Goat Barn Building 101
Goat Barn Building 101
I must admit to being incredibly lucky at having the opportunity to design our barn from the ground up rather than modifying an existing building. While our start-up costs are, for lack of a better word, astronomical, in the long term this barn will hold up better, be more efficient to use, and healthier for our animals. Lots of thought went into the design of the building, and I am, again, incredibly lucky to have worked on several goat dairies whose various strengths and weaknesses directed the features included in the barn.
It should go without saying that the primary objective in building any barn is to adequately shelter the animals. What may not be so obvious is that goats, 1. hate, I repeat, hate, to get wet, and 2. are not always keen on sharing personal space with one another. Should it so much as drizzle, every goat will try to take shelter, and if they don’t each have enough space fighting will ensue and someone will get kicked out into the rain. To avoid this we researched how much square footage was recommended for a dairy goat (15 square feet), multiplied that by the number of goats to determine square footage for animals in the building, went even bigger, and then added a six foot overhang on either side to ensure even the most timid of animals would be protected from the elements. With 3,802 sq ft of inside bedded space for108 goats and 36 sheep our animals have an average of 24 sq ft of personal space.
We also felt it was important to allow space for several months’ worth of hay to be stored in the barn as well. When damp, hay will quickly begin to mold making it both unpalatable and even dangerous to eat as some molds cause abortions in pregnant animals. We wanted to be sure that we could at minimum fill the barn with hay just prior to the rainy season and not have to worry about refilling it until the threat of rains had passed (so hay wouldn’t have to be moved into the barn under wet conditions). To accomplish this, we designed the barn with a very tall center so we could double stack blocks of hay down the middle. The additional height has the added benefit of allowing hot air to rise up away from the animals where cross ventilation can remove it from the barn.
While barns are an essential component for keeping animals protected from the elements, their major drawback is that when animals concentrate together the waste builds up quickly. Designing a barn that was easily cleaned was a priority. I looked to the barn at Fumailles, in France for inspiration. There, a large door at the end of the barn could be opened up to permit access for the tractor while the goats were on pasture. Partitions between pens were hinged at the walls and could be opened from the center, opening the entire barn up for fast scraping. Once cleaned, the partitions were swung closed, the pens re-bedded, and the goats returned from their day at pasture. We have copied that design in its entirety. Roll-up doors along the sides of the barn give the goats access to pasture every day. On cleaning days we simply close the doors behind them in the morning, open up the end of the barn, remove the dividers and clean. The entire barn can be cleaned in a 10 hour day without interrupting the milking or feeding schedule of the goats.
Another key consideration is the distribution of hay and water. Since goats are competitive eaters we wanted to allow a minimum of 18 inches of feeder space per animal. Most of this feed space is accomplished by wall mounted hay bunks that run the interior length of the barn. We can easily carry or cart hay down the aisles between the animals and the stacked hay and fill their feeders without entering the pen (going in and out of gates with an armload of hay is tricky at best and downright dangerous when a pack of hungry goats awaits you on the other side). Small wall mounted automatic watering bowls provide cool, fresh water, are easy to keep clean and eliminate the time spent filling large water troughs. There are several in each pen, both inside the barn and outside, again to avoid competition over drinking water.
The final primary feature of the barn is that it is (virtually) goat proof. Goats are inherently curious, which leads to being inherently destructive. They will chew on electrical cords, gnaw through plywood, jump up on things, lean on things, or rub on things until they fall apart or break… we learned the hard way that not all welding jobs can hold up to a goats determination to get through a gate. To mitigate the signs of goat wear and tear on the barn we designed it with 4ft concrete walls. The building itself is a steel framework with corrugated steel walls. So far only the bucks are tall enough to really do any damage. Standing on their hind legs they rub the backs of their heads on the corrugated metal and have removed swathes of paint. Electrical outlets are all located above the reach of goats, though sadly drooping electrical cords were not safe enough and we will have to replace power cords to the barn cameras before next kidding season. Sigh.
I could keep going, though at a page and a half this overview of how we designed our barn is already looking less like a blog and more like a manual. Hopefully it is clear that designing the farm is very much a part of designing any farmstead creamery. Quality milk can only come from healthy animals. Access to feed, fresh water, space to move, ventilation and clean bedding are just some of the factors required to keep animals healthy and all of them are impacted by barn design.