Building a barn - Any advice?

Discussion in 'Other Pets & Livestock' started by TajMahalChickens, Sep 17, 2010.

  1. TajMahalChickens

    TajMahalChickens Chillin' With My Peeps

    Mar 22, 2010
    We are planning on building a barn next spring for 2 horses, a miniature donkey, possibly a cow, goats (most likely a fiber goat and a dairy goat), and possibly chickens (I already have two coops!). Features that we (probably) want: two horse stalls, a tack room, a wash stall, an area for storage, and a run-in for the animals. Probably something with the dimensions of 32'W x 36'L, plus a loft for hay storage. Needs to survive Midwest winters. Basically, I am looking for advice!

    We are looking at Walter and Morton buildings; and success with those companies? Any price difference between the two? (What is the average price for a barn anyways?)

    We have have never owned a cow, minature donkey, or goats. Any Special features needed to house them? Can they be in the same pasture?

    Any advice as to concrete or dirt floor?

    Any other advice? Even something small like "don't put the water line near the entrance" is helpful!

  2. patandchickens

    patandchickens Flock Mistress

    Apr 20, 2007
    Ontario, Canada
    Best thing IMHO is to build Yer Basic Generic Pole Barn, perhaps 24x40 or a bit wider. (Building longer-but-narrower is generally cheaper than building squarer-and-wider, and also more functional if you will be requiring a good bit of run-in type animal access to the barn). Maybe bigger still -- see below regarding loft vs ground-level hay storage. You totally do not need a "name" company to do this for you, certainly not Morton (ka-ching), just some local contractor of decent reputation who will build you a basic pole barn. Actually it is not difficult to do yourself if you have some time on your hands and don't mind modest heights on a ladder.

    I would recommend an outdoor wash rack, unless you are a serious big cold-weather horse show person and "need" an indoor heated wash stall. It will save you money and aggravation. If you do go with an indoor one, I recommend having the slab graded to drain THRU THE OUTSIDE WALL, not thru a floor drain -- it is safer for the horse *and* far easier to fix when it clogs with revolting materials, which I assure you it will.

    Seriously think about this idea of loft storage for hay. It is nearly always a bad idea when it can be avoided (which for this size barn is "almost always"). First, it will not necessarily cost you any less than ground-level hay storage, indeed can sometimes cost MORE (both in construction and in insurance premium difference). Second, it is a real fire hazard and often creates extra dust in the barn filtering down thru floorboards. Third, it restricts you to ONLY being able to buy small square bales (sometimes round bales or big squares are a lot cheaper, or the only decent quality available), and even if you buy (and then store!) a motorized hay elevator, it is significantly more pain in the neck to load hay into a loft than into ground-level storage. And finally, if you should find yourself pregnant or disabled by a bad back or broken leg or whatever, feeding hay from a loft is a LOT more challenging, unless you have previously built a generous staircase up into the loft, which eats up a good bit of space that could be used for other barn purposes. Truly, you are almost always better off with an extension of the barn (or small separate building) that you store hay in at ground level. It just works better. Although I know it looks less storybook-y [​IMG]

    I would suggest that at least the tackroom and chicken coop have a poured slab floor (but if they are adjacent, they'd better have an airtight wall dividing them and the coop better not vent into the barn much, or you will have a serious dust issue). An argument can be made for slab aisles too, with the concrete textured or pebbled for traction, but it depends on what you'll be doing. Unless you KNOW you want to use mats or rubber mattresses in the stalls, I would recommend leaving them non-concrete, but tamping in a good thick layer of stone dust real hard.

    Make sure the drainage and footing around the barn will be excellent. All the more so if you will be using the barn as a run-in that animals have free access to during the day. Neglecting to ensure drainage and build excellent footing around the barn *from the start* results in mud swamps developing where animals frequently travel, and once started these can be pretty hard to permanently fix.

    Not sure what climate you live in, but if it EVER gets down to freezing, put in a frost-free hydrant and save yourself a lot of aggravation, and make sure it is installed with a GOOD drainage bed under it, and with the waterline run to appropriate depth. (Remember the ground can easily freeze DEEPER THAN YOUR OFFICIAL FROSTLINE in areas that are kept snow-free, e.g. driveways and areas well-trampled by livestock). If you are in a warmish climate, put the water on an outside wall, so that if (really "when") something goes wrong and you have to dig the line up, you are not having to dig under millions of walls and many feet of concrete slab. If you are in a cold NOrthern climate, put the water on an inside wall but ideally somewhere that the buried line does not travel underneath slab.

