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Planning a New Barn

By: Ann Compton

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If the patter of hooves is soon to be heard at your house and a barn is in your future, planning is the key. There are many things to consider before the first nail is driven. Take the time in the planning stages to make decisions that will keep your costs down, your horses comfortable and you a happy horse keeper.

First, make a checklist of important tasks. Set yourself a timeline for each in the order they must be done, so you won't be rushed into choosing building plans, contractors and the like. Before you begin, check your town zoning regulations. Many municipalities require that buildings that house livestock be a certain distance from the property line. Others have limitations on how many and what type of animals can be maintained on specific acreage. Ask about building permits and inspections – what is required and how long it takes to obtain them.

Your Plan

Here are several suggestions about what to include in your barn-building plans:

  • Location. Ideally, you want a convenient spot for your barn – one that's not too close to the road but not too close to the house, either. Keep in mind that you will have to slough through inclement weather conditions to get there several times a day, year-round. Consider the location of your septic field, if you have one.

  • Drainage. This will become very important once the barn is built. If you have a choice, situate the barn on high ground so the water drains away from it. Nothing will completely eliminate mud when it rains, but careful planning will reduce standing water, icy conditions and, worst of all, water accumulating in the barn itself. Plan to install a curtain drain around the barn if the location doesn't allow for ideal drainage.

  • Direction. Think about the direction your barn will face. Will the sun beat on the stalls during the heat of the day? Are the stalls on the northern side and would you rather they get winter sun? If you have a choice, most of these issues can be resolved before you've committed to a blueprint.

  • Accessibility. Consider how you will get hay, bedding and supplies to the barn. The building should be accessible to delivery trucks so you won't have to haul supplies by hand. Be sure that you plan gate openings large enough for farrier and veterinary vehicles, too. You may not be able to arrange a driveway to the barn, but be sure that, even during the winter, these vehicles can access your barn and get out again.

  • The building. Do you have a floor plan in mind? If so, sketch a layout then shop around. There are many companies that specialize in building barns, whether pole or prefab, and can do so more cheaply than a builder. Look at their floor plans. There are many to choose from, so order catalogs. If you see something you like but want some alterations, most companies will work with you, so don't assume that you must conform to their building specifications completely. Talk to as many people as you can; get plans and estimates. A building contractor may be able to give you exactly what you want, but may also be much more expensive than a company that specializes in building barns. These companies generally can supply everything including the plans, supplies and workers. You will be responsible for site preparation and extras like water and electricity.

  • Electrical. Determine a route with your electrician for lines to be run to your barn. There's nothing worse than feeding your horse by flashlight or trying to minister to a sick equine in the dark. Arrange for horseworthy electrical outlets, cables and circuit breakers. Plan to have lighting fixtures installed high enough so that curious noses can't get to them. Don't overlook exterior lighting...remember, you also will have to get to the barn in the dark.

  • Water. You won't want to cart buckets to your horses. If you have a well, make certain that your water supply can support your animals and that you can have a water line run to the barn. When you plan a location for the barn water pump, don't cement all the way around it – leave an area of gravel for drainage.

  • Ventilation. One of the most important components of your barn will be fresh air. Horses typically live in dusty bedding, so it's very important to be sure that they will have air, even if it's cold. Plan for air vents at the peaks, as well as barn doors and windows that will supply as much ventilation as possible.

  • Stall size. Decide what size stalls your horses require. Standard stall size is 12 feet by 12 feet, but smaller horses and ponies can live in 10 foot by 10 foot stalls. Bigger is better if you may want to house larger animals in your barn eventually.

  • Flooring. There is a variety of flooring types, both for stalls and aisles. Get as much information as possible about stall flooring products so you can make an informed choice. Depending on the type of ground you have, decide whether your stall base will be dirt, clay or stone dust and whether you want to cover them with a flooring product. Important things to look for are drainage and durability. Decide whether your barn aisle will be cement. If so, you may require a different contractor to pour it.

  • Doors. Sliding doors are the best choice for both stalls and entry. Have a smaller door for people installed, as well as a large barn door, so you won't have to open and close a big door at night or in bad weather. Grillwork halfway up both doors and stalls will allow for the best ventilation. Install grills on stall windows as well.

  • Storage. Plan your storage area so it is accessible to you but not the horses. This should be an area that you can close off completely – an unused stall will do if not a separate room – that will house feed, hay and bedding. Set it up so supplies don't sit on the ground. Think about the tack you'll need. Count the number of saddles, other tack and equipment that you'll want to store and plan accordingly.

  • Check references. Once you've got your contractors in place, do a reference check. If you haven't dealt with them before, ask for the names of other customers for whom they have done the same type of work. If they're local, visit several barns to see the firm's workmanship.

  • Details. Find out who is responsible for procuring material for your building, the payment terms each of your contractors requires, and any insurance coverage necessary. Get everything in writing.

    Finally, consider the barns you've boarded in, and make a list of the things you liked and didn't like about each. This is the list that will individualize your barn and make it work for you. Now, structure your budget and let the building begin.

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