Building a Small-Farm Barn (Part One)

There are a lot of families moving to the country and trying to start farms. There are websites and magazines devoted to providing these families with info on milking goats, raising chickens, making your own bread, etc.. However, the real challenge in efficient farming is not the animals or the food. It’s arrangement and construction. When you really get down to it, you’re going to need a barn, wells, fences, etc.. and they’re going to have to be put in the right places. That is the most difficult part of starting a farm. Fortunately, I have some projects to work on over the next year or two and I’m going to provide some practical details that you won’t find elsewhere–and they will be very helpful.

First, our new dairy barn.

We have an old pole barn on our property that will provide space for feeding and shelter for beef cows, a quarter horse and goats. We need a new dairy barn and will be building one just beside my house on the back half of the property. My challenge has been to design and build a barn that agrees with the devout and dignified self-sufficiency we seek–and I realize that such a plan is offered nowhere in available literature.  We are not interested in the ghetto-like shacks built by many to “save money”.  They only lose money by their buildings and show a lack of prudence in designing something better and still affordable.  Nor are we interested in the vain hobby barns built by those who don’t understand the true virtue of county life.  A mortgaged barn will soon be for sale.

I have been working on a method by which a small-scale farmer could plan, fund and build a barn that would be immediately affordable and sufficient, yet able to grow as the farm grows.  Most farmers build as needs arise–as though they could not have been predicted and they start adding small pieces and buildings all over the place.  Ultimately, the result is an inefficient, underachieving zoo and no true farm.

The first and immediate need is animal shelter.  The animals need shelter from winds and precipitation (not cold air as many falsely think).  Many farmers build simple run-in shelters out in the pasture to provide shelter, but such a structure will cost around $700.00 in materials (if decently built, of course) to shelter a few cows (say 10′ X 16′ ). My question: Why not invest that in a good barn instead?

The next need is a place to feed animals and store supplies/equipment.  Again, instead of spending money on “good enough” projects to meet individual needs, why not invest that money in a good barn?

Ultimately, animals will need to be brought into a stall for care.  It may be time for feet to be trimmed, for medicines to be administered, babies to be delivered and cared for, for milking, etc…  Sooner or later a farmer is going to need a barn.  The problem will be finances.  How will a small-scale farmer finance the building of a barn that will serve his needs, but also provide for future growth and be affordable at the time of construction–without requiring the farmer to go into debt?!  Sounds impossible, but I’ve developed a way to do it. 

The goal is to accomplish each immediate goal in developing the farm’s bulidings and equipment is a way that ultimately produces a fantastic final product.  Not a small building here, another there, etc…that is ultimately more expensive and terrible to look at.  What we must do is build a barn piece by piece, while always maintain a focus on the final project–and always leaving opportunity for continued growth.

To be continued…

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6 Responses to Building a Small-Farm Barn (Part One)

  1. Chris Ruckdeschel says:

    Hello Mr. Michael,

    Thank you for creating this site. We have a small farm now. We have 3 Oberhasli goats and about 20 chickens. We’ve started with goats because our land is almost entirely a forest. I hope to clear some land within this coming year and then seed it and fence it in. Spring 2011 we would like to have a cow and some sheep. It was very encouraging to first view this site and see that you already have sheep and cows. I look forward to learning from your barn plans. Delia and I see the construction of a barn in our relatively near future.

    Chris Ruckdeschel

  2. tclickenger says:

    I look forward to reading future parts of this post. I really appreciate the idea of starting small but keeping the small part in the scheme of the big picture. I can’t wait to hear your ideas on accomplishing this.

  3. Christy Cheeks says:

    While we are in the process of exploring using our 6.5 acres toward farming on a very small scale to produce work for our children and food for our family, we have been discussing building a small barn. I would love to see the design you are speaking of before we proceed.

    We did not plan this when we first bought the property so we have been wasteful in the use and design to this point but I believe it will be salvagable in time and future planning.

    Right now we must work on lightening our debt to income ratio so we can better serve our family, friends and neighbors …… and whoever God may put in our path.


  4. Lee says:

    How about making the barn out of straw? With straw bales you cover straw with stucco. It will insulate building very well…keep it cool in summer & warm in winter. Cost less than lumber.

    • villapacis says:

      Insulate the building for what purpose? Animals don’t need to be warm…they need to be dry and protected from bad weather. A barn made out of trash would cost less than straw, but there’s also a concern for aesthetics. We’re not trying to build a ghetto in the country.

  5. susie says:

    I feel a open end run in is the easiest to start with… then add the high upper peak, then the other side…leave center side entry open to add doors later…It worked for us and we now have an upper story in the center for hay….

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