Top tips for new farm buildings

High capital costs mean making the decision to put up a new agricultural building is rarely taken in haste. So what are the key considerations when planning a new farm building?


Business strategy

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

End use and longevity

Once you’ve 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 year round will need to be very different from one used exclusively for lambing or for youngstock.

Do you need a general purpose building that can be adapted to different uses at different times of the year and how will this influence size, specifications, etc. It is important that you take a long-term view too, thinking about your needs now and for the future. If you are putting up a grain store, are you likely to require additional capacity in 5 years? If it’s a livestock building, will herd numbers grow? It is cheaper to over-spec a building from day 1 than to replace it in 5 years when you’ve outgrown it.

The anticipated longevity of a building will also affect the material specification. For example, a timber framed building will have a different design life to a  steel frame building, whilst fibre cement roof sheets will last significantly longer than most steel equivalents. It is important to consider whole-life costs as well, as a short term saving in material cost can lead to higher repairs and maintenance costs down the line.

Location and layout planning

So, you’ve established why you need a certain type of building and how you are going to use it. Now comes the complex part – where will it go, what will it look like and will you need planning permission?

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’ll go next with any further expansion.  Think about location and access – will it be easy to perform routine maintenance and, if it’s a livestock building, consider how animal movements will work with existing buildings, handling systems and access to grazing. Whilst the following list isn’t 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 recommend you consult your insurance company as it may have a view on the building’s construction and siting.

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 465m2 may not require full planning permission, but the requirements depend on proximity to other property and end use, so it is always worth checking.

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, for example if you farm in a national park or AONB, and consider factors like environmental impact, including the sustainability of materials used in construction. For example, Marley roof sheets are accredited to BS 6001 for responsible sourcing of construction products, which helps to demonstrate to planners that you are minimising the impact of the build. It is also worth demonstrating the business case for the new building and how that contributes to the economy in the local area.


How a new building looks is becoming increasingly important, particularly as buildings get larger. It is, therefore, important to ensure that the appearance of your building is in keeping with its surroundings. Think about the colour of your building and try to use colours that reflect the earth or vegetation, so browns, reds, greys and greens.  The roof is often the most visible part of a building from a distance, and materials such as profiled fibre cement sheeting are available in a range of colours designed to blend with the environment and also give a more natural appearance from new than metal alternatives.  Where possible, try and make the building blend into the landscape as much as possible - using trees to screen a structure can be very effective.

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.

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 that your frame manufacturer or contractor is compliant with the new requirements to avoid issues.

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’s right for your stock and management system, rather than simply buying products off the shelf. One size definitely doesn’t 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:

• Wall height at animal height
• 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

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.

Fibre cement is also the material to use for the welfare of the animals, leading to improved productivity. Fibre cement is vapour permeable, and the cementitious matrix will absorb moisture, therefore minimising the incidence of condensation dripping from the roof onto the livestock and bedding beneath. Compared to single skin metal, fibre cement roofing is also more thermally stable, reducing heat build up in the summer and cold in winter. It also deadens sound - avoiding drumming from rain that can upset livestock.

Materials used in livestock buildings also need to be able to withstand the 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 doesn’t rust or rot  and is resistant to chemical attack.

Here at Marley Eternit, we are always on hand to offer practical and experienced support. Select an option below or call us on 01283 722588.