    Good luck, have fun,

  3. Bossroo

    Bossroo Chillin' With My Peeps

    Jun 15, 2008
    What Pat said plus use steel support posts rather than wood posts or the horses , etc ( they are actually very large termites) will give you wall art that is quite expensive to replace. Make the stalls at least 12 x 12 ( bigger if you can) make your center isle at least 12 feet wide. I would HIGHLY recommend you NOT have a hay loft... too many issues including barn fires therefore much higher fire insurance as well as liability insurance. Do not store any motorised vehicles in the barn especially in cold weather as the heat of the motor comming in contact with minute dust particles could combust quite easily. Keep chickens, ducks, turkeys, etc. in a seperate building as they create loads of dust which is not too healthy for horses' lungs ( not to mention yours) . Also if they run loose, stepping in their copious offerings from their posterior is not pleasant when you track it into your house. I have raised horses for over 40 years and have visited many horse barns...My barn was 37 x 220 and all stalls were 12 x 12, and 12 x 18 walls were cynder block to a 12 ft height. My other barn was 8 stall all steel barn with each stall at 16x 24 for mares with foales. Seperate hay barn.
  4. seymore0626

    seymore0626 Out Of The Brooder

    Oct 10, 2008
    No loft....think about a shed off each side for hay, shavings/beddng, equipment, run in. I like an inside wash rack with on demand hot water, but I understand Pat's point of view. Think about cross ventilation for air movement. make sure that the building is oriented correctly for moring and afternoon sun, and is on a high point so it will not catch run-off.

    Our vet clinic is a Morton building. We have buillt several homes, barns, offices, apartments, and our dealings with Morton on the clinic were painless, compared to some of ther other jobs.. We had a good rep, and good plans (homemade) and the whole project went very well. The building is 13 years old, used very hard and we hae nooooo complaints.
  5. welsummerchicks

    welsummerchicks Chillin' With My Peeps

    Jul 26, 2010
    Insurance companies are getting more and more unpleasant about loft hay storage. Some are even refusing to insure barns at all, if they have overhead hay storage. That's just how hazardous it is and how often it catches fire. Loft storages are hot, stuffy and put hay next to electric conduit. They encourage spontaneous combustion. There is a reason insurance companies don't like them.

    Personally I hate overhead hay storage. It makes the air quality in the barn very poor.

    Start a dialog with your insurance people right away. You want your insurance company to know you have a fire plan. Where to put the animals if there is a fire, how you will get water for the fire dept (pond? hydrant on road?) if there is a fire, and how you will stop the fire. Fire extinguishers, sprinkler system, fire alarms (most ordinary ones don't work in barns).

    If I could, I would plan to put your hay and bedding in a separate building, which will make insurance happy. A metal building with a concrete floor where you can put pallets on the ground to get your hay off the floor so it won't rot or mold, is best. If not, plan on an OPEN area in your barn, not a tight stuffy corner or a stall. Plan to give it plenty of overhead space (most people can handle bales stacked 4 high or so). Plan how often you will run out of hay and how often you will need deliveries (or how you will get it to your barn - tiny loads in your truck bed on nice weather days only, etc). Be sure you can get emergency services and deliveries (from BIG trucks) back to your barn. Your stall kits, drain pipe, loads of gravel, construction materials, etc, all have to get back there - be sure you can get back there in bad weather too).

    If you have a tiny hay or bedding storage area, you are going to pay the absolute top prices for these things and are going to have to take what you can get, and every time you get hay it will be slightly different and could sicken your animals. Plan for much more hay and bedding storage than you think you need.

    Now is a good time to put a very, very firm limit on how many animals you will get. It's very tempting - put in a limited number of stalls and don't fall to the temptation to sacrifice more and more barn area to house more animals. Stick to your limit and maintain good hay and bedding storage. Don't crowd in more and more animals.

    I'd NEVER put chickens and horses in the same area unless they were completely walled off from each other. You'll notice even on the oldest style farms, the chickens were in a completely separate building from the barn, unless there was no building at all for them.

