A Designer Cow and Calf Barn Just in Time for the Big Snow

Reader Contribution by Faith Schlabach
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Some farmers tell us that cows do not need shelter.  Yes, they would probably “survive”. However, it is hard on them. It takes much more feed to keep them warm. (By the way, it is imperative that you never let them run out of hay if you do not have at least overhead shelter for sun and cold icy rains and in addition, a wind break for winter weather.)  Hay helps them to regulate their body temperature.  They will fluctuate in their milk supply more when the weather is extreme. We like to have happy, healthy, fertile cows. Jersey cow care is a little more important as they are thinner skinned than your beef breeds. So, will they survive?  Yes. Is it ideal?  No.

In addition, one can use a waterproof horse blanket in the winter in a pinch. You will have to play with the sizing and deal with some poo on the straps as cow poo is much looser than horse!  Jefferspet.com is a good place to start. Get one with an under the belly crisscross strap and leg straps and maybe you could not use the back leg straps if the front and underbelly are a good fit. I have heard that there is some trouble fitting the chest area so you may need to order a size larger. You will have to experiment of course. I have not used one myself but have heard of using horse blankets for cows. It must be waterproof or if it rains, the cows will freeze!  You do not need the thick insulation, just a moderately insulated one.  Keep in mind that once they are used to the protection, you will have to keep them in it during cool weather until it warms up outside. Get the better quality as a cow is hard on things and you want it to last for a season or two.


Many people ask us how to build a cow barn and what to include when designing their barn. The following is a short description of some of the features that we feel are important. Some of these ideas can be retrofitted into an existing building such as venting the top and bottom for moving heat out of the barn.

We just completed our new barn for the spring calving rush. Our son and his wife had their sweet little peanut two weeks early so I was Adams helper. I learned a LOT about plumbing and squaring and hanging on tightly while up on the scaffold, but it went very slow until our son was able to join us again. We did get it completed just in time for the big snowstorm that took out power for 2 days in our area. Note to self:  Get a generator!

The barn is very tall (10′ in the back and 14′ in the front) and we also incorporated venting at the top and bottom (horizontal doors that can be opened) for good airflow in the hot summers. We are more concerned about keeping them cool in the summer than warm in winter. In the winter, cows In most zones are good with shelter over their heads to keep the cold icy rain off and a wind break on the North and West sides but they don’t need a tight winter barn. The hot summer on the other hand is VERY hard on the babies as we calve March and April so have very young stock during July and August and have no trees in the pasture. The mamas appreciate shade as well.

We also included a hay room that could double as another stall if needed in the future. This barn is 12 x 36. It has two 12’x12′ stalls and the hay stall is 10’x12′ with generous roof overhang all around the barn. We will leave it weather naturally and when the grape vines get trimmed, I will soak some in water and shape a big wreath wrapping smaller grapevine around to hold it all together for the front of the barn.

Here are some shots of the barn going up and almost completed with the big snow (20″ of very wet snow) the very next day.  

This is a pic of the doors we built at the bottom of the wall to allow any summer breeze to flow thru the barn and move the heat upward. The opening at the top will have either doors that open in the summer as well or lattice. We haven’t decided yet.

This is the rafters of the roof with the open air venting to allow barn ventilation and heat to escape. We did not use trusses for the roof. They are just straight rafters with the back of the barn being 10′ tall and the front of the barn 14′ tall. Later, we could add an addition to the front by tying in the roofline a foot or so below the existing roofline on the front side and in essence duplicating what we did on the first half.

This is how we moved lumber when we were not able to access the field because of mud for a few days.


We raise Once A Day Miniature and Small Standard Sized Jersey Milk Cows with grazing genetics, raised on REAL milk four months for properly developed rumen, and natural kelp and other supplements. We will have Milking School on June 22nd. Contact us for a flyer.