Building the best barns, chicken coops, hutches and other shelters adds value to your homesteading land. How do you know what to pick for housing your animals? With so many choices available to the modern homesteader, how can you know what to look for and make the right decision for your farm? Start by breaking it all down into what each building needs to offer to you and the animal being housed.
The best barns, coops, and shelters take into consideration the size and needs of the species that will live there. You probably wouldn’t choose a full-size barn to house a few rabbits. And having a fully winterized structure for wool-yielding animals would be unnecessary.
The Best Barns and Shelters for Cows
The best barns for beef cattle are three-sided run-in cattle sheds. Beef cattle are hardy and heavy-coated animals. Mostly raised in small herds of two or more, they like to be able to move around freely. They do not adapt easily to confinement. When the need for treatment or transport comes up, a series of gates and chutes are used to handle the large animals safely.
The commonly seen barn for dairy cattle includes space for the cows to lie down, troughs along one side for feed and silage, and a manure removal gutter. In smaller operations, any enclosed area with space for the cow to lie down and move around will work. Pay attention to the orientation of the barn on the property to take advantage of the winds and provide shade. The best barns for dairy cattle take into consideration the size of the animal, the need for sanitary milking conditions and ease of manure removal. The pitch of the roof directly correlates to the ventilation. Building a dairy barn can be extremely specific and technical. The specifications for many different styles are readily available. Having one family milk cow is quite different, for housing needs, then a small herd of a dozen cows.
The most common poultry that people keep on homesteads are chickens, ducks, and turkeys. Sometimes, people will let the poultry free range all the time. When doing this the birds will roost in the trees. Ducks will hide under bushes and low growth foliage. What often happens with this system is that predators will eventually grab the poultry and enjoy a free feast. The better solution would be to protect the chickens, ducks, and turkeys with sturdy housing. There are many ways to provide a shelter from searching for free chicken coop plans on the Internet and building your own to purchasing a state of the art chicken palace. Chicken coops should include a sturdy door with latches. Good ventilation, roosting bars, droppings pan and nest boxes are mandatory items in a chicken coop. Allow 3 to 4 square foot per bird inside the coop for adequate space. The duck shelter doesn’t need as many features. A low to the ground sturdy building is adequate. Allowing for good ventilation is a must in all shelters. This keeps the ammonia odor in the waste products from building up. Ducks do not roost so a roost bar is not needed. Providing nest boxes on the floor of the duck house helps keep the eggs cleaner.
Rabbit Hutches and Habitats
Rabbit keeping is a popular hobby farm addition. Rabbits provide companionship, meat, fiber and pelts for the family needs. The common housing for rabbit keeping is hutches, stacked on top of each other. These hutches are kept outside under a roof or structure or housed inside a garage or building just for the rabbits. When choosing the housing style, make sure you can easily clean up the manure so that you don’t have fly problems. Rabbits are very susceptible to heat illness. Make sure you can keep the rabbit hutch out of direct sunlight in the warm months and that you are able to provide plenty of fresh water. Having the rabbit hutches in a spot where you can ensure thawed water in the winter is also important.
Another popular method of housing rabbits includes using a fenced area for the rabbit to be on the ground, digging and running around. This requires some additional fencing materials and there is a concern about predators. Preparing the ground with wire or another surface the rabbits cannot dig through, and covering the surface with dirt and fiber, prevents escapes from the pen. A sturdy structure needs to be added for night and protection. A third type of system is called a rabbit tractor. The rabbits are on the ground while being kept safe from predators.
Goats, Sheep, Llamas, Alpaca
Small ruminants need some sort of shelter. In many cases, this does not need to be a barn unless you are keeping dairy goats. Goats are hardy but need at least a run-in shed. A run-in shed is a pole building or three-sided structure used for shelter in the grazing pasture.
Another barn idea is an open barn that leads into a fenced paddock area. Whatever structure you choose as the best barns or shelters for the small ruminants, make sure you provide plenty of clean, fresh water and minerals required by each species. When caring for the dam and kids, a kidding stall is good for ensuring bonding, early feeding, and cleanliness.
Farrowing houses or shelters are used to keep the sow and piglets safe and somewhat clean. As the piglets grow, they will start to follow the sow around the space she is provided. Some farmers will construct a creep area for the piglets to keep them safe from the heavy sow. The piglets can access the sow for nursing but can crawl into a smaller area to escape being stepped on or laid on by the sow. Heat lamps for warming the piglets helps the farmer have a better survival rate in cold months. Even pigs kept on pasture can benefit from farrowing in a semi-enclosed shelter.
Providing the best barns, shelters, hutches and coops keeps the animals safer and more comfortable. The structures should also make it easy to care for the daily needs of the animals.
What type of barns do you have? What would you change about your current animal housing?