When you think the time has finally come to begin expanding your homestead, it’s good to not rush right into it and make any rash decisions. In a previous post (from the January/February 2023 issue of Hobby Farms), “What Outbuildings Do You Need On A Farm?” I discussed things to consider before building any outbuilding in my article.
In the article, I’ll take a look at individual outbuilding types, from livestock barns to chicken coops.
As your herd grows, the need for more shelter and storage tends to grow along with it. The thought of building a barn can be daunting. but drawing it out on paper can help you make proper plans and carefully think through the best ways to build and design it.
Oftentimes, people tend to focus too much on their current needs and build a barn too small without considering the future expansion of their herd or homesteading needs. If you can pinpoint a rough plan of where you project your homestead and herd to be several years down the road, it can help you prepare in advance. The type of barn you build will be based somewhat on your personal preference. From the striking gambrel barns to more A-framed gable barns, a multitude of different styles and ways to design a barn exist.
Pole barns are an option for people looking to put up a structure quickly and without having to pour a full concrete foundation. While called “pole barns,” this style of outbuilding can be constructed and used for everything from a home to a shop or shed.
Lumber and required pieces can be precut at a factory and then taken to the building site for construction. Before construction begins, the ground needs to be cleared and leveled. But then instead of needing a concrete foundation, holes are dug and poles (whether wood or metal) are set deep into the ground (3 to 4 feet) with concrete footers. Girts are then installed on the poles to allow the siding to be screwed on. Construction continues from there.
This style of building allows for the structures to go up more quickly than a traditional stick-frame outbuilding that is constructed on top of a concrete foundation. Some people prefer to not cement wood poles in the ground, as once they start to decay they can become loose in the cement. If this causes worry, galvanized pipe or other metal material can be used in place of the wood poles.
If choosing to build an outbuilding that requires a foundation, it should be dug and poured to reach below the frost line to avoid heaving, which can cause damage or cracks to your concrete slab.
The flooring of your barn is another consideration that you’ll want to plan for. Will you stick with the dirt that is already present or pour a new concrete floor? While dirt is easier (and cheaper) to come by, it’s less sanitary.
Although concrete floors are more expensive, they can be kept cleaner and drier, which can help prevent everything from thrush in equine hooves to mold in bags of feed. If putting concrete floors where livestock will be walking, add grooves or some means for them to get traction on the floor and avoid slipping. Clean up any rough edges that could be abrasive to hooves.
Proper feed storage in the barn is another important aspect to plan out enough room for. If you hope to dedicate a single room to feed and supply storage, a cabinet and refrigerator can be placed on one end to store medications in. Other supplies such as tack, extra buckets and tools can be stored in the same room. Large, plastic or metal trash cans with lids can be used to keep grains and other feed dry and rodent-free. For larger quantities of feed, such as square bales of hay or straw, consider building a barn with a large loft or attic to store them in.
Ventilation is one of the most important aspects of any structure that houses living animals. Keeping a dry, clean barn will eliminate and prevent a whole host of future problems, from health issues in your herd to mold and ruined feed.
For livestock such as cattle and hogs, ventilation is especially important. Barn direction and exact placement can have some effect on the natural ventilation of the building, although fans and vents can also be installed and used.
Machine Sheds & Shops
From skid loaders and tractors to lawn mowers and ATVs, a homestead tends to accumulate a variety of equipment over time. To keep things in good, working order, it’s important that machines have proper storage inside a shed.
Machine sheds are typically large to accommodate the largest pieces of equipment needing stored inside. Generally made with a wood or metal frame, it can be challenging to know which materials to use. While wood can be less expensive and easier to put together, a steel-framed outbuilding tends be more solid and have less chance of rotting.
As when planning for most other structures, look at your long-term plans. Do you anticipate having a much larger quantity of equipment? Will you scale up in the size of the implements? Do your best to plan for these changes so as to get the most use out of the time, money and effort you invest.
Eventually, that same equipment that you’ve stored away for the winter will need regular maintenance and repair come the working months. A shop can be beneficial if you anticipate having multiple projects or mechanic work that will need to be done inside with tools close at hand.
