• Sarah Lipkowitz

Building A Horse Barn

Updated: Dec 30, 2019

Building a barn can be an expensive endeavor, but whether you have unlimited resources or you are building a barn on a budget; here’s what you need to know in order to design and build a barn that meets your needs.

Location. Picking a location for your barn is often more complicated than it appears. Soil, wind, drainage, and other factors will play a huge role in choosing an appropriate site for your barn. If you are still looking for a farm to buy, then you will also need to keep accessibility, neighbors, and water sources in mind.

Even if you plan to put in a concrete floor, soil is important. If you are in a place like Florida where the soil is often sandy, then preparing a site will be more involved than a preparing a site situated on clay or bedrock. It is also wise to think about the direction of the wind. Not only will you want to be sure your house isn’t downwind of the barn, you will also want to make sure your barn is sheltered from high winds if you live in an area where that might be an issue.

That being said, it is generally unwise you build your barn at the bottom of a hill. Drainage is a major issue for many a barn owner and you will want to be sure that there is natural drainage on the site you choose (we’ll get into built-in drainage later). Besides the obvious issue of flooding, erosion can be a costly problem if you choose a location near running water.

If you think there is a chance you might want to expand later on, then you should also choose a location that allows enough space for additions. If you don’t plan ahead for expansion, then you may end up spending a lot more money down the line. You don’t want to feel pressured to downsize or move when things are otherwise going well.

Layout. Internal, external, center aisle, shed row, L-shaped, U-shaped, and so many more. These days, you can get just about any type of prefab delivered and assembled. They even sell DIY kits, but what style is best for you?

Shed row stalls are external. Shed row stalls are suitable for horses and are often less expensive structures. They can be constructed into a U-shape, which will allow for a nice courtyard and a more enclosed space. Lighting is also important. You will want lots of natural sunlight to cut down on electrical expenses. To regulate temperature, be sure the building plans take advantage of the morning sunlight and the afternoon shade.

Internal stalls are what you encounter in center aisle barns. If you plan to use the barn as a workshop, storage space, or space for livestock other than horses, then you will likely want a similar type of barn. You will also want to give yourself more room than you think you need. That might mean six stalls even if you only have four horses. The reason? You will probably end up with more horses. In the meantime, extra stalls are good for storage. Storage should also be top of mind. Equestrians need to consider adding feed and tack rooms to the barn and building additional outbuildings for machinery. Keep in mind ease-of-use when planning the layout of your barn; it will save you steps in the future.

Equestrians, I know it is convenient and economical to build your stalls around an arena, but it may be worth building two separate structures or dividing the barn and arena into separate wings. Personally, I prefer that my horses have a designated workspace. They spend quite a lot of time outside, but when they are in, I want them to be able to relax in their stalls. It may seem silly, but seeing as horses enjoy a schedule and many are prone to ulcers, I think it is best not to have the stalls overlooking the arena.

Materials. Concrete barn or pole barn? A classic dilemma. This is where budget plays a major role. Pole barns are (usually) quicker to build and often much less expensive. Concrete barns are cooler and stand up better to extreme weather conditions making them very popular in places such as Florida. Keep in mind that they do make pole barns graded for hurricane force winds nowadays.

You may want to consider leaving the concrete out of the stalls. If you lay stall mats on top of packed soil and crushed stone, you should have good drainage and it will be easier on your animals’ legs. Do your research on what materials work best in your area and what the prices will be. If you are hiring a contractor, which I strongly recommend that you do if you have no prior experience building barns, then be aware that the availability of materials is often what holds up construction. Add a few months to the anticipated date of completion to be on the safe side.

If you are thrifty, you may be able to repurpose an old dairy barn (that’s where my competition horse lives), but beware thrifters; though dairy barns are often sturdy and well-made structures, repurposing them takes a lot more thought then you might imagine. I know a few people who have done it and it was no simple feat. Reach out to an architect and a structural engineer to help you.

Health And Safety. There are a number of components that go into building a barn that is safe. There are the more obvious elements, such as grounding the building and water sources and choosing appropriate dimensions and then there are matters such as air circulation. Flooring needs to be appropriate for the animals or equipment so there is no slipping and sliding or preventable wear and tear. Any wash racks need have good drainage so the floors will not become icy and slick. Keep in mind that concrete can become slick when wet so rubber mats may also be necessary.

Ideally, hay should be stored in a separate building, but if hay is to be stored in the same barn as livestock then it needs to be kept away from any electrical and heat sources. The most common cause of hay fires is excessive moisture, which creates heat within the bale. This is often due to excessive moisture when the hay was baled. Be sure the hay is stored in a dry place and that you check frequently for signs of heating. If you open a bale of hay that is moist, remove the hay from the barn immediately!

Dimensions for barns vary based on the use and the layout. For horse barns, the recommendation is that aisles should be at very least 8 feet across and doors should be at least 8 feet tall. You will likely find that this is too small. 10-12 feet for both aisle ways and doorways is a much more comfortable and practical size. Stalls are most comfortable for horses at 10’x10’ or 12’x12’. If you are building a concrete block barn, then be sure to line the walls with kickboards to prevent injury. Windows need to be barred and/or made of safety glass. Speaking of windows, airflow is also a health concern and can be managed with good design and/or fans. It would be prudent to meet with an architect to go over the best ways to keep both humans and animals safe and healthy.

Don’t Forget! There are a number of features you may consider adding to your barn. Here are a few that won’t break the bank:

  • If you have a lot of southern exposure, then solar panels might be a good investment.

  • You also may want to consider adding a bathroom, especially if you are running a boarding business.

  • A hot water heater will come in handy in the winter. If you already plan to build a bathroom, then be sure any other elements requiring hot water are situated where it will be easiest to connect the line.

  • Easy access waste management is important. Consider the location of manure piles to make chores easier and cut down on flies. If you are planning on having manure taken away, then be sure there is, at very least, a concrete slab and a gravel drive so the waste removal truck won’t get stuck or tear up the property.

I won’t lie to you. Building a barn is likely to be a long and taxing journey. Truthfully, that seems to be the nature of construction. Know that you have plenty of options, plan carefully, and don’t rush. Good things take time.

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