View Full Version : Barn building on challenging land

Jan. 19, 2010, 11:25 PM
Barn building on challenging land

Jan. 19, 2010, 11:51 PM
sounds like where i live. i have 37 acres on the side of a heavily wooded, steep mountain. it has only two drawbacks in my opion, and i've had horses here for ten years. first, i have to feed hay year round, which is actually ok with me, since i have mostly air ferns who would have to wear grazing muzzles on pastures otherwise. costs more though.

fencing is the huge issue, when i had a live-in farm guy he spent hours every week maintaining the fence line. he cut down saplings and nailed them to existing trees, since the land is also very ledge-y and almost impossible to drive posts into. he created three and four rails fences all around fifteen acres or so, plus a fence around the upper field, which is fairly flat-ish. i could build a barn and home and indoor up there someday if i want to badly enough. (i had the trees cut and removed on the flat area, but the tree guy did bury the stumps which are rotting now and causing sinkholes. be careful of that. you could make big piles of the stumps and create a sort of berm as a fenceline, which i wish he had done instead as i had requested).
now that our farm guy has been gone a couple of years, the fence is mostly in tatters, from trees blowing down on it, moose and deer crashing through, etc.
i have a guy who comes and works on it whenever i can afford it, but am still looking for a solution to the constant maintainance issue.

that said, the benefits are great to having horses on this land.
they are naturally well balanced and quickly learn where their feet are when climbing around on this hill of mine. plus i had an herbalist and horse owner walk the land with me to make sure there were no harmful plants, so i know they are nibbling on lots of different plants and getting a wide variety of fiber and nutrients in their diets.
there is a brook alongside the land, they cross it constantly and thus are not at all nervous or reluctant about water crossings. they maneuver easily and patiently while trail busting through deep thickets or branches, up and down hills and basically are very active, healthy and happy on the mountain.

in many ways i feel it to be superior to flat fields with only one type of grass growing on it.
hope that helps!

Jan. 20, 2010, 06:20 AM
I've just been through the farm search, and I have to say, I never thought it was worth it to buy a really hilly piece of land. Sure, you can level places here and there, but its expensive to do so and then you really have to manage any drainage issues you create. Plus, creating pasture from wooded acreage, especially if the slope is steep, can be tough and time consuming. All this can be done, but you need to allocate a few years to getting it done right.

The other consideration for us, is that I would not want my barn, house, and any other place I'm going to spend a lot of time on top of a hill. Around here, that is a miserable place to be and stay warm because of wind.

The last reason I didn't buy a really hilly property was because I want a riding arena and when you have to do significant topo changes to build one, the price of it starts going up exponentially, as well as the engineering you need to do for drainage.

So, there you have it. I ended up buying a pretty flat piece of land, although I'll admit that it has some trees and hedgerows for visual interest.

Good luck!

Jan. 20, 2010, 07:18 AM
Generally I would say that horses running in very hilly pastures will more athletic while young, but it will become harder on them when older.

The old horses we have had over the years living in the rough canyons ended up staying in the pens, didn't want to go out with the others to run up and down the draws and around rocks.
Since their quality of life was still very good, they just were not up to staying up with the more active herd any more on rough ground, they did fine.
As a trade off at times we took them to the flat cattle pastures in the plains, where they grazed happily, but were not under our continuous attention as in the canyons, where we could see them several times a day as they came and went to feed and water.

You may want to be sure you have some easy to get around land, for those that are older or may have some problems getting around.

One of our neighbors kept his horses on the flat plains all the time and said when he tried to keep them in the canyons he had injuries continuously, pulled muscles, chips here and there and wondered why we didn't.
I think that maybe we had less rowdy herds or just were lucky.
That is a consideration also, that a horse living in rather flat pastures may have less chance of getting injured, although he will also not be as athletic and well exercised.

I guess it depends on what you want for your horses.
How about some land with a little bit of both?

On the fence question, yes, we spent ten times more time working on fences and harder to work on them in the canyons than in the flat country.
We also have many watergaps in the bottom of the canyons, that is fences that go out every time it rains more than a drizzle.

Jan. 20, 2010, 07:29 AM
I would pass if there was NO real flat spots. Hills are good to a point....but you do need SOME flat spots for horses to stand on too. You can build a bank barn to accomdate a hilly nature but be careful of runoff when you plan a barn around hilly land. Since you point out you are in the midwest it is going to snow a lot....so you will need some non hilly place for safe turnout in the winter when the footing is bad.

Jan. 20, 2010, 07:45 AM
We live on a HUGE hill:http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?pid=33257074&l=4c70a4a3bb&id=13002359

Our house, barn, indoor - all built onto the side of the hill. The lower paddocks have flat areas:http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?pid=33257075&l=5cd68556fa&id=13002359 and the upper paddocks are luckily entirely flat:http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?pid=32587350&l=138f264430&id=13002359.

We had to put in LOTS of retaining walls: http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?pid=33143845&l=c170bf5280&id=13002359

In case of loose horses, etc. we put fencing around all the retaining walls:http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?pid=33020353&l=874828dcc6&id=13002359

The indoor is even further down the hill:http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?pid=33292341&l=c0ace34ff1&id=13002359

This is the view looking up from the indoor (before the fence was around that retaining wall and the horses were home:http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?pid=32587352&l=f4afc3359f&id=13002359) You can really see how steep it is!

Just throwing this out there so you can see some ideas, but I would say that for sure you would have to think about more retaining walls and fencing to keep those retaining walls safe. My horses are super fit as am I from all the hill walking!

