View Full Version : Dirt floors in the barn??

Jul. 16, 2010, 10:48 PM
So late last night I'm bouncing around a couple ideas with my cousin. A friend of mine just bought some property, and she's thinking of fencing some paddocs, putting in a small (4 or 6 horse) barn, and a sand ring. This is all just in the writing on napkin stage.... nothing serious at all, and more for fun than anything else.

My cousin was just throwing out some numbers at me for things like cement pad, running water and electric (already on property) and things like that. Very daunting.

BUT, it did lead me to wonder about dirt floor barns. I've read a number of times on posts where the posters are commenting about their barn and its dirt floor. How does one build a barn with a dirt floor? What about drainage? mud? freezing temperatures? Is it a viable option for us Northerners... ?

Please enlighten me (just for fun and future reference) :)

Zu Zu
Jul. 16, 2010, 11:00 PM
Grew up with dirt floors in all our barns ~ top with sawdust ~ rake daily or drag when needed ~ work up and down the aisle as it is GREAT for starting colts but all this having been stated depends on the width of the aisle and the types of stall fronts... many variables... I would much prefer dirt to my now cement and matted aisle.. * one boarding barn where I spent many years ~ conditioned race horses during the off season. When the weather was too bad for the track they worked up and down the dirt aisle topped with PECAN SHELLS -very cool and great footing -actually all the breeds enjoyed it ...:cool: :D The stalls need to be prepared with inches of limestone screenings packed and leveled to 3* and then topped with six inches of clay watered & packed and leveled again then topped with sawdust/shavings to protect the floors in the stalls form damage from urine and poop.....stalls will require re-leveling and repair for low spots periodically ~

Jul. 16, 2010, 11:01 PM
Short version:

dirt + pee = mud

mud + poop + fork = hole

hole + pee = even more mud!

And so the cycle continues until you give up and install real floors.

Jul. 16, 2010, 11:29 PM
We had dirt floors. The barn and floors were existing from previous owner (barn was not used for animals). We never had any mud, guess our floors drained well. However, problem we had was both horses dug holes. Finally got sick of the dust, the uneveness of the floors, etc. and put rubber mats over it. Wish we had done it a long time ago, will always go with mats now.

Jul. 17, 2010, 01:31 AM
I went to camp for many years at a place with a bank barn where the lower level had dirt floors with boarded off drains running along the perimeters (great for dumping buckets!). I enjoyed them and they were very easy to keep clean with raking. They do get uneven pretty easily though, which is something you definitely have to watch out for. You have to worry about flooding too. So they aren't terrible, they just aren't the easiest to maintain.

Jul. 17, 2010, 10:04 AM
I have two barns, one with a prepared surface, the other no surface prepared.

Both are soil, vs cement etc.

The first barn had sand brought in and built up. I then added stone dusts and put mats down...great. Later, I added some drainage tile around one side, we also put another 2x8 and metal sheet around the bottom to keep rats from digging tunnels in.

The other barn, very challenging. If snow melts, the stalls can flood and the aisle. Its been hugely challenging to 'fix'.
The stalls have probably 6-8" of stonedust and then mats on top of that. Horses have to step down into aisle to exit/enter their stalls.
We did the same thing, with drainage tile, but it works only so so.

I guess the main problem is when you build on dirt, due to the doors its hard to add materials to elevate the aisle or even stalls.

I like not having cement(sorta), and in the one barn, it is all matted but still gets dusty...probably the shavings.
the big barn, I just wish it had a proper skimming of the materials there, and then added stone dust/screenings.

You really have to pay attention to the land around and the slope and think about drainage.

As far as having no floors, yes, after awhile, I kept scraping out and thought I'd end in China, so thats why I brought in stone dust and mats. Love it. I love mats and although you can get away a few years without, best to have mats.

Zu Zu
Jul. 17, 2010, 10:24 AM
Yes, I agree mats are the "BEST":cool: on top of any stall floor ~ the best invention since vetwrap ~ :lol::D

Jul. 17, 2010, 10:31 AM
All of my stalls are dirt with mats except for the overflow stall, which is concrete with mats. I found the older guys got sore on the concrete, even with the mats. Asphalt is more forgiving than cement. But I'm happy with the dirt as long as I have mats. I would like to asphalt the aisle eventually, with a concrete boarder to keep the asphalt from "dipping off" towards the foundation.

As for how to build it, you pour a foundation around the perimiter. I have permanent stalls, so each stall front has a foundation also. You don't have to pour a pad.

Jul. 17, 2010, 10:50 AM
How does one build a barn with a dirt floor? What about drainage? mud? freezing temperatures? Is it a viable option for us Northerners... ?

Another way to do it is a simple pole barn -- tall poles/posts with a beam running down each side, that holds up the roof (usually trusses).

