For this week’s Buildings Focus, Agriland made the trip Co. Kildare to speak to John Culbert about recent building work completed on the farm including a new handling unit.

The beef and tillage farmer had previously kept 90 suckler cows, the last of which left the farm last year.

Along with his father, John used to manage the cows and had a split calving system in operation.

However, as his father got older he wasn’t able to help out as much as he wanted to and therefore, they looked at changing the system on the farm, moving to a weanling or yearling to beef enterprise.

John Culbert

The farm is currently home to 180 bullocks and heifers which will be brought to finish; however, recent building work in the form of an extension to the existing slatted shed with a lieback area has the capacity to hold up to 260 head of cattle.

Speaking to Agriland on his farm, John said: “I run both tillage and beef enterprises here so I’m kept going.

“I moved to finishing cattle in the last few years as before there was two of us here, my father and I, but sadly he passed away last Christmas and it’s now just me.

“We would have kept 90 suckler cows and had the place set up for calving cows and so on, and my father would have been a great help with the cows.

“But it was getting very heavy [the workload] between the cows and tillage and we began to look at moving to buying in cattle, predominately weanlings, and bringing them to finish.

“We had gradually been cutting back the cow numbers the last few years and last year the last cows left the farm.

“Now that it’s just myself on the farm, I wanted to house all the cattle I’m finishing in one shed and also to make handling cattle more safe and efficient, as this wouldn’t have been the case with the old facilities we had.”

What building work was carried out?

John said that the farm had a five-bay shed, with a slatted tank and lieback on either side of a central passageway which meant a total of 10 bays were available.

On one side of the shed, John had built the slatted tanks and one of the liebacks off of an existing round-roofed hay shed (seen below).

Where the old meets the new

Behind the round-roof hay shed was where the old handling facility was, which John said did the job.

It was fine, he said, if cattle needed to go through the crush on the same side of the shed, but was quite labour intensive if cattle had to come across the feed passageway over to the other side of the shed.

John said cattle coming across that way was something he dreaded, as it involved a lot of setting up and organising so that different groups of cattle didn’t get mixed up.

Cattle on the other side of the shed had to be penned up and separated to free room for cattle from the other side of the shed to walk across the feed passageway out to the other side of the shed into the handling unit at the back of the shed.

The end goal for John wanted was to extend the length of this double-up shed from its five bays to nine bays to house all his finishing cattle, this involved having to knock mass concrete walls either side of the central passageway at one end of the shed.

And he wanted a new and modern handling facility that meant cattle from both sides of the shed could be managed and handled safely and more efficiently.

Four-bay extension

The extension of the existing five-bay double-sided shed involved knocking the mass concrete wall at the back of it and sacrifice some ground at the back of the shed.

Basically, John wanted a carbon copy of the existing five-bay double up shed, but wanted sliding doors at either end of the shed and at the back of one side of it to let cattle out and around to the new handling facility.

On the side of the shed where the round-roof hayshed is incorporated, 32 cattle can fit in each pen, while on the other side of the passageway, 22 cattle can fit in each pen.

Two tanks on either side of the passageway were erected with a further two lieback areas directly behind these tanks constructed.

To keep the slatted areas and dry bedded areas separate and more in the sense of preventing straw from being dragged from the dry bedded area to the slatted areas, concrete walls were erected to act as a barrier.

The passage for cattle between the slatted area and the lieback can be closed with a gate and a concrete lip was incorporated along the length of it to limit straw from being dragged into the slats.

However, in order for seepage from the straw-bedded area to run into the tank, an opening was left (seen below).

Moving back to the slatted area, water troughs were fitted here to ensure if there was any water leakages that the water would flow into the tank rather than soaking the straw-bedded area at the back of the shed.

At the feedface, in the old part of the shed, in order to artificially inseminate the cows, headlocking barriers were installed.

However, with no more cows residing on the farm, standard diagonal feed barriers were hung in the sides of the shed. Each pen in the shed is split by four-bar gates.

With two points of entry to the shed, John can drive from one end of the shed and turn around and come back down with the diet feeder. He can even drive down the centre of the shed and come back down around the side of it in between the shed and the new handling area.

Just outside the newly extended part of the shed, Joh laid a new concrete surface which gives him greater room to manoeuvre the tractor and diet feeder in order to come back down around to feed the cattle on the other side of the shed.

