barn construction

cheryl_p(z5MI)September 20, 2009

I am wondering if someone can set me straight here. I will be putting up a small barn next year in prep for my retirement and plan to eventually get some goats and chickens. I have heard that when one does stable animals that it is not the best to have them standing on concrete. I've seen them, but how do dirt floor barns/stables work? How are they built? Will builders willing do them? How is maintenance? Thanks for any help!

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I re-did the floor on my barn last year. It is an older barn that had a rotting wood floor. We dug out the rotted wood and a lot of the mud, and replaced it with limestone. I then put stall mats in the stalls and center aisle of the barn.

I wouldn't have just dirt in my barn since it seems to be in a low area and gets plenty of water in it. The stone lets the water run through it.

Not sure if that helps at all.

    Bookmark   September 21, 2009 at 12:59PM
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nhsuzanne(z5 SW-NH)

You could also have wooden floors in your stalls - 3" hemlock is what I have in mine. My aisle was dirt when I bought my place but I put down rubber mats. I would not want dirt in my stalls either. Concrete is too hard on animals to stand on for any length of time - just like humans.

    Bookmark   September 21, 2009 at 4:48PM
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I have packed dirt stalls, but have a concrete milk room floor with a drain so I can hose it out. I also have a concrete aisle down the center of the barn which I really love because I can sweep and hose it down if necessary. The dirt stalls are damp in spots, from urine, when I clean them about every two weeks. I put fans on the floor and dry everything out before I put down PDZ, wood chips and then straw. I really have liked having the main areas with concrete on them.

    Bookmark   September 21, 2009 at 8:03PM
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goodhors(z5 MI)

If you have the money now, you may want to get in the fill dirt, let it sit over winter to flatten and pack down. This will prevent a lot of floor movement when you build the barn in a year or so. Spreads out expenses too, having dirt dumped now,flattened into a large pad with a machine, now instead of when you buy barn material. Put in an EXCELLENT driveway now, built for heavy trucks, wide, so you don't have a mess in the field when you start work. Then driveway is ready when you are, has also settled over time, is SOLID, easy delivery for the big trucks bringing materials, contractors coming to work. Can't tell you how many folks have bog holes for driveways and expect people to drive on them while building. Sure makes everything MUCH more difficult, spend a lot of time pulling vehicles out.

Check with folks who also have smaller barns. If you see one you like, stop and ask who built it? How was the contractor to work with, getting done quickly? Morton Building makes EXCELLENT barns, with terrific warranties that last years. Not cheap though. They do a good, fast construction, on-time, using their own terrific grade of materials. AND they stand behind the jobs. Did a lot of no-cost to owner repairs in those disaster areas of hurricane damages. Totally read ALL the contract details, do NOT pre-pay the builder, even for bargin prices. Leaves you at his mercy in building time and details. Hearing lots of stories about those messes.

Plan for drainage in the floor, where will it go? Barn roof rain run-off which can add up to a lot of water, needs to go someplace. Some folks put up eaves on the barn, store the downspout water in plastic tanks for watering plants and trees. Will you have water out to the barn? Electricity? Often you can run them in the same trench, at the same time. Using conduit makes it easier to put in more wire if needed, easily.

We did this, filled the area where barn was going, a year before we could afford to build the barn shell. I think we filled it about 5ft deep, since our land there was so low. Barn now sits about 4ft higher than the old shed originally in place. Dirt under the concrete center aisle has stayed very stable, has only one crack in the aisle after all these years. Cement is THICK, reinforced, since we drive flatbed trailers in to unload hay.

The stalls themselves are dirt floored. We dug out the base, put in layers of rock, gravel fill, limestone, so they would drain well. Leveled the floors up with a rented power tamper, does much better than hand tamping. Put rubber mats over dirt so horses would not dig holes, and mats make for FAST and EASY stall cleaning. Mats are warmer than cold dirt, non-conductive so body heat is not lost in winter. Mats last a long time, take shod hooves with almost no wear in 10 years. You can resell them if you don't like them!

Our stalls are cleaned daily, just takes a short time. Mats let you use a broom or scoop shovel pushed around, pickup the wet stuff, cleans quick. We usually use sawdust bedding, straw if we can't get in sawdust. I have been using cheap wood stove pellets because they soak up wet real well when sawdust is not available. I heard the pellets were good bedding, but again, I just put pellets in wet spots where they expand into sawdust. Easy to clean the wet out that way.

