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Adapting old farm buildings for modern livestock use can be challenging – but get it right and you could save £1000s.

One of the biggest problems with older buildings is their lack of space, light and ventilation, all of which can compromise animal health and welfare. So when Andrew Luscombe decided to alter existing buildings at Wolford Farm, Dunkeswell, Devon, it was those three key areas that he concentrated on.

“The existing cubicle house was put up in the 1970s and it had a low roof with tin sides, and cubicles that were too small for modern dairy cows,” he said. So he took the tin sides off to allow for larger cubicle sizes, and replaced them with a unique see-through ventilated wall called Highlight.

Installed along the length of the shed, above cow height, the colour coated metal wall is 25% voided in the form of tiny holes, allowing plenty of light and air into the shed, without ingress of rain or wind. “We could have used Yorkshire boarding but we wanted the wall to last a long time, and to let as much light in as possible,” said Mr Luscombe. “At the same time we also replaced the cubicle beds and mattresses to improve cow comfort.”

With two herds of 200 cows each, Mr Luscombe also installed the sheeting on another shed at nearby Highwood Farm. “The end of the cubicle house is South West facing and we needed a high entrance to get in with tractors and machinery,” he said. “But the wind and rain was always blowing in over the doors – we tried all sorts, including layered plastic sheets that you could drive through, but nothing worked.”

Instead, he built a frame above the doors and clad it in Highlight, which opens with the doors but keeps the wind and rain out. “It’s worked brilliantly well – it lets lots of light and air in but keeps 90% of the rain out. And it doesn’t blow around like the plastic did.”

As well as improving side ventilation, it is also important to provide a sufficient outlet in the roof, so Mr Luscombe opened up the ridge to draw air through the buildings. “It’s 100 times better – we get a lot of foggy days up here in the hills, and even then the sheds stay nice and dry.

“We chop straw onto the cubicles each day, and just wipe the walls down a couple of times each winter to keep them clear of dust. They’ve been installed for four or five years now and they still look as good as new.

“The cows definitely prefer lying on the side where the light and air is coming in, and our electricity bills should benefit as well,” he added. “It just proves that there is still life in a lot of these old sheds – and it has to be cheaper to adapt them carefully than to build something completely new.”