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Livestock producers could improve animal health and slash electricity costs by installing an innovative see-through wall on cattle buildings.

While many farmers have traditionally relied on spaced timber boarding to clad shed walls, it often provides insufficient ventilation, increasing the risk of respiratory diseases. According to Jamie Robertson, research fellow at Aberdeen University, more than half of all livestock buildings – including new ones – are not fit for purpose. “It’s a great shame that, despite years of conclusive research on building design, brand new buildings are going up that won’t ventilate properly – it’s a complete waste of money,” he says.

Livestock with insufficient ventilation are more prone to respiratory diseases like pneumonia, while damp and draughty conditions will slow growth rates and chill young stock. In addition, transparent roof lights, often installed to provide natural light, can result in hotspots around the shed, with dark, shadowy corners, which are equally incompatible with good animal health and welfare.

Now, a ground breaking perforated metal sheeting has been proven to eliminate those problems. Highlight, manufactured by United Roofing Products in Devon, is a colour coating galvanised steel cladding with a 25% perforated area, in the form of tiny holes which allow light and air through, but not wind and rain. Installed on farms across the country since 2001, it has produced excellent results, including at a farm near Launceston, Cornwall.

Jack Neale, who farms with his two sons, James and Christopher, and his wife Yvonne at Wilkey Down Farm, Werrington, is a familiar face at the Royal Cornwall Show, and first tried Highlight three years ago. “I was putting up a new cattle shed and my builder Tom Hannaford recommended Highlight for the walls. We went to see a big dairy farm that was using it, and were very impressed with the amount of light coming in. With the better ventilation it provides, our vet also said it was a good idea, so we went ahead and have been delighted with the results.”

Mr Neale fattens about 400 cattle a year, alongside two pedigree Limousin and Aberdeen Angus herds, with more than 700 commercial ewes and separate pedigree Texel and Berrichon flocks.

“The cattle have to be housed over the winter, and those in the new shed are a lot healthier and more comfortable because of the improved light and ventilation,” he says. With a more even distribution of natural light, there are fewer shadows and hot spots, and less need for electric lighting during the day. “It’s a much nicer, airy environment and I will certainly be using Highlight again.”

Following a successful result showing his Nealford cattle at the Devon County Show in May, Mr Neale will be taking a select team to exhibit at the Royal Cornwall Show this week. United Roofing Products will also be on hand at stand 424 with displays of Highlight and its new range of economy steel purlins for farm buildings.