A back to basics assessment of the housing and stock handling
needs of livestock has resulted in a new innovative farm livestock
The Roundhouse - "the most exciting development in agricultural
buildings for at least 50 years".
Called The Roundhouse because of its entirely round shape, the
building is the result of four years of development by Barnard
Castle based Simpson & Allinson’s managing director Geoff
Simpson, who has been involved in the manufacture of agricultural
buildings for over 28 years.
The building has been described by Antony Lowther, chairman of
the Rural and Industrial Design and Building Association – the
main organisation and membership body covering rural buildings
- as “the most exciting development in agricultural buildings
for at least 50 years, which challenges every aspect of traditional
construction and livestock management”.
Aside from its shape, the building also uses innovative new construction
materials and erection techniques. The main features are:
- There are no walls to the open-sided 30.25m diameter, 95m circumference
building, whose infrastructure consists of a central steel kingpin,
eight roof trusses and 16 perimeter supports;
- It has an area of 720m2, split into eight segments with an
area of around 86 m² each. This gives a total stocking density
of 9,000 kgs per pen – or 18 animals weighing 500 kgs per
pen. That equates to a stocking density of 4.7 m² per animal
- well within recommended stocking rate guidelines;
- The roof is manufactured from a single piece of PVC coated
polyester fabric, tensioned over the framework by steel cable
ties. (NB. This differs from the prototype building as it is
stronger, and will have superior longevity);
- There is a 10 m² ventilation hole in the middle of the
roof that vents the air, creating ideal conditions for the stock;
- The “centre circle” handling area in a Roundhouse
with the full handling system option allows a full pen of adult
cattle to be held for routine inspection, bedding or mucking
- There is “gate free” access to each pen to
allow easy access and exit by the stockman;
- The roof is assembled on the ground and then raised into position,
thus virtually removing the need to work at height during its
- It has striking good looks! Because the building and its roof
are only ever viewed tangentially, the building’s visual
impact is dramatically reduced. The green, matt-finished roof
also means that the building blends extremely well into the countryside.
S&A has had several complementary comments from planners
about its environmentally friendly features.
“The features make for a building that is ideally suited
to housing stock in the most welfare friendly of environments,
and to managing them quickly, efficiently, and safely,” said
John Allinson, technical director of S & A and co-developer
of the building.
“We put all of those features at the top of our handling
system ‘wish list’ and came up with the need for a
round shaped handling system with the cattle being funneled into
it via their segment-shaped pens.
“Then we needed to build a round shaped building and put
a roof on it. The only logical material to use for that was fabric.” The
firm then started further research into which fabrics were the
most suitable, and what the best ways of attaching it to the roof
The first prototype was built three years ago on the farm of John
Simpson - Geoff’s brother - at Caldwell, near Richmond, with
a second model built on the farm of David and Austin Richardson,
at Melsonby, Richmond.
Further development work on the roof structure and steel frame
continued with the help of the School of Civil Engineering and
Geo-Sciences at Newcastle University. Since the two prototypes
were built the nature of the material, its format and attachment
have all improved significantly.
Both prototype buildings have stood up extremely well to whatever
the animals and the elements have thrown at them – including
Force 9 to 10 gales and 70 mph gusts.
During periods of extremely hot weather, the stock have been cool
and contented, according to John Simpson. In winter, the open sides
means the building does get cold, he admits, which constrains the
size of the animals to 350 kg for beef animals.
Both Roundhouse owners estimate they spend half as much time looking
after their animals than in other conventional buildings because
of its excellent visibility and easy of management. Labour costs
are thus much reduced. Vet and medication costs have also fallen
by three-quarters on John Simpson’s farm. David Richardson
concurs with those savings.
S & A believes that the design lends itself to the housing
of stock other than cattle, and aims to carry our further work
to assess its suitability. One option could be to house dairy cows
with a robot milking unit as an integral part, for example. It
is estimated the building could house 70 cows in such a system.
The price of a Roundhouse compares favourably to conventional
livestock building for beef animals, estimates John Allinson. It
is expected that the super-structure roof and foundations together
with a basic handling system will cost between £40,000 and £45,000,
depending on location.
On top of that and in line with conventional buildings there will
be the cost of site preparation and the pens, troughs and handling
system. Final prices won’t be known until the installation
of the inaugural “production model” Roundhouse. Planning
permission for that is currently being sought.
“The Roundhouse is a truly innovative building that provides
an exceptional environment for the animals and stockmen,” said
John Allinson. “We are proud to have brought it to market,
and thank the many people and organisations who have helped us
with its development.”
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