This new concrete surface outside the shed also makes for a tidier finish rather than a gravel surface.

Furthermore, in terms of ease of access, John fitted sliding doors leading into the pens at the end of the shed as well as on one side facing into the new handling unit, in order to let cattle out into the handling facility.

No cattle will ever have to be let into the feed passageway like they did before with the old set up.

Giving an example of how moving cattle out of the shed works, if cattle in the middle of the shed had to be handled in the handling unit, John would lock cattle into the dry-bedded area and close the gate behind them.

The he would run the cattle he wants along the slatted area and out of the shed by opening up the sliding door.

It works a treat, John said, with no stress on the animals or John himself in comparison to the old setup.

One element of the shed that hits you once you walk in is the freshness of it. For the number of cattle in it (180 head) and the capacity it could take (260 head), good ventilation is required.

To aid with airflow in and out of the shed, John replaced the vented sheeting in the original shed and along with the extension, fitted spaced boarding around the entirety of the shed.

The handling unit

As well as working on the shed, John wanted a new and modern handling facility to manage and handle his cattle safely and efficiently.

This was made possible with space between the existing and newly extended beef shed and grain store built in 2021, allowing for a modern and spacious handling area to be built.

Design source: Condon Engineering

The handling facility works hand in hand with the newly extended beef shed. If John wanted to let cattle out of the shed, he can do so at the far end where the extension was built.

Cattle can exit through a sliding door from either the slatted area or the lieback, whichever is handier, and then gather outside on the concrete surface area (seen below).

John can then drive cattle towards the handling facility and either pen them in one of three pens, or move them to the back of the facility where lies a circular forcing area.

From here, John can keep a safe distance from himself and the cattle while at the same time moving them forward into the race as this system has a spring loaded gate latch and angled notches which offer a non-return feature.

Any cattle that can’t fit in the race remain at the back of the unit, penned up close to the mouth of the race.

Once cattle are in the race, which is made up of Condon Engineering crush gate panels, John can make his way onto the stepped walkway which runs parallel to the race and close the sliding back gate at the rear to ensure that cattle can’t back themselves out of it.

At the front of the race, John went with a Condon Engineering Warrior Head Gate. The idea here is that John can open up this gate and allow one animal to be isolated on its own before being allowed into the Titan Cattle Master crush.

Warrior Head Gate which can be operated using the handle from the walkway

Once ready, John can slide open the back gate on the Titan Cattle Master crush and let an animal in to carry out whatever job he plans on doing.

This crush was bought when the Beef Environmental Efficiency Programme – Sucklers (BEEP-S) first came out at a time when there was suckler cows on the farm.

John said he bought it second-hand at the time and that it was the only part of the old handling facility to survive along with a few gates which help to make up the pens in the handling unit.

Once ready, cattle exit the front of the crush into a holding pen.

The entire surface of the handling unit is grooved and at the front of the facility, a slatted tank was put in.

Furthermore, two manholes were also incorporated near the tank. John said the idea here was for manholes to be opened up anytime there was any substantial rainfall to take the water away out to the nearby field through pipes rather than filling up the slatted tank with water.

From a safety point of view, a number of slip through access points – for a quick escape – were incorporated around the unit.


The job of extending the existing shed and building the handling unit was done without any grant aid.

The cost of the entire project came to roughly €228,000.

The excavating of the site and concrete work, including the tanks, was completed by Clive Guing Construction – this also includes the handling facility and other concrete work outside around the shed.

The shed itself was sourced and erected by Pat Deegan Engineering. The wiring of the shed was carried out by Eugene Byrne.

The handing facility itself was designed and erected by Condon Engineering.

Speaking about the the work completed, John said: “I’m very happy with it. The standard of the work carried out was excellenet.

“At the end of the day, everything I wanted I was able to get. For myself, I needed a one-person operated system of doing jobs around the yard.

“Mainly to be able to jobs safely but also efficiently. I did all the cattle in the shed for lice a few weeks ago in a few hours by myself without any issues.

“I wouldn’t have been able to to do that before. I’d be dreading doing it for the fact it was labour intensive and time consuming.

“I have far more comfort now and not only me, the cattle are very content and the stress of the old system is gone now.”