Having a greenhouse on your homestead allows the opportunity to grow fresh produce year-round. When the first frost hits and the outdoor garden dies away, plants can still be kept toasty and fruitful in a warm shelter. From deep, red tomatoes to take inside and slice to fresh zinnias to brighten even the dreariest of winter days, a greenhouse’s contents can make this structure your favorite place on the homestead.
Greenhouses do require a fair amount of work if they’re meant to be used year-round and not just as a basic cold frame that allows plants to grow part-time without supplemental heat. A cold frame won’t offer the warmth that is needed to keep the plants alive during a winter. Greenhouses have a source of heat, allow for plenty of light to pass through the structure and have proper ventilation during the warmer months.
Standalone, attached lean-to and DIY window greenhouses are all different styles you can choose from to best suit your needs. A standalone greenhouse is its own separate outbuilding and will be set near a garden. An attached lean-to style is a three-sided greenhouse that leans up against a house or existing outbuilding, such as a shed, for the fourth wall.
The DIY window greenhouse utilizes old, unwanted windows to build anything from a small cold frame (with a handful of windows and straw bales) to a full-sized greenhouse with floor-to-ceiling windows.
Regardless of what style you choose to go with, frame materials will need to be sturdy and solid enough to withstand the weather. Steel, aluminum or pretreated wood is often used for the frame and then everything from old windows to fiberglass, polycarbonate or plastic sheeting can be used for the walls of the structure.
Proper air circulation is important to keep your greenhouse from overheating. There should be vents or windows that can be opened on either end of the outbuilding as well as fans to help pull the air through if enough of a draft isn’t present.
Another style of outbuilding that has become quite popular right now on homesteads are hoop buildings. Made from tubing (often metal tubing) that has been formed into arches with a tarp stretched over it, this less expensive option should be considered. While not as sturdy as a framed building, a hoop building can be used for a variety of purposes, from greenhouses to grain storage.
Quonset huts are a similar type of round-top outbuilding that still pop up on farms occasionally. They can be used for everything from a commercial space to storage on the farm and are considered some of the strongest structures available.
When building a suitable coop for your hens, it’s important to think through your plans so you can create a safe, inviting haven your flock will want to come back to each evening.
Coops can be built (or bought) in a variety of styles, but some things should be considered in the plans, such as:
- predator-proof buildings and runs
- easy accessibility (for cleaning and bedding removal)
- adequate space for your flock (both now and in the future, if there’s growth)
- plenty of roosting space
Before settling on a space for your coop, watch to see how much morning sun and afternoon shade it receives. After all, you don’t want cooked chickens in the henhouse!
Drainage is also very important to consider before building. If your coop won’t be elevated off the ground, make sure that any water or rain run-off drains away from the space well before building.
A movable poultry tractor is also an option if you have a smaller flock that will need access to fresh places to forage and would rather not invest in a large, stationary coop.
A garden shed is one of the more simple, easy outbuildings to get in place on your homestead. They can be hardwired with electricity and running water or just left as a simple shed with some battery-operated lights and a lock on the door. A great way to store your tools out of the elements all winter, garden sheds should be stationed somewhere near your summer garden with easy access for the days you’ll be running in and out of it constantly.
Simple sheds are easy to find and purchase already constructed. But building one from scratch gives you complete control of the design and layout. You’ll also be able to utilize leftover materials from other projects around the homestead. Learning to build with second-hand materials and construct projects on a budget is an asset to almost any homesteader.
If the idea of building your shed from scratch is unappealing, consider buying a kit with the pieces already precut and ready to assemble. This is a nice option in the middle of the two previous suggestions, as pieces will be cut to the appropriate size, yet the outbuilding can still be constructed on site and without requiring a forklift or other heavy-duty moving equipment.
A garden shed can be much more than just a drab outbuilding in the background. If done right, it can bring new interest to an outdoor space and add an extra focal point.
A lack of light in any building can be frustrating and make almost any job harder than it needs to be, so at least one or two windows should be present to allow plenty of natural light to filter inside. The shed should have racks and hooks to hang tools along one side of the wall, shelves to organize various pots and planters on, and a table in front of one window to allow for small projects and repairs to be done.
This article originally appeared in the March/April 2023 issue of Hobby Farms magazine.