A blog about all things rural and agritourism related

Farm Yard Design

Tags: , , , , , ,     Categories: sustainable design, Technical

When the helicopter photographers come knocking at your door each year asking if you would like a photo taken of your farmstead from the air. Do you shudder at the mess and disorganization of the yard, or are you proud to see the life you have built. If your like most farmers, its a combination of both. You have a beautiful piece of land and farmstead, but the mess of tractors and projects in the yard leaves much to be desired. The last time my parents had the photo taken, (and google as well) the yard was immaculate because a wedding was going to occur in the following few days (mine) and we had to clear room for the many guests. But I digress…The layout of your farmstead is an important part of farm design and there are many factors to consider.

1. View from the road

There is a tendency to arrange buildings perpendicular or parallel to the road. But we have to remember that these roads, drawn by a surveyor in an office randomly cut concessions through the landscape when they divided the lots in the townships. It is human’s nature to rationalize and organize the landscape to our will, (but that’s my artsy side coming out and post all on its own). The roads have no relationship to anything other than the ruler. They don’t compensate for creeks, drainage, sun paths, wind, mountains, etc. That being said we still want the barn, house, or farmyard to look appealing from the road. It should be understood where the house and barns are, where the laneway is, etc.

2. Wind Patterns

East wind is all it takes to make my mother-in-law shudder! The pig barn is about 300 ft east of the house, so when the uncommon occurrence of an east wind sweeps through the area it brings all the wonderful smells of pig farming with it! When you choose your site for a barn that might have smells associated with it, think about the prevailing winds of your area. In Southwestern Ontario the summer winds are generally from the south-west and the winter winds are from the north-west. locating a bad small to the west of the house is probably not a good idea, put the garden to the west.
You can also take advantage of natural ventilation in your barn or house if you understand you local wind patterns. Natural ventilation can remove hot air from a barn and keep air moving in the heat of summer. The cold winter winds can also encourage air movement int he winter, reducing the need for mechanical ventilation and energy consumption.

3. Sun Paths

The sun makes predictable paths through the seasons and can provide a building or yard with twofold advantages if we pay attention to the sun paths; light and heat.

The sun can provide the interiors of our buildings with free light! i.e. no electricity bill! There are technologies that can help regulate the light switch automatically so that energy savings are maximized when sufficient natural daylighting is available. The light also affects what the farm yard might be like, or where to plant your garden. Buildings cast shadows onto your yard, so you need to consider locations for new buildings relative to existing uses.

The second benefit from the sun is heat. Capturing the heat from the sun is a bit more difficult, but can result is huge savings in heating bills. By allowing the sun to shine into our buildings and capturing it using heat sinks like concrete floors we can achieve these savings. The sun even made it easy for us, in the summer the sun shines down on us from a very steep angle, and in the winter it is a very shallow angle. So in the summer using overhangs we can keep the heat from the sun out of the building when we don’t want it, but allow it under the overhangs in the winter when we do want the free heat.

4. Relationship to Other Buildings

Your farmyard is an important part of the farm, its where all the activity happens. Walking distances between buildings is important. Driving and turning space for tractors with wagons is also important. Make sure the milk truck or feed truck can get access to a building is key to an effective site design.

There are other relationships between buildings that can be designed into a site plan. Perhaps your building is a tall shed, it can protect a sensitive chicken coup from cold winter winds, or a pig barn from hot sun rays. There also may be energy connections between buildings

5. Regulations

Minimum distance regulations are a big part of siting buildings on farms. The regulation takes into account type of animal, smells, manure, and proximity to other buildings and your property line. More information on MDS can be found

Be sure to check local zoning by-law at your municipality for permitted uses and conditions on your property.

6. Topography

The bank barn is the prime example of how topography can play into building siting. The natural hills (or man-made if none can be found), allow easy access to multiple levels of a barn or house. Hills can also provide microclimate areas. Every hill has a warm side and a cold side, use this to your advantage.

7. Existing Services

Electricity, Septic, water are likely all existing on your property. Running these services long distances across your property can be time consuming and expensive. You want to ensure that distances are reasonable and efficient.

Site Design is a complex equation without clear answers, or one solution. Many of the factors above are simple, no-brainer decisions that don’t cost anything and can improve the building’s operation and efficiency. It’s all about what is a priority for you and your operation. What are the factors you use in designing your farmyard? Feel free to contact me if you want assistance in balancing all these aspects of site design. Good luck with your aerial photo shoot!

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