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Steps to planning your dream farm

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  • Steps to planning your dream farm

    My husband and I bought our first farm last March, a 28-acre farm with lots of pasture, some woods, and a relatively blank palette. There is a "rustic" barn I am using for my two horses (no electric) and electric fence around the perimeter of the large 15-acre pasture. The house is new and is in the back corner of the property. There are random deciduous trees here and there with no real plan or visual appeal.

    So here's where I could use help. Where do you start when trying to determine where things go, specifically a new barn, an arena, permanent fencing/paddocks, landscaping, trotting track, trailer parking, etc.? Do we seek the help of an architect? A landscape architect? A farm specialist?

    We do have a landscaper coming for a consult (mostly on where to plant trees we ordered) and a barn builder coming to give recommendations about siting a barn, but I'm not sure a single visit is going to reveal all the answers. It's one of those visual and operative things where you want to try and envision the right thing when there's nothing there -- and it's not obvious where to put things.

    Anyone go through this that can lend some advice? We are very lucky to have this farm and want to do things right. It will take some time for us to get to the finish, so we'll have to do this in stages. What should come first? Barn? Fencing? Ring? Plantings? And who should I consult for a good solid plan?

    Thanks for any help!

  • #2

    Wow, first of all congratulations!

    I think one of the first things you need to do is plan the site for your barn if you are planning on building a new one. You want to be sure its accessible year round for things like your vet, farrier, feed and bedding delivery, etc, so if you can't put it close to the house, road, or driveway, you might have to think about actually putting in a gravel road or such. Definitely you'll also want water and electricity... so site it for the most economical way to get those lines run to it.

    Then I'd plan out the best site for pastures and paddocs. Obviously, if you want a riding ring... pick the flattest area you have for that. A Good farm consultant will probably be worth what you pay him when you get to that stage.

    I'd put trees and such last on the list, unless you need a windbreak. Horses are generally very hard on trees, so anything you put in a pasture will probably have less than a 50-50 chance at survival.

    Good luck with the new place... is it OK to say I am soooooo jealous.
    Lowly Farm Hand with Delusions of Barn Biddieom.
    Witherun Farm


    • #3
      Wow, congrats

      Jealous here as well.

      Hereabouts, (Central KY), we have architect/landscapers specializing in horse farm layout. They'll take your lot, do a topographic survey and research all that good stuff like runoff/drainage and orientation to the sun and wind, then plan out your facility for you, site-ing whatever you ask for in a pleasing and economical way. Of course, here they even have their own heading in the yellow pages.

      I think that if you contact the AIA they may be able to put you in touch with someone in your area that can do that - some contractors can do it, or find a person who can, and some landscape architects do it. Since you have some people coming out already ask them, they may either offer the service or know someone who does. If you have the money to pay for it up front, an elegant and well-thought out plan will save money over time, even if you choose to build in stages. Good luck!
      Courageous Weenie Eventer Wannabe
      Incredible Invisible


      • #4
        Do yourself a favor and hire an equine farm planner specialist. There are issues that you and someone not experienced in such things will NEVER think about that can be critical to the success of your layout.

        When we began planning for my outdoor and new barn/indoor, we spent literally months poring over topographical layouts of our property, and cut out paper scale "models" of the anticipated structures and played with them on the topographical maps. We have a very non-flat property, so topography was a HUGE issue for us. Once we came up with what we wanted where, we hired a planning specialist to evaluate the plan, make any recommended changes, calculate cut/fill specs, rainwater diversion, required elevation changes for successful drainage, etc. It was WELL worth the money. Everything works beautifully.

        When I planned my field layouts, I began with a scaled line-drawing map of the property, with all of the buildings/structure footprints to scale, and just started messing with it (my background is in graphics, so I have all the software to be able to do it on my computer). My goal was to have access to the fields as convenient to the barn as possible, while making the most efficient use of the pastures and existing fence lines. I ended up removing some (but not a lot) of the existing fencing, and building a lot of new to section off the existing three very large pastures. I also had my own specific requirements about how many horses I would ever have on the property, how many horses I wanted turned out together (no more than 2 in most fields) how large each field needed to be in order to accommodate that number without having my fields overgrazed, and how many fields I would need in order to have sufficient room to rotate my pastures. One other thing I did that some people don't think about is put gates between ALL of my adjoining pastures. That way, I can open two pastures up to one if I want, and it provides an extraordinary amount of flexibility. Again, the planning ahead was worth it, as everything works as planned.