    I love my indoor washrack and have a hot water heater in the tack room and can pipe hot water to the washrack and extra lights high up on the wall. No, I don't do baths in cold weather, but it has been very, very useful to wash off wounds, for the farrier to work, and for the vet to work. My builder said not to have it drain out a wall because it would rot the wall, so the concrete in the wash rack is all sloped down slightly toward the drain. I have a rectangular 'box' underneath the drain in the wash rack, the bottom of the box is below the drain outlet, so the gunk settles to the bottom of the box and the drain keeps draining. I need to clean it out about once every three years.

    Couldn't live without the concrete aisle. Keeps the dust down - a dirt aisle is miserable in the summer - dusty or damp and gets uneven, has to be filled in and graded all the time (my friend has one).

    12X12 is a minimum stall size for horses, more is better if your 'midwestern winter' includes ice storms and days of being cooped up - my midwestern winter does. Consider having paddocks built next to the barn and having the stalls open out to the paddocks - but put an overhanging roof (high up) to keep rain from making the stall entrance into a mud pit. A fence that funnels the horses out away from the building helps keep them from gnawing up the building.

    The most important thing is that the barn needs to be built on a pad that is raised up above the rest of the area - as far as possible. If you can build it at the top of a slope all the better.

    Think, think, think and think about how your land lies, and where your pastures, paddocks and barn will drain to.

    Your most important consideration farm wise should be drainage, how you will handle manure(usually the last thing people think about), and what your local laws are, and beyond the laws, what it takes to be a 'good neighbor' in your area. Don't rock back on your heels and say, 'I'm allowed to have animals, anyone who complains is an old meanie and I can ignore them'.

    Start out from the beginning with the idea of being a super neighbor, not just a 'letter of the law' abiding one, a super, cooperative, considerate neighbor. That means manure, flies and odors are important. Unless you are surrounded by big animal farms, people will notice. And as silly as they may seem, they have rights, and they can also make your life a misery. Consider how you're going to deal with the manure and soiled bedding from all those animals? A pile of rotting pooh in the back forty? It might be right next to your neighbor's back yard or its runoff might drain onto their septic field or their porch. The county may have requirements for how you handle disposal of manure. It some areas, you have to rent a dumpster and pay to have it emptied. In other areas, you aren't allowed to spread manure on your land, so can't get rid of it that way. Even in the most unregulated areas, they won't like you accumulating a big pile of manure...EVEN IF you are officially classified as a farm.

    I'd consider as very important your neighbors. If they all have horses, all neighbors on all sides, you MAY not have conflicts(except for differences of opinion on how to ride, feed, manage and handle horses, LOL!). But if you are ANYWHERE near a subdivision or are in a crowded area where there are lots of loose kids and dogs, shared driveways, poor fencing, consider the problems that could occur and plan your property to minimize them.

    Research your deed and find out about any local covenants, right of ways or other easements to your property, such as rights of way the power company or utility company may have. Find out about land use, and if there are any buried tanks or debris or other things that are going to pop up when you do some construction.

    Consider what your neighbors do for recreation - blow off bombs? Dive bomb your property with remote control airplanes? Let their fifty hound dogs loose on your back lot? They won't change when you get animals. If anything, all of a sudden you will start to notice just how annoying they actually are. If you have a small lot that just barely passes the zoning requirements for farm animals, think long and hard, about what it's going to be like to 'stock' your property.

    No matter where you are, a perimeter fence is one of the chief things that makes 'good neighbors'. Keep your livestock contained - them getting loose on a neighbor's property is NOT a 'small deal', it is a big deal. Make sure that your animals will not be a nuisance and can't get loose. And life is better if you can keep everyone ELSE'S animals off your property too. Split rail is cheap but won't do the job unless it's much taller and is backed up with small mesh wire. Electric rope fences are popular with many people for the cheap initial price but take a lot of maintenance and the electric rope (or electric tape) needs to be replaced periodically.

    Most people, when they decide to get horses, they first consider the size of barn, and the number of stalls.