I would say that I am so glad we have a huge flat paddock on the top of the hill, and for our lower paddocks I made sure there was a flat spot for the sheds and for them to stand in. Also drainage is so important!

Jan. 20, 2010, 10:46 AM
If the county has a GIS map online sometimes they have topo maps as you scale down.
We have 15 acres with three ridgetops and two drainages, 7 acres had been cleared but was being overtaken, and the amount of money it would take to knock off some ridgetops, move the existing structures and make something as gorgeous as Nanerpus has . . .well I won't live long enought to pay that off. I did not buy this place as a horse farm prospect, it met almost all of my other criteria and I could keep a horse or two here if I so chose.
If you have a serious budget you are better off with the cornfields, you'll be able to lay everything out without having to fuss with the topography and you can possibly dig out a pond and use the spoils for a little lanscaping for visual interest. Dedicate some land to small woodlots/tree lines, like that.

Jan. 20, 2010, 11:36 AM
I've pondered this for awhile before responding. My first gut reaction was "go for the flat piece". My dream is acres of flat paddocks, not the woods and gullys we have. Then after awhile I thought "Perk Test". I don't care how flat or hilly the land is. If the pasture is full of springs and clay so that even a well drained slope is a constant mud mess and drainage challenge, you will be miserable.

Both my mother's property where I keep my horses, and my own property where I live seems to be wet all the time. Of course, we're just coming off the wettest year in anyone's living memory, but still, we've hit springs that sunk the tractor even when we the ground was dry and hard. Nothing sucks worse than drilling a hole for a fence post and ending up with an artesian well instead. Trust me.

Jan. 21, 2010, 06:40 PM
There are engineers that specialize in this sort of thing. You can use one to find out EXACTLY what the costs and benefits would be on tis particular property, given its particular soil type(s), drainage, microclimate, etc., in addition to the obvious slope and vegetative problems.

Zu Zu
Jan. 21, 2010, 09:54 PM
I, too have hesitated to post here. In all honesty, as difficult as building is with site prep... and in spite of today's advances and machinery ~ I would or rather will only ever go through the building process on an ideal or as close as possible piece of property. I can not encourage building on a "challenging" piece of land. IMHO

Jan. 22, 2010, 06:32 AM
IIWM I'd go for flat over hilly.
And former field over wooded.

You can always plant fast-growing evergreens or Thuga (deciduous)if you need trees for shade or visual interest.

And as ReSomething said spoils can be useful.
I had my excavator pile up the scrapings from when he leveled the area for my barn/arena into a berm that fronts the road, forming a visual barrier between it & my pasture.
It is gradually being covered with perennials and is looking better every year.
Brush & fruit tree trimmings got piled at one corner of a meadow and became a sort of bird/bunny habitat.

In my search for a future 2 Dogs Farm, I've looked at some heavily wooded acreages and decided I'd rather spend my money on something besides fighting the terrain.

Jan. 22, 2010, 07:34 AM
The newest landscaping theories today are about working with the land.
Sure, we can bulldoze our way into any landscaping we want, we can even change mountains into flat lands, but generally, the land has evolved to be as it is because that is the best way water flows and vegetation grows for a certain area.

When we need a new road in the canyons, we try to follow an old deer or cattle trail, as that will generally be the best path for that topography, we try not to have to move too much earth or have to fill gullies.

There are trade-offs in rough country, but you really need to examine if changing the landscape to suit what you right now want will be worth the very considerable expense and mistakes you will make and have to redo later, where you could not foresee how it would live there once you changed what you have.

I would say keep looking for the topography you want that is already there.
I bet that you can buy something already changed to what you like considerably cheaper than you can change the lay of the land to suit you today.

Now, if you have the money and vision and more money to regress what didn't work in your first effort, then yes, get an architect and "roads and bridges" engineer, pay them for a consultation and let them tell you what can be done where you want to live.:yes:

Jan. 22, 2010, 09:42 AM
The newest landscaping theories today are about working with the land.
Sure, we can bulldoze our way into any landscaping we want, we can even change mountains into flat lands, but generally, the land has evolved to be as it is because that is the best way water flows and vegetation grows for a certain area.

Which is why the hay field that my great Grandfather "pioneered" which previously had a 9 foot deep gully running down the center of it. Which he filled with boulders then dirt by repeatedly plowing (with horses) towards the center. Which was properly maintained throughout my grandfather's lifetime.... now, 90 years later, has gullied itself to the point where we are no longer using it. We brush hog it once a year, during dry spells. Even the dairy farmer who leases fields from us has no desire to tackle it's drainage issues. It will be a gully again.

Jan. 22, 2010, 10:18 AM
Build a bank barn. You won't have to throw hay in to the loft, cooler in the summer, warmer in the winter!

Jan. 22, 2010, 11:18 AM
It is almost always more expensive to build on a hilly piece of land. The biggest factors are:

1) how steep - very steep or gradual drop-off or varied ...?
2) where does the run-off go ?
3) is it bedrock type rocky, gravelly rocky, clay or ...?
4) which side of the hill are you on - downwind of the prevailing winter weather, or on the "cold side" of the mountain where you don't get any sun until late in the day? If your hill faces the east or the south it can be really nice ...

Although it is more work building on a hill, I would rather have a good slope to work with. It is much easier to condition horses for many things (engagement of the hindquarters, rythym). Of course you need some flat areas for schooling also.

As far as too many trees, it's nice to be able to select areas to keep for wind breaks and thinning trees to provide partial light shade throughout the day, etc.. Landscaping is far more interesting with hills.

Many hilly properties can be developed into really nice horse farms or farmettes.