For the Love of Pole Barns

Reader Contribution by Mary Jane Phifer

Our pole barn house. We could have written a book about building and finishing one!

We are not strangers to pole barns — we love them. We store hay and equipment in one and we even converted another into a house with attached shop. They are great! The open floor plan, thick insulation, and low cost made it a very economical decision when we built the new house on the farm; a farm that came with a much older pole barn – currently being held upright by its sidewalls and goat prayers.

Sidewall of the old goat barn…

The old goat barn is homemade and according to one of the cement corners, “Circa 1980.” The posts (tree trunks) were planted in cement and have long since rotted off at ground level. The trusses were also homemade and are rotting and sagging at the joints. All the sheet metal was salvaged from some other structure (as evidenced by the nail holes), which does not bother me- what is worrisome is the chance that during an upcoming big storm, the barn will fall and tragically injure any livestock therein.  Or start a fire.

There is no water in the barn and the electric supply is also sketchy.  Wires are exposed to rats and critters and overall, it is just a danger.  We did shore up one end when we put in two large doors, but all that did was buy us some time and another few winters.

Corner of the old barn, rotted off… and moved several inches…

Inside the old barn..

After much discussion and rough drawings, we have finally decided to put a new barn in. Main points of discussion were (and the order of the points could change daily):
Location of the barn
What will it be used for/ different purposes
What to do with the old barn

    Our current tractor/hay barn is just that- a place to store tractor, implements and hay out of the weather. There is no place to shelter animals inside it when full of hay, but having the ends of the barn directed east/west does give the cows a windbreak from north winds.  However, this barn is located far from the house and is not wired for electric nor does it have water.

    The (newer) tractor/hay barn…

    We thought first we would dismantle the old goat barn, scrape the area around, and build the new barn on the same location. Ourselves.  However, looking at the gradual drop in topography, drainage issues, plus the fact that we are rather slow at getting things done (Spouse is in his 70’s and I am in my 50’s)- we decided it would be best to find a more level spot and have the barn built there and take the old barn down “at our leisure.” We will save as much old tin as is usable, and recycle the rest.

    Why replace the barn?  We need a sheltered area to house the goats (30-40 depending on the year) in the winter and during kidding times plus an area for milking (goats and the occasional cow) would be ideal. Having open wings/lean-tos on each side of the barn will allow additional shelter, plus give the cows a covered area for Hay in the winter, when we supplement.
    The barn will be close to the old structure with access to water and electricity
    The ends of the barn will be oriented east west, providing passive solar benefits
    Winter hay feeding will be kept clean and covered, reducing waste and saving costs
    Current livestock panels and handling area will easily be incorporated adjacent to the structure, allowing for added shelter when weaning and working the livestock.
    Cost, although a major component, will only determine “extras” as we decided this structure *must* be built- we have known it was an eventuality and have been saving for it.

      Location of new goat barn…  Just west of the old goat barn…

      We had great results using a local building supplier and the contractor we had build the first two pole barns was excellent. Deciding on using the same building supply and contractor was the simplest decision.

      32 feet x 40 feet with two 12-foot side extensions/lean-tos seems the size we need. 56 feet x 40feet footprint overall. (The 40-foot length may be tweaked, depending on logistics and price quote.)

      In upcoming posts I will share our trials, tribulations and progress with the construction of The New Goat Barn…  We are even thinking about adding solar panels, but that discussion needs much more research, but wouldn’t THAT be great?