Then you have no load bearing walls inside and you can move things around as needed, (including pouring a floor later if you want.)

Jul. 17, 2010, 11:06 AM
Don't do it. It will be a constant uphill battle. I wish I could post a pic of my old barn. Granted it was probably at least 30 yrs old, but you would walk in the door and it would slope down at least 2 feet. Not fun to push a full wheelbarrow uphill. Rain came in, went down the slope, and flooded the stalls , which were dirt with a lot of natural clay. Eew. The BM had a water pump in each stall after every hurricane. The isle will look ok if you rake it evey day, but its SO much easier to take a leafblower to cement after you turn out. Just my two cents. Good luck!!

Zu Zu
Jul. 17, 2010, 11:09 AM
Mats over leveled and compacted clay :cool: is GREAT for the older horses or any horse/pony very forgiving and comfortable. I hate :mad: concrete in a barn aisle or stall ~ horses don't "BOUNCE" :eek: ~ I lost one at a trainer's = broken pelvis ~ she got loose and slipped on a matted cement aisle ~ RIP ELEGANT LEADER aka "Ellie" :sadsmile: ~

Jul. 17, 2010, 11:32 AM
Agree with wsmoak...a pole barn is the common way to build a barn that has dirt floors. No foundation or pad needed...which also can save a whole lot on construction. :yes: There are lots of pros to building a pole barn.
A con would be making darned sure the spot you put it is higher on all sides and well draining and then grading that spot very well because a pole barn does not have a solid cement barrier for water run off so they will flood easily if located poorly.
Just make sure of the location and grading/slope around it and a pole barn works very very well.

Dirt floors will depend on the horses in it and the horse keeping styles. Bad diggers/pawing though or marathon urinators can be foiled with either solid rubber mats or the rubber grid mats. (although for a heavy peeing horse I'd go with solid mats to keep the dirt underneath from absorbing the urine and getting mucky and stinky)

You can also add a few inches of stone dust on top of a dirt floor and then compact and level it. That adds drainage for liquids. The deeper the stone dust, the more the drainage. You also have the option of just bedding or mats and bedding on top of the stone dust.

Or you can do a solid framed foundation...no cement in the center but wide short "walls" as a foundation frame to block outside run off from coming in the barn and to support the structure on top of it, you can backfill the center with whatever you'd like for flooring.

Jul. 17, 2010, 11:42 AM
OBVIOUSLY concrete stall floors are a horrible idea. I think its safe to say everyone knows that. :/

I would reccomend doing a "brushed" concrete isle. You take a pushbroom and go across the damp concrete ACROSS the isle, not up and down, and that will give you traction. As ZuZu poineted out, grip is good.

Jul. 17, 2010, 03:36 PM
I think dirt floors are great (so much safer!) - so long, as everyone has said, as the barn is sited properly and grading work done ahead of time. Either way, depending on your soils, you'll want to have the site excavated, at least where the stalls are going to be, and backfilled with some sand and gravel and whatnot for better drainage. And you can do that to the aisleway too and have it leveled and compacted. SO long as your ceilings are high enough and the aisle wide enough, it's easy to get equipment in to repair holes and things, and laying some matts over them will help prevent that from happening.
I've just seen enough bad things happen on concrete floors or brick floors that I'm not sure I'll put those in. I had my horse in a barn a while back that was owned by landscaping company owners. The barn - while possibly the most beautiful I've ever been in - was terribly unsafe. One aisle was concrete - and they made it extra slick and smooth for a polished, formal look. I saw two horses go down on it - just slipped when it was humid and dewy out. The main aisle was landscaping brick which they later glazed for the shiny, formal look. As my grandmother would have said, it was slicker than greased goose $hit. Beautiful, but SO dangerous! Dirt floors help mitigate all that - and they're cheap! Depending on how you build, you can always add other flooring later.

Jul. 18, 2010, 07:49 AM
Nothing wrong with dirt as a subsurface.
Just make certain your base is level and use stonedust on top.

After 6 years my stonedust that started out feeling like beach sand underfoot has hardened into a surface that now feels like cement to me.
Easily sweeps clean in the aisle and picking the stalls does not create craters.

It drains great as I never have any ammonia smell once I remove the wet bedding.

The horses still leave shallow hoofprints in the aisle so I feel that means it has some give for them.

Jul. 18, 2010, 10:17 AM
We're building a barn now with a dirt floor. Ours is maybe what you could call a modified pole barn. Modified because there are internal weight-bearing poles, and we have a two level roof (trusses on the upper level, rafters on the lower level). We're in Texas, so ventilation is super important.

I've always had dirt barn floors. THe first was a pole barn that came with the property. The floor got uneven, but I didn't have problems with mud (from pee). The second was one we built, and we built up the base with compacted sand (which provided good drainage). My stallion does pee a lot, though, so I would have liked mats in his stall.

