How to Build an Inexpensive Pole Barn

This simple animal shelter, a versatile pole barn building for livestock animals, such as cows, sheep, goats, pigs or poultry, or livestock feed can be constructed in a few weeks. The article includes layout, materials and cost list, diagrams, stringers and trusses.


| February/March 1995



148-026-01

A pole barn is the most simple barn design. You can build one yourself with just a little know-how in using tools.


PHOTOS: WILLIAM HAINES

I'm a 5'4", 115-pound grandmother pushing 50. Certainly no "super-woman." When people ask me how I first learned how to build animal shelters and pole barns, I feel as though they are asking how I first learned to eat with a knife and fork.

In La Luz, New Mexico, in the early 1950s, such skills as pole barn building were passed from elders to children without anyone being aware of a teaching-learning relationship. In that era of the family farm, we would repair the tractor, vaccinate the cattle or mend the fence without the aid of a mechanic, vet or carpenter. The typical family farm worked because everyone worked and I became "Jane-of-all-trades" because my father had no sons. My marriage to south Texas rancher Don Franklin added his family's skills to my own and together we spent 15 years in Third World nations applying our abilities to the production and processing of food. In Angola, Africa, "lumber" for any construction project began with cutting trees yourself, while in Guadalajaran deserts of Colombia, it meant dismantling the packing crates our supplies were shipped in. A shelter for animals or feed was a necessity everywhere we went and when it needed building, we built it. To raise a pole barn, I was used to sinking a few tree trunks in the ground to act as both foundation and roof-and-wall supports and then nailing up rough board stringers and rafters for fastening a tin roof. After I called a local contractor and was told that such a pole barn on my new property would cost $10,000, I just offered an amused smile. I got out the old tools and began planning. What do they say about life experience being invaluable...?

I think the "know-how" of a project like this one is highly overrated. What you really need is 50% confidence that you can do it and 40% knowing where to find the answers before you make the mistakes. The other 10% is a little skill in the use of a hammer and saw. This barn can be built by anyone using the instructions here. I have even included my mistakes so that you will feel free to make your own original mistakes without repeating mine.

You should start with a call to the local Building Inspection Service at your county seat to see what building code restrictions apply. Be sure to stress that your structure is not for human habitation, but is intended for agricultural use. Most states have more lenient structural requirements for farm buildings than for homes or garages. Still, you may need to have drawings and a spec sheet approved and have the building inspected at several stages.

So, here's how I did it and what I did wrong.

Layout

Find some flat, firm ground that doesn't hold standing water for long at any time of the year and determine your barn's outer dimensions. Standard 2"-thick building lumber is cheapest in 8' lengths, so design in 8' sections, especially if you plan to roof it or add floors or siding using 4' x 8' sheets of plywood, particle board or stock 8' boards. My barn is 48' long and supported by seven poles on each side, which divides into six 8'-wide bays per side. I left 8' of pole above ground to make walls an even 8' high.

richard
2/25/2015 10:03:36 AM

Where are the diagrams? Are they only in the magazine version?


tony_3
11/12/2008 1:47:50 PM

I know this is an old post but I'd like to respond to discourage anyone reading this like I am from buying 'used' trusses for a project like this. Allow me to explain why: First off I design trusses for a living. I engineer trusses specifically for each building they are designed for. I factor in the width of the wall they will be bearing on, the special loading for that region and the building codes specific to the area that they are destined for. I also factor in proper spacing and how each trusse interacts with the other (usually in hip settings). The problem with used trusses (especially in this situation where the trusses aren't even the same!!!) is what they were designed for. Now in this pole barn Ellen spaced the trusses 4 foot on center. Prior to 1998 or 1999 trusses were not required to be stamped with loading and spacing. In fact many weren't. If Ellen's trusses were designed to be placed 2 foot on center and were instead placed 4 foot on center then you have a big problem. The trusse would not meet engineering criteria. Moving it from 2 foot on center to 4 foot on center would increase top and bottom chord deflection and cause chord failure. The bearings also would fail as well as webs. Now because we intrinsically 'over engineer' trusses to ensure they survive worst case scenarios the trusses may last for awhile or even years. However the roof would be VERY unsafe, perhaps even failing under a severe thunder storm or some added snow load. If you do decide to use a set of used trusses (which is acceptable with a little care) you MUST determine if your building meets the requirements of the trusse. Look for the following: A) Loading. The Loading will be stamped on trusses designed after 1998/99. It will be somethig like 50 or 80 or 100. Or perhaps 30/10/10, 50/10/10 or some such thing. Check your local building codes and get the loading for your area. If the loading is a single number like 50 then add


tony_3
11/12/2008 1:47:18 PM

I know this is an old post but I'd like to respond to discourage anyone reading this like I am from buying 'used' trusses for a project like this. Allow me to explain why: First off I design trusses for a living. I engineer trusses specifically for each building they are designed for. I factor in the width of the wall they will be bearing on, the special loading for that region and the building codes specific to the area that they are destined for. I also factor in proper spacing and how each trusse interacts with the other (usually in hip settings). The problem with used trusses (especially in this situation where the trusses aren't even the same!!!) is what they were designed for. Now in this pole barn Ellen spaced the trusses 4 foot on center. Prior to 1998 or 1999 trusses were not required to be stamped with loading and spacing. In fact many weren't. If Ellen's trusses were designed to be placed 2 foot on center and were instead placed 4 foot on center then you have a big problem. The trusse would not meet engineering criteria. Moving it from 2 foot on center to 4 foot on center would increase top and bottom chord deflection and cause chord failure. The bearings also would fail as well as webs. Now because we intrinsically 'over engineer' trusses to ensure they survive worst case scenarios the trusses may last for awhile or even years. However the roof would be VERY unsafe, perhaps even failing under a severe thunder storm or some added snow load. If you do decide to use a set of used trusses (which is acceptable with a little care) you MUST determine if your building meets the requirements of the trusse. Look for the following: A) Loading. The Loading will be stamped on trusses designed after 1998/99. It will be somethig like 50 or 80 or 100. Or perhaps 30/10/10, 50/10/10 or some such thing. Check your local building codes and get the loading for your area. If the loading is a single number like 50 then add


charles_45
12/15/2007 6:22:29 AM

Cpuld you e-mail me a copy of your print. Thanks


ty_3
11/17/2007 10:37:40 AM

I commend your courage to undertake such an endevour. I am a 200 lb., 28 year old male and undertaking this project is hard to swallow. You've inspired me to do it, but I was wondering where would be a good place to look for telephone poles for this project. Let me guess the telephone company? Thankyou Ellen


thomas_27
10/9/2007 8:25:33 PM

is there any way to get better and biger pictures?


donald_22
8/26/2007 11:17:45 PM

I want to buid a 3 bay barn with a loft myself


vonstrudel
7/16/2007 8:17:59 PM

I printed the article for future use but the way the diagrams are in the gallery they are very small and difficult to see. Can you send me a copy of the pics in the gallery? I would certainly appreciate that. I had no idea they would be so difficult to access in a viewable and printable form. Without the pics the directions are not so goo. Thanks.


dan_27
6/1/2007 4:04:58 PM

Enjoyed reading this article, however where are the diagrams mentioned in the article? Thanks in advance.   Mother Responds: The photos are in the Image Gallery to the top right of the article, under "Related."






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