        Good luck, and please consider hiring someone to at least look at whatever plan you come up with. Many of them will help you as little or as much as you want (or can afford), but the money you'll spend will pay off in the long run.
        Whoever said money can't buy happiness never owned a horse.


        • #5
          Congrats. Your situation is simalar to us. we bought 30 acres with nothing on it. Besides the planners that have already mentioned think about what you want before they come in. Also check regulations - setbacks from things like property lines, septic systems. Do you have power lines that you will need to keep access to. Think about views from the house and convience from the house. Will you be breeding or any other reason to put in lines for camera (like on Marestare). Think about hay storage in the future - are you increasing the number of horses and might need round bale storage. We did a separate well for the barn - then if one fails, there is water at the other location until it can be repaired. Have the house set-up for an electric back-up system (e.g., generator), again you can always haul water from the house in an extended outage. My last suggestion - think about weather/wind patterns - if you live where there is snow, buildings will change where the snow drifts and evergreens along areas like driveways could provide shade and inhibit melting, if you have an outdoor you don't want the predominant winds constantly blowing sand/dust into your house or on your cars. Good luck
          Epona Farm
          Irish Draughts and Irish Draught Sport horses

          Join us on Facebook


          • #6

            I also recommend the help of an expert to address planning, accessiblity, convenience, useage, maintenance, and topographical issues!

            At both my farmettes (old and new), there is no road or driveway to the barn, so you have to drive across the yard and through a field when you need a hay or feed delivery, or the blacksmith comes. This is a pain when the ground is soft.

            And every time it rains I am very thankful that the person who build the place excavated around the house and barn, so nothing floods!!!

            Finally, the gate to my riding ring is too narrow for a dump truck to squeeze through, and I really need to put more footing in there. Unfortunately, I will have to remove gate posts that are sturdy and concreted in, to get the footing delivered.
            Man plans. God laughs.


            • #7
              What you're describing is half the fun in planning a place. But if it's a little overwhelming, some expert advice will make you feel better and more confident.

              Is there a local college or University near you with en Equine Studies program? Those programs often offer courses in farm design, and a project like yours might be an excellent "midterm" for a class full of enthusiastic young students, with help from a professor. You might get a dozen or more plans and a hundred good ideas, and would be helping the students at the same time.
              Click here before you buy.


              • #8
                One of the biggest issues I have noticed visiting small farms is not enough space for trailer turn around. You need ample room to turn around a horse trailer/hay wagon/dump truck of shavings, etc. Make sure you can do all these things even when the ground is wet!


                • Original Poster

                  Wow, great ideas!

                  Thanks everyone. Deltawave, you get most creative idea. Would never have thought of this being a project for students.

                  After meeting with a barn builder yesterday, we got a few good ideas for barn siting (mostly dealing with higher spots on the property and the direction of wind flow). It cemented for us what several of you have suggested: that hiring a site planner is what we need to do. I *love* the idea of having a true topographical map model reflecting the buildings and the existing grading of the property, with little paper barns and arenas and cross-country jumps to move around! I don't know how expensive it is to get this kind of model built, but my husband thinks we can do it with cardboard. (?!)

                  We got a good recommendation for a site planner from the barn consultant and put a call in yesterday. I think once we have a plan in place, we can make the baby steps toward implementation over several years.

                  For those of you who are jealous, it's fine to feel that way but you can do what I did if you put your mind to it! I was like that for years until we made a big move to make this happen. We got lucky finding an incredible deal with the downturn in the market. We live in the south now, not my favorite place politically, but it's incredible how much further our money goes here. It is also a lot more work, so if you don't have that farm yet, enjoy whatever free time you may have~

                  Thanks again everyone!


                  • #10
                    Congrats on what sounds like a lovely farm.

                    My best advice is plan for your convenience and your horses'.

                    Place the barn as close to the house as possible - makes those late Winter trips less of a PITA.

                    A frost-free pump and electric for the barn are not luxuries - they are cannot-live-withouts

                    If you can setup free acess from stalls to pasture it makes your horsekeeping a lot easier. Horses tend to stay out so stalls need less cleaning.

                    I agree with everyone who said make gates wide enough for a truck to get through.

                    And don't get rid of that old barn. If you can save it, it can be your haybarn or store equipment.