    In my way of thinking about it, the FIRST thing to consider is the lay of your land - where and how is the fall (change in elevation) on the land and what soil type is it. How and where does drainage go? Are there any storm drains or ditches by your road that handle drainage? How does the soil perk? What happens when there is a huge rainstorm? Where does water puddle and how long does it take to drain? What types of plants are there on the property? Joe Pie Weed and cattails? You may have some poorly draining areas. Moss? You may have some areas where the air is stagnant or there is little sun. Woods? Many woods soak up a lot of water and cutting them down for pasture can put a lot of runoff on your neighbor's land.

    Know the local laws cold. Know if you need building permits, if you have setback requirements (meaning you can't build a building near your property line).

    HAVE YOUR LAND SURVEYED. If you don't have visible boundary pins where your neighbors can see them any time they come walking out (and when you start clearing land, putting up fence and digging, you can BET they will be out there asking questions and wanting to know what's going on!), have a survey done and have them mark the boundaries, with extra pins if woods or topography mean a neighbor wouldn't be able to see exactly where the boundary is at any spot.

    These are things Morton and the others will not take care of. You have to think about these things yourself. My neighbor has a worthless, unusable barn and she is boarding her horses for seven hundred bucks a piece a month, because she put the barn front door where every single drop of rainwater drains down to, and the barn floods every time it rains. He's got 20 foot high piles of bark chips that he thinks are going to solve the problem and which will NOT- they will only make it worse. You have to deal with drainage and runoff without breaking the law or trying to fight (or ignore) nature.

    Think about where your drainage patterns are and where they go. If you plan to cut down trees consider what that will do to the drainage patterns.

    Think seriously about how construction might affect the quality of runoff off your land and which neighbors will be affected by torrents of muddy water, even if just during your construction. Be prepared to surround construction areas with silt fences, and to seed them with a fast growing grass (dusting seed over the ground will not work, it has to be pushed into the ground and rolled in order to germinate) and straw them to improve runoff quality. Otherwise the water quality people will be at your door the second the trucks start rolling off your property covered in mud and leaving it on the road(or when neighbors start complaining their yard is full of brown water). Think about timing the construction to avoid periods of time in your area when there are heavy storms (usually early spring, august, some in fall in midwest).

    Your barn will need to have a cleared area for construction. In the right weather, an excavator can 'build with clay' a pad to put your building on. Where ever you put your building, the top soil will have to be scraped off, and that topsoil will have to be dumped somewhere. Plan for how much topsoil is at the site for your building and how much will have to be removed. Depending on the soil in your area the topsoil could be up to 20 feet deep, you need to find out. And you may need to have clay brought in to build up a pad for the building and make up for the topsoil that has to be removed.

    Your barn will have a roof that will collect a lot of water. It will be a big building. Think about where the water will go. Sixteen thousand gallons of water can come off a big roof in a rainstorm, where's it going to go? Best is gutters and downspouts that go down into pipe below the frost level (hopefully in trenches back filled with gravel) and drain the water to a pond or other suitable place for water runoff. Think about how much water can be picked up by the roof and get more downspouts than you think you need. If your property is flat you have to make a very, very serious plan for where all that water is going to go. You can't block the flow of drainage across your property and can't dump drainage onto other people's property, unless the natural flow of the drainage goes that way. But you may have to do something to slow the speed and velocity and volume of the water down if your buildings are going to make it much different from what it now is. Bioberms, evaporation ponds, water gardens, rain barrels, cachement tanks and space for temporary drainage ponds and other methods can slow down the water and encourage some to be absorbed while it's still on your property.

    On the other hand, it's almost impossible to drive fence posts for paddocks and pastures when the ground is dry. In July, August and September you may have to pay extra to have the fencer dig holes instead of pound posts in or they all will crack kand break within a year or two.

    I can't think of anything else right now!!!! LOL!!!!
    Last edited: Sep 18, 2010
  6. patandchickens

    patandchickens Flock Mistress

    Apr 20, 2007
    Ontario, Canada
    Quote:No... what you do is have a very low block or poured wall (maybe 12" high) on that section of exterior wall, with the drain opening (usually a rectangular opening with a removeable metal grille) going THRU that at floor level. Water therefore does not get anywhere near anything rottable.

    This is a pretty uncommon arrangement IME, but I have worked in a few barns built that way and it just ROCKS, compared to going elbow- or shoulder-deep into a clogged floor drain trying to remove the clog without thinking too much about what it might consist of. (Hint: dead rats clog drains real good [​IMG])

    Couldn't live without the concrete aisle.

