Planning the homestead barn is a very important step, and the better you know exactly what you want to do on your homestead, the better you can design your barn to accommodate your needs before building it.
Some important things to consider are how big, siting, flooring, electricity and water, livestock accommodations, feed storage, and handling manure. We could have done a better job of planning, so these are some things to think about and lessons learned.
Our barn was 28′ x 46′, and when it was built, I never imagined that we’d outgrow it. However, with many dairy goats, goat milking, a tractor, utility cart, livestock trailer, lawn tractor, numerous tractor implements, the need to store hay/grain, and the need to process honey; we talked a lot about adding another barn.
But, as you can see from the photo, in the end, we went with a 16′ x 46′ addition to the original barn. It’s more economical to add on, we like the location of the original barn, and there’s already electricity and water. Much of the addition will be used for processing honey, but there will also be new housing for the goat bucks and more equipment storage.
When planning a barn, put lots of thought into how many vehicles, implements, livestock, etc. you might eventually acquire. It’s amazing how things accumulate, so make the barn much bigger than you ever imagine you’ll need!
The barn should be sited so that water doesn’t run into it, there’s good drainage (for thawing spring snow and rain), it’s conveniently located to the house (you’ll probably be making lots of trips there), and you can get water and electricity to it. We initially considered locating the barn a lot further from the house, and I’m so thankful that we located it only about 60′ away – it’s really so convenient and pleasant to visit.
The most common choices are dirt or concrete, and they both have their pros and cons. Dirt is the cheapest, but the least sanitary solution (if milking, do you want to do it on a dirt floor?). Concrete is a lot easier to clean, but if you’re housing animals it doesn’t soak up urine like a dirt floor. We compromised by using concrete everywhere except in the livestock stalls, there we used crushed stone over dirt. We also tried housing the goats on the concrete floor, and really didn’t like that solution – dirt flooring for livestock works better for us.
Electricity and Water
We live near Amish territory and I know many farmers that don’t have electricity or water in their barns, but I’m very thankful that we do. Having water in the barn makes watering livestock (we do it twice daily) much more convenient, and having electricity allows us to have lights, webcams, heated waterers in winter, fans in summer, a milking machine, an electric utility cart, and electric fencing. Wondering what the webcams are really for? Well, when the goats are due to freshen, we’re able to monitor them via webcam (the goat in the photo below is due in two days).
If you can, it’s a good idea to design your barn for the type of livestock you’re planning to house. For example, when we initially built the barn, we had horse stalls built, not knowing that we’d eventually select dairy goats and chickens as livestock. The horse stalls were constructed entirely of wood, and while being good for horses, were not the best for goats.
Goats are herd animals and prefer to see each other, which they couldn’t do through wooden stall walls. We eventually removed the wood and replaced it with woven wire fencing, and the goats are much happier – because even when separated from each other they can still see each other.
Although the woven wire fencing worked for awhile, the goats often stood on it causing it to eventually fatigue and break. We learned this after a goat put some of the fencing through her hoof when it broke. Fortunately, we were in the barn when it happened, and were able to immediately remove the fencing from her hoof (she made a full recovery and is fine). So, we now have sturdier panels built for the goat stalls, and they’re working out great (see the photo below).
If you’re going to keep different types of livestock in the same barn, it’s often recommended that every stall opens into a common hallway, with gates that open into the common hallway and that are large enough to block the hallway when open. That way, each type of stock can be driven into the barn and their individual stalls easily.
If you’re going to keep chickens, you should probably consider keeping them in a separate coop (not in the main barn). We tried keeping the chickens in the barn and quickly decided there was a reason every farm had a separate chicken coop – chickens are dusty and put droppings everywhere.
Finally, if milking livestock is a possibility, then a milking parlor should be considered. Depending on the state, there are various regulations on how milk must be handled if it’s going to be sold (in many states raw milk can’t be sold). The rules surrounding milk and its handling should be considered.
The barn should be designed so that adequate quantities of hay and feed can easily be stored, kept dry, and protected from mice and rats. I think we messed up on this aspect – we should have built a second story loft for hay storage. We’ve added loft areas, but there’s not enough space to stand up, and it’s difficult to get the hay in and out.
I see the barns with the earthen mounds that allow you to easily back a truck up, put the hay in the loft, and toss it down to the animals; and regret that we didn’t think more about this aspect. Most barns also have a separate room or area for grain/mineral/etc. storage, and provisions for keeping rats and mice out of the feed. We use large rubber containers on wheels with lids to hold grains and feeds.
Keep in mind that manure will need to be removed and hauled to compost piles (or somewhere) frequently and that it’s a lot easier to haul large quantities downhill rather than uphill. Also, make sure to design the pens or stalls so that you can get in to remove manure easily. We’ve found the electric utility cart to be a real workhorse for this.
Unless you know exactly what will be done on your homestead, it’s probably not possible to design the perfect barn, but it’s a good idea to consider the aspects identified above, and make sure that you give yourself maximum flexibility for whatever your homestead may become. Our barn is nice and it gets the job done, but I wish we’d given a little more thought to a couple of these areas. Since a barn is a big expense that’s not easy to change, it’s worthwhile to really think things through.