                    So when do we get to see pics?
                    *friend of bar.ka*RIP all my lovely boys, gone too soon:
                    Steppin' Out 1988-2004
                    Hey Vern! 1982-2009, Cash's Bay Threat 1994-2009
                    Sam(Jaybee Altair) 1994-2015


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by flaxenmane View Post
                      I *love* the idea of having a true topographical map model reflecting the buildings and the existing grading of the property, with little paper barns and arenas and cross-country jumps to move around! I don't know how expensive it is to get this kind of model built, but my husband thinks we can do it with cardboard.
                      You should be able to get a 2-dimensional version of the topography of your property from your county or state planning office (it has lines indicating elevations and you can tell from the lines how slowly or quickly the elevations drop/rise). That's what we used, and then enlarged it to a workable size, and scaled the paper "structures" (also 2-dimensional) to that size. You don't really need a 3-dimensional model. I'm fortunate, though, that my husband has the background and necessary tools to take elevation measurements, which we then transferred to the map, which helped us make a lot of decisions before we hired the planner.
                      Whoever said money can't buy happiness never owned a horse.


                      • #12
                        Let's just say I am very happy for you

                        Your site planner ought to be able to offer you a 3-d model, for extra $$$ of course. All architects can do that, along with making cute cardboard mockups of buildings. A day of time for a land surveyor, maybe two if the place is big, and about two weeks later you can have an exact scale topographic model of your place, as it is now or after any grading that is part of the proposal. And yes, they are made out of layers of cardboard, sometimes thin board you get at the artist supply store. It's fun building them. Sort of like a torte.

                        I'm jealous because your slate is blanker than mine - I really enjoy our place but the idea of clearing the woods and losing all our box turtles, (I've been able to identify four individuals so far), and the resident doe that beds on the other side of drainage one and had her fawn there this Spring, and cutting down the huge seed oaks and red! maples; and watching turkeys perch high in the trees, well, the place just isn't big enough for us to have the "ultimate" horse facility and keep the wildlife happy. Or the DH, who loves to bow hunt. I'm trying to figure out now how to perimeter fence to keep the stinkin' dogs and coyotes out but still let the fawns pass through. It can pass easily through the stranded barb wire around the neighbor's horse pasture, but I really do.not.want to keep that stuff.

                        Maybe after a few years here I'll get over it, after all the beasties devour my garden a few times.
                        Courageous Weenie Eventer Wannabe
                        Incredible Invisible


                        • #13
                          I recommend getting one of Cherry Hill's books on farm planning. They are very helpful, and are available through Amazon.com. I have the one re building a farm on small acreage, but I think the principles are excellent for any size farm because the focus is on efficiency and the best ways to use space generally.

                          As you can imagine, there are numerous considerations. But, among these, do consider:

                          - driveway -- make sure it can accomodate trucks and trailers, and that it is easy for these to turnaround (or better yet, make one that loops so you don't have to back up to turn around).

                          --sun/wind: My barn aisle runs due East / West, and we find that the barn is cooler in summer and warmer in winter than exterior temps. The wind here comes mainly from the North, so the barn orientation helps to shield against that;

                          -drainage: build the barn on a relatively high part of your property to help avoid flooding;

                          --turnout: ideally, pastures will be well-located so that you can turn out/bring in easily. My barn and home are centered on our property; all paddocks surround the buildings, and you don't need to go more than 50 feet to get to any particular paddock gate.

                          --fencing: fence and cross fence with safe fencing that permits rotational grazing. I would also build a small dry lot.

                          --water/electricity: I recommend autowaterers in the fields. They conserve a lot of water (critical in a drought if you are on a well) and will save a lot of time over dumping/ cleaning troughs. At each of our fields, we also installed a frost-free pump and electric receptacle for emergency backup in case a waterer fails (receptacle would be to power a water heater).

                          --storage - make sure you have ample storage in the barn. Separate hay storage, as well as a shed for a tractor and other barn equipmnt would be ideal

                          --manure management: think about how and where you will be dumping manure, and how you will dispose of it from there (e.g., compost and spread, have it hauled away, etc). Make sure the pile is easily accessible with a tractor or truck.

                          --arena: if you plan on building a ring, figure out what the best / most economic spot to develop would be. That stretch of land that looks flat may in fact have a sufficiently large drop off that a lot of cut and fill would be needed -- and cutting and filling gets expensive pretty quickly. Drainage is also a paramount issue for a ring.
                          Roseknoll Sporthorses


                          • #14
                            Live on it for a while, learn where the wind comes through, where the sun shines, WHERE THE DRAINAGE IS. It will come. Kind of like not building sidewalks initially, just see where people walk and then pave over the paths.