    Agree EXCEPT for people who want to just open gates and let horses walk into barn->stalls on their own. If one is going to do this, a concrete aisle is very dangerous. And there are a significant number of people who do insist on doing that, for one reason or another. (It is not as safe as leading horses, but, I guess I'll just say "circumstances differ"). If one has a dirt or tamped-stone-dust aisle, you will want a section with a couple stall mats, for farrier and vet work and if you will have crossties.

    12X12 is a minimum stall size for horses, more is better if your 'midwestern winter' includes ice storms and days of being cooped up - my midwestern winter does.

    IMO the best arrangement is for horses to be outdoors-with-access-to-ample-run-in-and-windbreaks 24/7... and yes, I do that even here an hour north of Toronto with one of my horses being an elderly TB who still does much much better that way than when he used to be boarded and stalled at night. If the o.p. should happen to be going to do this approach, it is not entirely unreasonable if barn space is at a premium to make two adjacent 12x10 stalls (or even 10x10 if you are sure you will only ever own SMALL horses, e.g. older-style morgans), because the horses will hardly ever be in them. The reason for 'adjacent' is to have a removeable dividing wall so that if you ever require extended stall rest, e.g from a tendon injury, you can remove the divider and have a foaling-size stall that is really pretty good for long-term use. This is less important if your stalls are more generous-sized. Depends how tight a budget you're on and what horse management approach you will use.

    Consider having paddocks built next to the barn and having the stalls open out to the paddocks - but put an overhanging roof (high up) to keep rain from making the stall entrance into a mud pit.

    This is a terrific arrangment when the stalls open into a run-in shed area of the barn -- but I would strongly steer you away from doing it such that the stalls BECOME the run-in area, unless horses will only have individual paddocks, because sometimes (with some horses, "frequently") you will get two or more horses squoozing into the same stall, and while 99% of the time this is perfectly peaceful, the other 1% of the time it can result in catastrophic injuries. So it is a bad idea IME to leave stalls open and accessible to multiple horses. But, as mentioned, if you can have the stalls' outer doors open into a generous run-in shed, that is wonderful. (Also more expensive).

    No matter where you are, a perimeter fence is one of the chief things that makes 'good neighbors'. <snip> Electric rope fences are popular with many people for the cheap initial price but take a lot of maintenance and the electric rope (or electric tape) needs to be replaced periodically.

    Just to add, electric fences make sucky perimeter fences unless it really does not matter all that much if the horses get loose. If keeping them home is really important, electric makes great INTERNAL fencing (to subdivide land into smaller paddocks/pastures) but a physical fence, e.g. page wire (field fence), is pretty important for the perimeter of the property.

    You have to think about these things yourself. My neighbor has a worthless, unusable barn and she is boarding her horses for seven hundred bucks a piece a month, because she put the barn front door where every single drop of rainwater drains down to, and the barn floods every time it rains. He's got 20 foot high piles of bark chips that he thinks are going to solve the problem and which will NOT- they will only make it worse. You have to deal with drainage and runoff without breaking the law or trying to fight (or ignore) nature.

    To reinforce this EXTREMELY IMPORTANT point, let me tell you about my barn (*not* built by me) -- the folks who first put the house and barn on this plot of land (formerly farm fields) 35 years ago were well-heeled Standardbred racing folks. They built a 35x50 post and beam barn with loft, and a 1/2-mile training track, and put in quite a lot of fencing. Ka-ching. They built the barn in almost the lowest part of the property, such that even with two (!) sumps and sump-pumps it still floods occasionally now (and clearly used to flood regularly, to a depth of as much as a foot). They also built the training track -- which was properly done, with a huge amount of roadbase and gravel trucked in -- RIGHT ACROSS what little natural drainage this low property has, so that water pooled up behind it, exacerbating flooding and making the training track useless much of the time. They did not stay here long [​IMG] -- neither did most of the other owners of the property before we bought it. (And apparently *nobody* thought of cutting ditches across the long-since-decommissioned training track... once we did that, flooding problems decreased considerably)

    We have a situation we can live with, by dint of much work (hand-digging new ditches, and hand-shovelling ice and snow out of ditches every thaw, and putting another sump in the barn, and doing a bunch of other drainage-improving practices)... but, if the original builders had just NOT BEEN SUCH IDIOTS, and put the barn 100' to the north and either shortened the training track or put great big culverts under it, all this could have been AVOIDED. (Actually it is a dumb property to TRY to put lots of horses on in the first place, being very low and pretty flat -- I suspect that's why they left after a few yrs rather than try to fix their mistakes)

  7. welsummerchicks

    welsummerchicks Chillin' With My Peeps

    Jul 26, 2010
    It is great to have someone give another POV, thanks Pat. That's what people need to hear to make their decisions.

