Buildings focus: Extending an existing slatted shed…twice

Farming in Gortnahoe, Co. Tipperary, Tom and John Ryan – a father-and-son team – are relatively new to the dairy sector.

Before the switch to dairy, they ran a suckler, sheep and tillage farm. The Ryans kept 300 ewes; sowed winter and spring crops; and had a 1,000t beet contract. On the beef side of things, Tom finished all offspring from the suckler herd.

However, when John returned to work on the farm full-time, all weanlings were sold before finishing.

Recalling 2009, when profits from their beef and tillage enterprises were low, the Ryans knew it was time to try something new.

“Losing the 1,000t beet contract left a big hole in our profits. In 2009, we were getting €90/t for grain and we had less than €100/head out of the weanlings,” Tom Ryan explained.

After entering into the dairy new entrants scheme, all their attention turned to milking cows. Once the decision was made, 62 maiden heifers were bought and the rest is history.

We will milk 135 cows in 2018 and that will probably do us numbers wise for the minute.

The main enterprise on the farm is now dairy. However, the Ryans still keep some ewes and sow 40ac of winter barley.

By switching to dairy, a lot of changes had to be made around the farm. A 20-unit Dairymaster milking parlour was installed in 2010. But more noticeably, is the massive 140-cubicle slatted house which takes pride of place at the rear of the yard.

John Ryan, Tom Ryan and Thomas Gleeson from Gleeson Steel and Engineering

Building on to an existing shed

The original shed was constructed in 2003 and it was the backbone of the beef unit. In 2010, cubicles were added to the shed. The eight-bay shed is 28ft high at the apex and is approximately 140ft long.


However, when the decision was made to covert to milk, plans were put in place to build on to the existing beef house. The first stage of the build happened in 2013.

Before attempting to expand, John sourced information and advice from existing farmers.

“I travelled around looking at sheds to see what works well. It’s the best way of seeing what will work and what won’t work,” he explained.

The only thing was that every farmer was happy with their design. No one would say ‘don’t do this or don’t do that’.

In 2013, in order to facilitate growing numbers, two 16.6ft tanks were added to the left-hand side of the existing unit. The extension entailed approximately 76 cubicles with rubber mats. Automatic scrapers were also installed.

Vent sheeting was fitted along the length of the structure to improve ventilation. The shed was built to grant specification.


There is plenty of light in the slatted house. Space sheeting was used on the roof of the shed to allow as much light to enter as possible. Lime is spread on all the mats on a daily basis.

Throughout the year, the Ryans carry out some zero-grazing.

“The extra feeding space is a great job because we do some zero-grazing throughout the year. All the cows have enough space to feed,” John explained.

Removable gates have also been installed in the shed to make the separation and movement of cattle easier.


The 2016 build

In 2016, the decision was made to build on to the other side of the shed. A wintering pad, where the Ryans calved autumn-calving suckler cows, was demolished to make room for the new extension.

The wintering pad was a great job for the autumn-calving suckler cows. It didn’t work well for the Friesian cows.

Another 64 cubicles were added along with a straw-bedded area for calving. A calving pen and a mothering area was also constructed. Again, vent sheeting was used to maximise air flow.

However, this time the sheets were left 400mm from the roof. This also facilitates airflow and increases the amount of light entering the shed.


John explained the reasoning behind the calving facilities, adding: “Because of the high numbers of cows calving at any one time, we needed a calving area that would leave it as easy as possible for ourselves.

We put in extra feed barriers down the end of the calving area. I can drop a bale of silage into freshly calved cows now; it stops us carting silage into them.


The roof of the new extension consists of some skylights and fibre cement sheeting, which John Ryan is very impressed with.

The fibre cement sheeting is the way to go. It’s a great job and there’s no drip from the sheets.

The entire shed is fitted with automatic scrapers and animals have access to fresh water in every bay of the building. Roller and sliding doors are also fitted to the shed at either end.


The Cost

The extension was built to grant specification. The total cost of the 2016 project (calving area and 64 cubicles) was approximately €110,000.

The tanks (including concrete and labour) and all the groundwork cost approximately €37,960. The shed itself cost €65,000 and the cubicles and mats cost €7,040.

John said: “The total cost per cow was approximately €1,720. The one thing with cows is that you have a good chance of getting your investment back,” he laughed.

All the groundwork and concrete work was done by a local contractors, including: T.M.B Plant Hire; Pollards Plant Hire; and Doheny Construction. The shed (galvanised-steel pillars; skylights; fibre cement and vent sheeting) was all supplied by Gleeson Steel and Engineering.

The cubicles; sliding and roller doors; and feeding barriers were also supplied by Gleeson Steel and Engineering.

What does the future hold

The Ryans are extremely happy with the end result. It works very well and they are more than pleased since making the switch to dairy.

When John was designing the shed, he wanted to keep it as simple as possible. It was also designed to keep labour to a minimum.

The calving facilities are a great job; they really makes our lives easier.

“We designed the shed with one eye on the future. The grazing platform, at the minute, is 84ac and we are stocked at 3.8LU/ha.

“When we move to 135 cows next year we will be at our limit. But you never know what will happen. That’s why we made the latest extension wide enough for cubicles,” he concluded.

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