Sorry, I just could not stand the smell or thought of animals standing in 2-week old, used bedding. Even adding more, you still have the wet and ammonia in there for laying in and breathing. Good way to have sick animals and yourself!. Having to do all that extra work, fans etc. to dry out the stalls really means you need to change something. Make it easier on yourself.

When planning your building, make sure it is vented well. You should know the prevailing winds so you can put the big doors to get flow thru air all summer, self cooling. Roof vents allow good air exchange with doors closed, so it is fresh air, doesn't allow ammonia smell to linger. Animals do fine in COLD barns, but need fresh air more than heat. Mine are seldom blanketed, unless it gets down around zero. Being too warm, wet air and ammonia in it, will give them pnuemonia more easily than anything else. My horses get injured now and then but never sick from overheating or pnuemonia stuff. They grow great winter hair, are outside most of the day time.

We have our market lambs on rubber mats over the concrete, no stalls left for them! We make a pen and they stay in that at night from early spring to Fair. Stall cleaned daily, with mat lifted and cleaned once a week. Lambs spend most of the day out in a grassy paddock, so not much to cleaning up the sawdust. They have no foot problems. We put up some Goat Panel fence to make their stall. Easily taken down and stored along the wall behind the winter hay stack. Double use of the same floor area.

We have cement floor over the whole barn, because of the easy upkeep. Sweeps or leaf blower takes out the dirt quickly. You need to make the barn work for you, not spend lots of extra time trying to keep it up.

Plan your doors so you can drive in to put hay away, have the Vet come for shots, a milking area, SECURE grain storage area. I like our big sliding doors, but other folks love the garage roll-up styles. You want to minimize walking steps.

    Bookmark   September 22, 2009 at 10:24AM
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Wow! Thanks you guys/gals, for all the superb advice. I feel like I'm getting a jump ahead on this dream! Mats sound like one excellent way to go for sure.

    Bookmark   September 22, 2009 at 8:00PM
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Since I am in nothern Michigan, what would you say are the safest options for heat, even the occasional warming for the sub zero days & nights? I probably will only have goats, chickens, and dogs quartered in the barn. Also, I haven't looked up the mats and styles, but what about seams on them (or against the wall)? Solid waste clean up, I can understand but what about any urine that goes between wall and mat - is it awfully hard to clean in that regard?
Thanks so very much!

    Bookmark   September 23, 2009 at 7:45PM
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Beeone(4 N. Wyo.)

I think the main issue here is time and cost. Having a native dirt floor or even one with hauled in sand can reduce your construction costs considerably. Builders will have no trouble with this. Either they will erect a pole barn and pour cement pillars or pour a footer around the edges to place the rest of the barn on.

Both types of floors have advantages and disadvantages and you just have to find those problems and how to overcome them.

    Bookmark   September 24, 2009 at 1:33AM
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The goats barn and run in both have dirt floors. They pack them down pretty well and every two years we dump more dirt to make it level with the frame. We rake them completely out every Saturday and add clean PDZ, shavings, hay. In the winter beginning first snow in November to the first day of 40 degree weather in March we stop cleaning the bedding out and just keep adding shaving/hay for warmth it acts like a heating pad, if you were to put your hand inside it would be warm.

We never us heating lights, pads only heated water buckets. goats are vey curious animals and will taste everything so we keep all electrical anything from them. The cord for the heating bucket is actually incased in a wooden box attached to the wall. They cuddle together, have winter coats to keep warm also.

Come March everything gets cleaned out and we start all over again cleaning every Saturday.

Our horses also have dirt floors topped with PDZ and shaving but they are spot cleaned everyday and totally cleaned every Saturday the shavings absorbs the urine.

They will get winter coats also and if needed you can purchase horse blankets/coats. The old blind horse will roll in the snow and by the time I get home from work she will be covered in ice, I freak out but she loves it. Maybe she just likes the towel drying and attention!

The chickens/geese are all on wooden floors covered with shaving. Every evening before they go to bed I poop/scoop their mess and add shavings if needed. Once a week their nests are cleaned out, under each I sprinkle a little Seven dust and add hay. The barns are totally cleaned every couple weeks.

When I say barn they are nothing fancy. The goats live in a husband built 12x12 barn with closible doors and windows and a 12x14 run in. The horses do have a factory build "barn" two stalls side by side 12x12. The chickens have a husband built 10x10 barn with windows two chicken doors and one door for me. The geese also have a husband built 10x10 with windows & two regular doors.

One thing we are careful adding dirt to the stall's, rocks will hurt their feet so it should be rock free. Also if you keep the wind from getting them they would much appreciate it.

