This week’s Buildings Focus saw Agriland make the trip to Co. Sligo to check out an impressive suckler unit.

The new shed, on the farm of Willie, Kathleen, James and Sinead Kelly has completed its first winter, and has taken substantial pressure off existing housing and calving facilities on the farm, with the latter being outdated.

The Kellys have been expanding their suckler herd of cows which now lies close to 60 head, and have also doubled the size of their ewe flock in recent years from 70 to 140 head.

However, staying with the suckler side of the operation, which is the focus of this article, the increase in cow numbers coupled with outdated calving facilities, from a safety point of view, were the main reasons why the Kellys built the new suckler unit.

James Kelly

Speaking to Agriland inside the new suckler shed, James Kelly said: “Over the last few years we had been expanding cow numbers and hadn’t really given any consideration to how we were going to accommodate the extra cows in the winter.

“We have three other sheds in the yard for cattle but space was getting tighter and also the shed we had been calving our cows in up until this year was an old outhouse beside the sheds that from a safety point of view wasn’t ideal in many ways.

“We have a blend of Limousin, Charolais and Simmental cows and they can be a bit excitable, at least some of them, around calving.

“You can never be too safe and we just wanted a facility where we could house the extra cows we have built up and have modern calving facilities all under the one roof, along with leaving room to increase cow numbers further if we wanted.”

Site and design

The new suckler unit on the farm was built on what was once a silage slab. Having built a new silage slab only five years ago beside where the new shed is, this area was lying idle so the Kellys decided to build here, which was conveniently beside the rest of the sheds in the yard.

The Kellys knew what kind of a shed they wanted so James drew up an outline of what they had in mind and then got in touch with Carroll Consultancy, Agricultural and Business Consultants in Co. Mayo, who designed the shed and carried out and completed the planning and the application for the new shed under the Targeted Agricultural Modernisation Scheme (TAMS).

Looking at the shed in more detail, it’s a five-bay double, with three pens of slats and seven dry pens with two feeding passageways. Five pens are on either side of the main feeding passageway.

The shed itself measures 24m long and 20.35m wide. It stands nearly 8m to the apex and 4.4m to the eaves.

Design source: Carroll Consultancy

The slatted tank, spanning three pens, is 14.4m long, 3.8m wide and 2.4m deep. The three slatted pens and two dry pens on one side of the shed measure 3.8m wide and 4.8m long each, with the five dry bedded pens on the other side of the passageway measuring 5.8m wide and 4.8m long.

The main central passageway splitting the two rows of pens measures 5.7m wide and 24m long, with a narrower passageway serving the three slatted and two dry pens on the other side measuring 3.7m wide and 24m long.

Design Source: Caroll Consultancy

Features of the suckler shed

The minute you walk into the main feeding passageway of the shed, a number of features catches the eye.

The idea behind the shed was for it to work alongside the original suckler shed.

Some of the near 60 strong herd of cows are housed in the shed for the winter in the three slatted pens, which can hold seven cows each and is fitted with Jourdain headlocking barriers on one side and on the other side, to increase feed space, a standard single feed rail was fitted which can be height adjusted.

Three Teemore Engineering stainless steel drinkers were installed to serve across the five pens.

A shuttered wall splits the three slatted pens from the two dry bedded pens on the other side.

Once cows are close to calving, cows exit through a small access gate at the back of each of the slatted pens and turned into the two dry bedded pens beside them.

To ensure the two dry bedded pens remain dry, the Kelly’s extended the tank slightly into one of the solid floor pens to take away any moisture from the bedding.

Within these two dry bedded pens, standard diagonal feed barriers were installed rather than the Jourdain headlocking barriers in the three slatted pens beside them, while a single height adjustable feed rail was fitted at the back of the two pens.

A feeding passageway at the back of the slatted and dry pens, as mentioned, was incorporated to increase feed space, but it is also used to move cows between pens and also as a loading area to load cattle onto the trailer.

To make the job of loading cattle from any of the five pens easier, gates were fitted onto the back wall of the shed that swing all the way onto the girders where the feed rails are hung.

