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Farm buildings: 12 top tips for planning a new farm building

High capital costs mean the decision to put up a new agricultural building is rarely taken in haste. Lauren Chambers talks to Andrew Brown at Marley Eternit about the key decisions farmers should consider when planning a new building.


It might sound obvious, but the first thing to think about when considering a new farm building is how the investment fits in with your farm strategy.


What is the reason for the building? How will it help improve productivity, animal health and welfare or overall returns? Will it facilitate new enterprises or help the efficiency of existing ones? Is it a replacement for an existing building or an additional resource? Spend some time thinking about these issues before you get into the detail of what you need.

1. Confirm what you need

Once you have decided what you need from the new building from a strategic point of view, think about how it is going to be used, the level of flexibility you require from it and how long you expect it to last.


It may sound obvious, but a building designed to house dairy cows all year round will need to be very different from one used exclusively for lambing or for youngstock.

2. Think about the future

Do you need a general purpose building which can be adapted to different uses at different times of the year and how will this influence size/specifications? It is important to take a long-term view, thinking about your needs now and in the future.


If you are putting up a grain store, are you likely to require additional capacity in five years?


If it is a livestock building, will herd numbers grow? It is cheaper to over-spec from day one than to replace it in five years when you have outgrown it.

3. Understand its longevity

The anticipated longevity of a building will affect the material specification. For example, a timber-framed building will have a different design life to a steel-framed building, while some types of roof sheets will last significantly longer than others.


It is important to consider whole-life costs. A short-term saving in material cost can lead to higher repair and maintenance costs later on.


Now you know why you need a certain type of building and how you are going to use it, where will it go, what will it look like and is planning permission required?

4. Choose your site wisely

It is important to take a whole-farm approach. Think about how the new structure will work with your existing buildings and also where you will go next with any further expansion.


Think about location and access - will it be easy to perform routine maintenance and, if it is a livestock building, consider how animal movements will work with existing buildings, handling systems and access to grazing.


While the following list is not exhaustive, some of the elements to consider when deciding where a new building will be sited are: access to fields and services, aspect and exposure to the climate, machinery clearance and turning circles, road access, disease transmission, water table, drainage, soil type and proximity to slopes or hills.


The Rural and Industrial Design and Building Association (RIDBA) also recommends you consult your insurance company as it may have a view on the building’s construction and siting.

5. Seek out a specialist

When it comes to planning permission, it is important to seek advice from a specialist, the NFU or your local planning authority.


Agricultural buildings smaller than 465sq.m may not require full planning permission, but requirements depend on proximity to other property and end use, so it is always worth checking.

6. Weigh up all your options

If you do need it, be prepared for planning permission to take time. Remember to consider your options carefully, read the guidance available, consult professionals, if required, and be prepared to reconsider your initial ideas, if necessary.


When preparing an application, make sure you take account of local planning requirements and consider factors such as environmental impact, including the sustainability of materials used in construction.


It is worth demonstrating the business case for the building and how it contributes to the economy in the local area.

7. Appearance

How a new building looks is becoming increasingly important, particularly as buildings get larger.


It is important to ensure the appearance of your building is in keeping with its surroundings. Think about the colour of your building and try to use colours which reflect the earth or vegetation, for example browns, reds, greys and greens.


The roof is often the most visible part of a building from a distance, and materials are available in a range of colours designed to blend with the environment and also give a more natural appearance from new than others.


Where possible, try to make the building blend into the landscape. Using trees to screen a structure can be very effective.

8. Project management

Project management is an important element of any new building venture.

It can easily eat into your time and, on larger projects, can become a full-time job in itself.

Whether you are project managing a new building yourself, or paying a professional, here some things to consider:

  • Plan ahead and have a timescale in mind, although be prepared for it to slip
  • Make sure you are clear about what you want – drawings are useful and can help not only visualise the project, but also to get accurate quotes
  • Have a list of contractors you want to get quotes from, and remember cheap isn’t always better and may not be the right long term investment
  • Make sure you have the relevant permission and approvals before you start
  • Have a clear budget in mind or agree a price before work starts. But it can be prudent to have a contingency budget to cope with the unforeseen

A big part of project management is understanding the health and safety responsibilities you have when work is being carried out on your premises. Even if you are employing a contractor to carry out the build, certain responsibilities still fall to you. These include providing any relevant site information and checking suitable management plans are in place.


Make sure you ask contractors to provide you with information on what safety precautions they are taking. Always use a reputable contractor – RIBDA can help you find one.

9. Check the CE markings

In 2013, the Construction and Products Regulation (CPR) came into force. Many building products are already CE marked, but this regulation requires all steel, concrete and timber frames used in the UK to be CE marked from July 2014.


Trading Standards will police this regulation, and you should check your frame manufacturer or contractor is compliant with the new requirements to avoid issues.

10. The factors of building design

Building design is a big area and in most cases there will be very specific recommendations based on end use.


Take advice from specialists in this area and, for livestock buildings, consider talking to your vet or a livestock husbandry adviser to get the latest thinking on what is right for your stock and management system, rather than simply buying products off the shelf. One size definitely does not fit all.


The main design factors to consider for any farm building are listed below and the specific requirements will depend on your farm, the size of your machinery, breed and age of animals, prevailing climatic conditions and the intended use of the building:

  • Length, width and height to eaves
  • Roof slope/pitch
  • Roof cladding material (see pull out)
  • Wall cladding material
  • Floor slopes and drainage
  • Load requirements (e.g. grain storage or silage pits)
  • Frequency and number of people working inside
  • Energy efficiency and potential for renewable energy generation
  • Ventilation (inlets and outlets)
  • Exposure to the elements
  • Acoustics

And specifically for livestock buildings:

  • Inlet ventilation above animal level
  • Stocking density
  • Type and size of animal
  • Amount of natural light required
  • Natural or forced air ventilation
  • Seasonal use
  • Management approach
  • Feeding regime
  • Access and handling facilities
  • Slurry and waste management
  • Biosecurity

11. Focus on roofing for livestock buildings

The decision you make on your choice of roofing not only impacts the appearance of the building, it is also a key health and welfare consideration.


Although slightly more expensive to install than box profile steel sheeting, fibre cement roofing is more cost effective in the long-term as it has a typical design life in excess of 50 years, compared to steel sheeting, which might only last 10-30 years.

12. Material traits

Materials used in livestock buildings also need to be able to withstand damp and humid conditions.


Where diesel exhaust fumes can mix with gases from the cattle and slurry to form a corrosive atmosphere, fibre cement offers the advantage that it does not rust or rot and is resistant to chemical attack.


For more information about farm buildings contact:

Marley Eternit

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