Good Luck

    Bookmark   September 24, 2009 at 1:04PM
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Great and very helpful advice, Everyone - thanks. How far away from the main house is the average barn set?

    Bookmark   September 27, 2009 at 8:50PM
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That depends on your land.

Mine is close to the house, and I like having it that way, especially in the winter. If you look at old New England homes, lots are actually attached to their barns by an enclosed walkway. Easy access in the winter.

    Bookmark   October 1, 2009 at 1:24PM
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goodhors(z5 MI)

You may want to check local rulings, for distances required to build the barn from house. I know we have laws here, both for fire safty and drainage issues, to prevent problems. I think it is at least 150ft apart.

I would tend to think that the attached livestock barn or coop, and house, is going to be against most local building codes in modern times. Exceptions might be grooms quarters or an apartment over the horse barn. Walkway is not making them "attached" to me, but zoning commission may not agree.

Going to your township, county, get the rules before doing anything. You may have to get a variance, our barn was going to be too close to the fence/property line. We bought the next parcel, so no problem then. Neighbor still has no garage because he refuses to put it anywhere else, "the old garage was there!!" He COULD have built new around the old garage, then torn old down. But he tore down first, then could not rebuild in the same place. So check that out as well, weird laws.

Most animals will get the hair coat they need to stay warm. Turning them out daily, helps them develop that hair, get Vit D from the sun, keeps them moving for good circulation and digestion. Our horses also get very hairy for winter. However the folks going by will comment when we meet in town about feeling sorry for horses with snow on their backs! We EXPLAIN that thick hair is like a good, insulated roof, snow does NOT melt because there is no heat leaking out!! Hair is so thick and protective, ice and snow don't get any body heat to melt off. No need to feel sorry for them! I do groom them at night, remove any snow or ice from their bodies so it won't melt and get them wet in the barn.

The rubber stall mats could be used on the dirt floor for a while instead. You can see how dirt floor stalls work for you. I could never get them clean, PDZ or not. Dirt did not stay level, always has a wet spot from urine in the same place each time they went. Drained, just was wet. But these were with horses, so maybe smaller animals would not make as much mess of the dirt. To me, dirt is just a solid place to collect germs. Much easier to clean rubber mats, especially for lambing or having kids out in the barn. Navel is a great way to collect infections on new babies laying on deep, dirty bedding over dirt.

Using your proposed barn layout/arrangement over a winter, might show you some things you didn't think of, want changed. Electric is not handy, water is a pain to dump from here. Hydrant is too far, not working well, poor drainage or whatever. With no cement in place, you could rearrange stalling or storage. When you can afford the cement work, then move the rubber mats to the stalls you want them in.

In MI, get your water lines down deep. Six feet at the least, if the ground is not covered with the driveway or barnyard you drive on. For some reason, driving over water lines makes the ground crystals freeze deeper. This could freeze the line underground and cut off the water supply. I have seen the ground frozen 8ft or better, where the driveway went over the water and they tried to fix the buried pipes. Self draining hydrant with MUCH drainage material for winter. Again, that drained water can freeze if frost is very deep, not drain away fast enough to allow drainage all winter. Running hose from the house is a royal PAIN to do in winter. Playing with hot water in the snow is not much fun either.

More stuff to add to your list!

    Bookmark   October 2, 2009 at 8:20PM
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Sherwood Botsford(3a)

County zoning:

Ask around and find out how well they enforce the rules. In Leduc County, alberta, Canada, we only have to get a building permit for a human inhabited building. Other buildings don't erquire a permit. (I think the county realized that enforcemnt would be difficult. It's a big sparsely populated county.)

There are rules for septic fields etc, but most of them are common sense, and not difficult to comply with, but few people actually get a permit, expecially if they do it themselves.

On floors.

Best plan IMHO is to put concrete sills on the ground, then bridge with heavy planks. The planks have air under most of their length so they dry out now and then.

Planks should be be laid running so that most of the shoveling is done with the length of the plank. This reduces the constant catching of dirt and edge of shovel in the cracks.

Planks are NOT seccured to the sill, but just lay on it. A 2x2 is screwed to the wall over the ends of the boards to keep them in place if necessary.

If done this way, changing the boards when they are rotten is easy to do.

Having the boards run the length of the stall also means if you repartition the space most of the flooring remains intact -- a new partition wall runs the same way the boards do. (This assumes you keep the same aisles.

(Warning: Moving partitions in an old barn is generally a bad idea: The partition is likely part of the 'bent' that act as the bones of the barn. Take your time and see what holds the roof up.

    Bookmark   October 10, 2009 at 4:02PM
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