James said that rather than cattle running from one end of the shed to the next, that by having a gate for each bay, it couldn’t be an any simpler and stress free way of loading cattle onto the trailer.

Once cows are on the point of calving they once again are turned out through a small access gate from either one of the two dry bedded pens, which leads into the main feeding passageway and are turned into one of two calving pens on the other side of the passageway, where the five dry bedded pens are.

A calving gate was installed across from the two dry bedded pens that house the cows on the point of calving.

The calving gate, designed and made by Bó Steel, serves two of the five dry bedded pens on the other side of the shed.

James said that they don’t like to overstock the calving pens, with generally only two cows in the pen at a time.

So when a cow is calving and the Kellys want to assist her calving, she is moved into the other calving pen away from the other cow that she was with.

With safety in mind at calving, James said: “Once the cow is directed towards the head of the crush and locked in with the help of the calving gate to guide her in, the calving gate can be further split in two.

“By splitting it further in two, the cow that is locked in to the head of the crush can be be kept in place by the one part of the calving gate while the other section of the calving gate folds back to the main gate preventing the cow in the other pen from walking into the pen where the cow that is calving is in.”

In the picture above, a small sliding door can be seen. This door was incorporated so that the Kelly’s could move cows from the shed into the original suckler unit which is directly behind it, further making life easier and making it a one-person job of moving cows from shed to shed.

The other three dry bedded pens are then used to house cows and their newborn calves. James said they like to keep the cows and calves inside for at least two weeks after calving before letting them out to grass.

The five pens on this side of the shed, as mentioned, consist of a solid floor that is sloped in towards the feed passageway. A slope of no more than 2 inches was incorporated to take away any run off from the straw bedding into the slatted tank on the other side of the main feeding passageway.

Teemore Engineering gates help to divide each of the pens and can fold back to the wall, allowing the Kellys to clean out the pens with ease, with access to the pens available at either end through sliding doors.

Diagonal feed barriers were fitted into three of the pens, with Jourdain headlocking barriers installed in the two calving pens. The headlocking barriers give the Kellys an added option of locking in a cow that is close to calving to assist her for example.

On this side of the shed, JFC water drinkers were installed. Each of the pens can be accessed from the main feeding passageway through a small access gate that doubles up as feed space as well.

As with any ‘grant spec’ shed, natural daylight is aided by skylights on the roof; however, to further brighten up the shed naturally, the Kellys opted to install two skylights in each bay of the shed rather than one which you would normally see.

Vented sheeting was installed along two sides of the shed, while a gap between the eaves and where the sheeting ends was left to increase airflow within the shed.

Six sliding doors were incorporated into the design, with four altogether at both ends of both feeding passageways (i.e. two per feeding passageway), while the other two, as mentioned earlier, are at either end of the five dry bedded pens.

A calving camera was installed to keep an eye on cows close to calving, which James says has been a great addition to the farm.


Due to being in a partnership together, James and Willie Kelly were eligible for a 60% grant under TAMS II.

Taking this into account along with reclaiming the VAT, the Kellys were able to build an impressive suckler shed for €60,000 out of their own pocket.

James credited a lot of the features and different ideas within the shed to Michael Philips, who stood the frame of the shed and made a lot of the gates and feed barriers within the shed.

Pat Hynes dug out the site with Norman Fox coming in after to fit the tank, lay the concrete floors and stand the walls of the shed.

James did all the plumbing and wiring within the shed himself, which helped to keep costs down.

Speaking about the decision to build the new shed, James said: “We are delighted we went ahead.

“We aren’t tight for space anymore, and we have the option of increasing cow numbers further if we want.

“Furthermore, we have a safe calving environment in which to work in and the shed is set up in a way that one person can take a cow out of a pen and bring her into the calving pen and assist her safely.

“Another benefit of the shed and a reason for the feed passageway at the back of the shed is that if we ever wanted to finish cattle in it we could flip it around and use it for that purpose as well.

“Overall, the shed gives us great options and very importantly a safe environment to work in at calving time.”