Designing Metal Barns and Farm Buildings the Right Way

Metal buildings may have originated as warehouses and carports, but today they’re used for everything from affordable housing to secure livestock housing. Metal barns have a number of benefits over their traditional wood framed counterparts, including:
  • Resistance to rot
  • Resistance to insect damage
  • Better control of pests by sealing the seams
  • Easier cleaning and sanitizing for disease control
  • Long-term durability and safety in extreme weather
  • Fire resistance.
Yet a stock metal building only works so well as a barn. A few customizations and choices about how you want to prepare the site for the new metal barns will greatly increase your satisfaction with the performance of the buildings.

Choose a Flooring

Concrete pads are recommended for barns since dirt floors are subject to settling due to the weight and pawing behaviors of the animals. Yet bare concrete is not usually a recommended surface for horses, cows, or pigs due to its slipperiness and difficulty in cleaning. It works well for storage rooms and areas where animals won’t tread, but consider a popcorn asphalt coating for stall, passage, and parlor areas. Popcorn asphalt is softer on the joints of large livestock and drains faster for a slip-free surface. It’s also easy to keep clean and works well with most bedding materials. Sand floors are also popular and don’t require much extra effort beyond dumping the right sand over concrete and replacing it periodically.

Plan for Ventilation

Ventilation is essential in metal barns in particular because wood barns tend to absorb the moisture released by the animals while it simply condenses on metal interiors. Insulation can only prevent this reaction to a certain point in the winter, and the resulting ice can fall onto your livestock or damage the structure. Ventilating the metal barns with both manual and powered vents is the best way to remove excess humidity before it gets a chance to condense on the walls and other surfaces. Using more interior dividers and doors can also help so you can divide high humidity activities, like washing a cow’s udders and sanitizing milking equipment, from the rest of the space.

Consider Heating and Cooling

With the right insulation and a proper location, most metal barns stay comfortable for livestock all year round in average climates. However, many people in more extreme climates choose metal barns for their durability and need extra heating and cooling to help fight against Mother Nature’s efforts. If you live in the Upper Peninsula region of Michigan and need your barn to protect your horses from -25 degree weather, you’ll obviously need some supplemental heating for at least part of the winter. Metal buildings are fire resistant but not fireproof once you add wood stalls and other interior materials. You’ll need to choose a heating system that is safe for using in a dusty barn with plenty of hay and other flammable materials. For air conditioning, make sure you close up any air leaks and insulate as well as you can before attempting to combat both the heat coming from outside of the building and the animal’s natural body heat.

Get Tough Insulation

Insulating metal barns is particularly tricky because in addition to the insulation withstanding the expansion cycles and condensation found in all metal buildings, these materials will need to handle exposure to curious animals. The usual foam boards, fiberglass batts, and loose fill products only work when installed high on the walls and ceiling above the reach of your tallest livestock. A bored horse or goat can reach up surprisingly high to pull down a piece of insulation that will lead to discomfort and a vet’s visit. Horse and cow proof insulation panels are available that work well in metal barns, but make sure not to cut the protective outer wrapping on these materials when installing them.

Design Custom Stalls

You’re far less limited in your options for stall size and layout when choosing metal barns. These metal buildings are clear span, which means there’s no need for the internal supporting walls and pillars you must have in a wood-framed barn. Instead of the usual stalls that must squeeze between the central passage and the barn pillars, you’re free to build basically any enclosures you can fit inside the building. This makes metal barns great for shared livestock barns where you need drastically different types of stalls for pigs, sheep, goats, and other animals. You can add a rabbit colony on one side and frame in an entire aviary for quail on the other without the usual restrictions on layout and flow through the building. Spend some time checking out other barn layouts before deciding where you want to put your doors and other major features. Metal barns are highly customizable, and it’s much easier to decide on these features upfront than to add them later.