    I should have said I would not recommend run-in stalls letting out to a common pasture for the very reason pat said. Except that I didn't consider the possibility someone would actually have their stalls open out to a common area. Mine let out to individual paddocks that are cross fenced and have a very light, non tensioned electric string to keep the horses from crawling under the fence. If the horse is to go out to pasture there is a paddock gate that can be left open. None of mine can go out together as I have a 'I'm a stallion, not a gelding' gelding.

    I do like my box drain though...I think it is different when one has a ton of horses such as at a boarding barn where people think 'the water erosion method' (stand there and spray it with a hose) is just a great way to get rid of a pile of poop their horse just laid in the wash rack plus their twelve bushel baskets of fur they just clipped off the horse.

    Every boarding barn I ever was at had a box drain, and continually cursed and cleaned the thing out. I think it's find for low traffic barn like mine, as I said I clean mine out every 3 yrs...but my box drain is also huge and the drain pipe is way up high. So my drain pipe doesn't clog and the box really doesn't fill. I also don't have any screening on it, which seems to only make matters worse. When I clip, I don't do it in the wash rack, so I am not having hair clogging everything.

    The wall side drain (wall is concrete lip) works well, but that clogs up when used by the most persistent 'how annoying can I be' boarder too. I don't know if there IS any good situation for keeping a wash rack drained and clean unless there is a Den Mother riding shotgun on the wash rack all the time, LOL!

    Probably the most practical solution is one I saw at a couple places - there is a separate wash rack for horses that come in from the pasture all covered with mud, and that drains down the driveway.

    I don't have any mud, though....(evil's amazing what you can do with a little effort and $50,000.00 worth of excavating, rock, drain pipe, basins and storm drains).

    BY THE WAY...there's that number again. Take what you spend on your barn and plan to spend at least that on prepping the right site...or put it at the bottom of Niagara Falls like Pat's previous owners did!!!!

    FALL FALL FALL - it's all fall. Know your site.
    Last edited: Sep 18, 2010
  8. Campine Lover

    Campine Lover Chillin' With My Peeps

    Mar 7, 2010
    Moss Beach, CA
    Give them as much space as possible
  9. duckluck

    duckluck Dulcimyrh Ducks

    Oct 22, 2009
    For myself, I'd say get the biggest barn you can afford. You always wind up needing it for something, and even if you get out of animals, it can be madeover and used for a shop and it helps the property value.

    Put all wiring in conduit, absolutely! You'd be amazed how many barns I see done in Romex! I knew someone who had a super fancy barn and all the wiring was exposed Romex, and she lost a huge amount of expensive horses in a barn fire.

    If you go with a concrete aisle, be sure it is textured for excellent traction. And the rubber mats as well. Nothing stinks quite as bad for everyday use as poor footing in an aisle. Seen a couple of real disasters happen with horses falling down in people's barn aisles and worse, not even being able to get up because of lack of traction. It gets really ugly when they panic and thrash, and it's even uglier when there's no one around with a device you can use to sling them or even enough extra sets of hands. I've literally seen someone have to leave a horse lying on a barn floor for hours for this reason. He managed to get up on his own finally but it was sheer luck and a real fiasco.
  10. TajMahalChickens

    TajMahalChickens Chillin' With My Peeps

    Mar 22, 2010
    First of all, thank you sooooooooooooo much for the all the responses. I never imagined that I would have so many responses. Thanks for taking the time to do that (especially welsummerchicks's 9/18 post!!!!)

    Ok, You definitely convinced me out of a hay loft! So now we are thinking about extending the barn for hay storage. However, to make sure we maintain barn air quality, we are planning to put a full wall with a sliding door between the hay storage shed and the main barn, so it's not just going to be a corner stuffed with hay, like I know someone said not to do.

    I have a lot more to say, just have to leave now. Finish later:)

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