Barns of the 2010s require quality workmanship

2013-03-11T13:21:00Z Barns of the 2010s require quality workmanshipBy ANDREA JOHNSON Assistant Editor Minnesota Farm Guide
March 11, 2013 1:21 pm  • 

Farmers who build barns in this decade can benefit from adopting some elements that were common in the strong and large barns of the late-1800s.

With strong timber frames of oak and pine, the barns built between 1880-1940 remained straight and true. In fact, hundreds of these old barns are available to purchase, disassemble and reassemble for new uses, because the wood is such high quality.

Today’s barns are also being built strong and with high quality. They have to be built strong to withstand fast winds, significant storms and heavy snow loads.

As in the past, today’s barns provide a method for farm families to make a living raising livestock, storing feed and covering machinery. Barns in the 2010s also need offices, biosecurity measures, manure handling facilities and more.

And the barns of today are often big. Dairy, hog and cattle barns have all increased in size.

“Things have changed, a paradigm difference as far as size. Forty years ago, it may have taken 20 buildings to hold the number of cows that are now put up in one barn,” said Larry Jacobson, University of Minnesota professor and Extension engineer in the Department of Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering.

Standard grow-finish hog barns are built to house 2,400 head, usually in two rooms holding 1,200 head each. The industry standard for sow facilities is now 3,000-5,000 sow units, he said.

During the July 2011 heat wave, thousands of feedlot cattle perished. The beef industry has now started building high-roofed confinement barns with curtained walls, slatted floors and manure pits.

“We’re seeing this trend of actually putting these steers and finishing cattle inside rather than in outside lots for a number of reasons. Manure management is one, but heat is another,” said Jacobson. “The primary need for putting animals in confinement buildings in Minnesota is during our warm summers – not during our cold winters.

“We’re seeing historical trends to warmer and more humid conditions. That’s making it worse.”

Packers are demanding black or red hides, and -- like wearing a heavy black coat in the summer -- the dark hides draw in solar heat in the feedlot. The confinement barn offers shade and air movement to keep the cattle eating and comfortable.

New barns and farm buildings require contractors and builders with expertise, skills and good equipment.

“There are professional engineers that are designing, building and helping to oversee building some of these barns, and those are happening, but they are still in the minority,” Jacobson said.

He encourages each farmer to look for a contractor who is a leader in the industry – whether that’s pork, beef or dairy barns or machine sheds and shops.

“There are some people that have stepped forward in certain areas – like the pork industry will put up a lot of barns -- and it is known these people will handle things,” he said. “There is always room for improvement – always some challenges.

“Usually one of the things that can be problematic can be ventilation or the environmental control system in livestock barns. It might be a manure management issue, or how that fits in, or putting the system together.”

He recommends talking to farmers who have recently built facilities, and asking for a tour.

“Just like anything else, the lowest bid is typically not the best building,” he said. “It depends, and just make sure everybody has all the same components in their bids.”

The Minnkota Agri-Builders & Equipment Association is one organization designed to help agricultural builders, equipment suppliers, contractors and consultants keep up with the latest information in ag construction.

Organized by Jacobson and Steve Pohl, South Dakota State University Ag and Biosystems Engineer, the association offers animal agriculture building updates at an annual symposium each March.

“We formed this MinnKota group quite a few years ago to try to lift up the knowledge of a lot of these folks that are putting up farm buildings,” said Jacobson. “Most of the barns put up are not done by a licensed engineer. They are probably a builder who has a lot of experience. Some of them are very good, very professional.”

To learn more about the Minnkota Agri-Builders & Equipment Association, contact Steve Pohl at 605-688-5662 or email

Visit to see many circa-1900 barns ready for salvage and reuse.

Copyright 2015 Minnesota Farm Guide. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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