come up too if needs be down the line if the shed was to be used for anything else.”

He continued: “The shed is up two years now and has been through one lambing. It worked really well and was a great help, especially with a difficult spring.”

While many farmers have moved away from early lamb production over the past few years, it is a system that suits Patrick.

“There are challenges with early lambing but at least the early man has some choice. You are very restricted when it comes to selling late lambs.

“I would start selling lambs at the beginning of May, with all lambs gone before mid-June. This frees up grass a lot for the cattle on the farm. I would generally only keep each ewe for four crops of lambs and then sell them off. I find that they are better able to rear their lambs and there are a lot less health issues with them.”

Due to selling ewes off at a younger age, Patrick will keep a large proportion of ewe lambs every year for replacements.


The shed is a portal frame structure. It is six bays long, measuring 28.8m. Five of the bays are dedicated to large group pens while one bay is made up of individual lambing pens. From the stanchion to the back wall is 12m. Pens themselves are approximately 4.1m wide, with the walkthroughs between the pens 0.7m wide. Each pen has an area of 49m2. All penning is bolted to the ground.

As sheep sheds will generally only be used for a small portion of the year, it is a good idea to have it so that penning can be completely removed to be used for other purposes if desired, such as storing straw.

For ewes on a straw bed, the minimum recommended area is 1.1m2 to 1.4m2/ewe depending on body size. This would mean each of these pens, in theory, could hold approximately 37 medium-sized ewes. The recommended floor space per ewe, depending on whether they are shorn or unshorn, can be seen in Tables 1 and 2.

In reality, Patrick stocks them lower than this.

“You could probably have 32 to 34 ewes in each pen but I would go for about 28 just to have that bit more extra comfort,” he said. This would give ewes space of approximately 1.7m2 each.


Four out of the five large pens can be fed on all three sides with a total of 28.1m of feed face. Silage or hay will generally be fed on two sides of the pen, with meal fed along one of the long sides. This would mean a feed face for feeding meal of 12m for the 28 ewes, or 0.43m/ewe.

The feed rail is adjustable. There are access points to all pens along the front feed barrier. The gates are fitted with a spring-loaded latch.

Pictures four and five

The decision was made to go with wider walkthrough passageways of 0.7m so that a wheelbarrow could fit down them. Patrick has recently decided to retrofit troughs in some of these passageways to ensure no meal was wasted.

“I could probably still mange without the troughs but I think it will make it easier for ewes to reach the meal and mean there is no waste,” Patrick said.

Inlet ventilation is provided by vented sheeting running the full length of the building while an opening along the roof with a ridge cap provides outlet ventilation. The shed stands at 4.2m to the eaves while it rises to 5.5m at the apex.


There are a total of 18 individual lambing pens in the shed and 16 of these are split either side of a passageway. The other two are located in another corner of the shed. Individual pens are 1.5m wide and 1.8m deep, with a 1.2m passageway between the two rows of pens.

Eight of the pens have direct access to a feed barrier. Lambs and ewes would only spend one day in the individual pens before they move to group pens in another shed, according to Patrick.

“I would always try and get lambs and ewes out to fields after about 10 to 12 days, depending on the weather,” Patrick said.

“I would close up fields early in the back end to have enough grass to let them out to in the spring. I find they are much healthier if I can get them out.”

All penning for the shed was supplied by Cormac Equipment. “One thing about the pens is that there are individual joiners for each of the gates which just makes opening and closing pens a simpler job. It also gives the pens extra strength,” according to Bernie Mangan of Cormac Equipment.

“When it comes to sheep sheds, you would get a lot more farmers retrofitting penning into a shed, unlike cattle sheds. Because of this, we will generally custom-make barriers as every shed can be different. We have seen a good lot of sheds being converted over the past year with barriers fitted.”

Ivan Morris fitted the sheep penning, supplied by Cormac. Dunleavy Engineering completed the concrete work and supplied and erected the shed. Eugene Higgins from Belclare completed the electrical work for the shed.

The shed went up without any grant aid. If a sheep shed was to be put up through TAMS (Targeted Agricultural Modernisation Scheme) then costing would be based on a reference cost of €148.80/m2 for a solid floor sheep house with penning. This cost covers the entire structure and all required fittings including the concrete floor, penning, feed passages, the roof and electrics, etc. If a shed such as the one above were to be built through TAMS it would have a reference cost of approximately €51,000 excluding VAT.

(L-R) Eric Campbell Cormac Equipment, Ivan Morris, Patrick Fahy and Bernie Mangan Cormac Equipment.


With straw availability becoming an issue in recent times, many farmers will try to keep ewes out of sheds for as long as they can. However, with land getting considerable rain over the past month, many farmers may have to re-evaluate their plans and house earlier than intended. Feeding different diets can have a big impact on the amount of bedding required, as seen in Table 3. Having longer pens with fewer divisions between them, as seen in this example, will allow round bales to be rolled out quickly and easily.