The barn now was built on the highest point in the property (aside from the house). After setting all of our poles and putting on our roof, we brought in sandy loam and are in the process of building the floor up several week. After reading some of the messages, I'm going to look into the cost of stone dust, too, and whether or not we cna get it.

Whatever we do, my plan is to put mats over the top. I've got two horses who paw and will dig holes and one who pees a lot, and the mats with good bedding will keep the smell down and keep the stalls dryer.

Jul. 18, 2010, 12:11 PM
I would say go with the dirt floor barn... and just add stall mats. You can also do mats or rubber pavers for the aisle instead of the (sometimes slippery) cement.

Drainage should be away from the barn, no matter what kind of stall floors you use. This is a matter of picking a good site, building with good grading, and if needed,using rain gutters.

Short version:

dirt + pee = mud

mud + poop + fork = hole

hole + pee = even more mud!

And so the cycle continues until you give up and install real floors.


Jul. 18, 2010, 12:48 PM
I have worked at many barns with dirst floors I the stalls and aisles. All in Minnesota. Two of them had cedar mulch footing down the aisles that you just raked when needed. One had a dirt floor aisle with rubber matts at the aisle cross ties so the horses could not dig a hole. All had dirt floors in the stalls, all of the stalls are kept deep bedded (enough bedding in the stall for a week, keep the extra bedding banked up around the wall). Never had any problems at any of these barns concerning the floor. I worked in a barn that had concrete aisles and concrete under matts in the stalls and the drainage work was done improperly surrounding the barn and a literal river of water would run down the barn aisle when it rained, took thousands of dollars of drainage work to fix.

Sep. 10, 2010, 12:04 PM
How deep should the stone dust layer be? I will be putting in stalls and aisle under 3/4" mats.

Sep. 10, 2010, 12:35 PM
I really prefer my trainer's wood chips over dirt in the aisle to the previous place's asphalt, BECAUSE of the leaf blower cleaning method that they used on the asphalt. Didn't care for all that dust in the air that settled on the horses, the stall frames, the fans, the cobwebs, blankets, bales of hay in the aisle, it was just plain pointless to redistribute the dirt that way. Maybe if they'd had a clean as you go policy for hoof pickings etc, there'd have been less dirt to blow, but it was an extremely busy place.
The aisle at my trainer's is just fine to use as a secondary riding area, all the stall fronts have full size doors so no interference. It's actually educational to ride in such a confined space.
The stalls were roughly the same in both places, in need of leveling, LOL.
My trainer does have two matted cement work areas for farrier and grooming.

DH and I have been discussing this and IIRC you need about a foot and a half after everything is said and done for an arena, probably the same for a barn, but drainage in and around the building is your first priority, you want water to go away from the structure, it's probably even more important than in your house. Our pole run in is at the top of the hill, just set there on grade with no preparation AFAIK and even well inside the building there is a muddy area caused by water draining off the roof and ponding at the building edge. My neighbor's place is so bad half of it is a pond. He uses a common method here of round pen panels set up inside the structure free form, when he decides to muck out he uses the tractor and has actually lowered his grade inside the barn due to this. Anyway building a barn starts with site prep, get a good crown that extends beyond the building envelope and center the barn on it. Put gutters on the barn, install French drains or diversion drains to lead water away from or around the structure. Even if you have a perimeter foundation barn you'll be happy you did.

Watermark Farm
Sep. 10, 2010, 01:36 PM
Our barn and attached paddocks are all built on top of compacted baserock, aka "poor man's concrete." We built them 9 years ago and they were compacted using water and a vibratory roller, which is cheap and easy to do yourself.

Our intention was always to go back and pour concrete in the barn's center aisle when we could afford it, but I love this setup so much that I quickly decided not to install concrete. The stalls and center aisle and paddock are all easily raked and swept, and very non-skid. I've had a horse or two blow up in crossties in the center aisle, and they had great grip.

Sep. 10, 2010, 04:03 PM
Matted concrete and proper bedding = no maintenance and better for horses legs.

Dirt = maintenance and bad for horses legs.

Sep. 11, 2010, 01:24 PM
My horses have been in stalls with dirt floors at two places, and we've never had an issue with mud in stalls. I used stall dry when I stripped the stalls, and otherwise had no problems. I have rock dust in my run-in now, because it was muddy, and that is working great so far.

Sep. 11, 2010, 02:16 PM
As you can see, whatever you like, you will be happy with.
Those that say concrete is slick must never have seen a horse slip on slick dirt.

Here is the x-ray of a horse that was standing there and turned around quickly and slipped on not that slick dirt in a pen, after a light shower.
The chip is on the inside of the tibia: