What Outbuildings Do You Need On A Farm?

Farms needs barns, coops, sheds and more, and deciding what to add when can be confusing. Here's how to think about outbuildings for your farm.

by Ashleigh Krispense
PHOTO: Ashleigh Krispense

It’s an exciting time when your homestead is growing and expanding. Are you considering adding farm outbuildings, such as a full-size barn to shelter your livestock, a new chicken coop for the next batch of poultry, or a shed for better storage and organization? Decisions like this can be challenging to know where to start when you’re preparing for a new building project. 

Purpose of the Structure

One of the first (and most important) things to decide is the purpose of your structure. A homestead can use a variety of buildings. Knowing which one to make a priority and construct first can be a challenge.

Look over what areas of your homestead are growing the most rapidly. This can help determine where you need to focus your time, energy and resources.

The clearer you can be on the purpose and direction of your homestead, the better and more informed choices you’ll be able to make. Constructing a new building is an investment in the future. It shows that you have a plan and hope for what is to come and that you’re willing to invest in that.

The clearer your plan can be now, the more likely your farm outbuildings will meet your exact needs later!

Regardless of what outbuilding you’re preparing to add to your homestead, it’s always important to think through and plan before you start construction. These choices are important as the building will likely be on your land for many years. You’ll want it to enhance your living and not hinder any future growth and improvements. 

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Read more: Keep an eye on your farm outbuildings with a security camera.

Building Materials 

It can be challenging to know what kind of materials you should use when constructing farm outbuildings. Wood and steel are two of the most common options, and there can be a variety of opinions on which is better. 

farm outbuilding outbuildings
peter/Adobe Stock

Wood building materials tend to be less expensive than steel and are a natural insulator. They do tend to be more prone to warping, mold, pests and rot. But some of that can be reduced if using treated lumber (wood that has been treated with preservative chemicals). 

A good rule of thumb is that any lumber that comes into contact with the soil should be treated. (Although, if you have goats, this can pose a hazard for them.) Over time, wood-framed buildings will need repairs and maintenance that steel buildings won’t. 


Metal-framed buildings can be damaged, too, though steel materials are less likely to degrade as quickly as wood. Steel is more weather-proof, but metal-framed buildings are generally more expensive and require special equipment to cut or put together (such as torches and welders).

Steel will rust if exposed to standing water over time.

Zoning & Permits 

Local regulations on permanent building structures can vary from place to place. In Kansas, where I live, zoning laws are quite relaxed when it comes to land that is zoned as “agricultural.”

Of course, there are a few things you should check into wherever you are, such as calling 811 before you dig to avoid hitting any existing utilities. Make sure you check any local building codes, ordinances, zoning laws, etc. to understand any boundaries before you invest your time and money into farm outbuildings. 

farm outbuilding outbuildings coop
Yulia/Adobe Stock

The Perfect Location 

Choosing the perfect spot for a new shed can be challenging. With most any structure, a flat piece of ground with good drainage is the best place to start. 

The utilities you need access to will depend on what type of structure you’re building. While a greenhouse will need a nearby water well (or other source of water) and electricity (to run a heater and lights), a garden shed used for storing tools might be fine without any utilities nearby and just a battery-powered light. 

Barns will need access to fresh water, whether it’s near an existing well or one needs to be drilled. You’ll also need to run electricity to them. Drainage is a huge factor, as standing water will hurt the integrity of your barn and its ability to function properly and pose potential risk to livestock.

Make sure to check the slope of the land and watch after a rain to see where the water goes. Does it just stand around in puddles or does it run off and drain downhill? 

If livestock are being housed inside, consider shade for not only the barn but any pens or runs leading outside. Natural lighting should also be taken into account when you’re choosing a location. 

Machine sheds and shops should also be placed very carefully. Consider ease of access for large equipment, the current flow of traffic through the yard, available utilities and any plans for future expansion. 

Wherever you choose to place your building, outline and draw up a proper plan, and prepare the land as well to help construction go easier. Brush and trees can be cleared away, and grass and top soil can be removed. You can run a compactor to create a firmly packed floor, and dirt work should be done to ensure a level building site.

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. Allot yourself a dedicated amount of time to study, read and discuss the different options available with other homesteaders, as well as anyone around the area that has put up farm outbuildings and would have some advice to offer.

Give yourself time to mull it over. You might be surprised at how differently your final decisions are from the first plans you made!

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Storage Solution

A storage shed can be used to hold just about anything, from seasoned firewood to extra buckets, heat lamps and extension cords. Just like a garden shed, they can be purchased already constructed, as a kit or built from scratch on site. 

If you decide to build it from scratch, start by planning out what it will be used for and the size needed. To help visualize how big you want the shed, try putting stakes into the ground the same length and width as the shed dimensionsm and run a string around them to show how big the shed will be.

Put a few tools inside to visualize how much space they will take up. Don’t forget about any shelves or work benches that will stick out from the wall and take up space. Be generous, and if your space and budget will allow, try to give yourself a little extra wiggle room in the size of the shed. 

This article originally appeared in the January/February 2023 issue of Hobby Farms magazine.

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