Room to grow: How I built my brooder barn

One of the first projects I ran in the borrder barn was this 100 bird layer flock

One of the first projects I ran in the brooder barn was this 100 bird layer flock

In 2009 I hit a crossroads in my life. The recession claimed my job and I suddenly had plenty of free time on my hands… what to do? Well, apparently if you’re me you drop $3k on building materials and build the barn you’ve always wanted!

The Goal: I had a vision of an easy to clean barn with adequate ventilation, great heat retention and the ability to be changed for different needs. I intended to raise chicks for sale, turkeys, broilers and run an egg laying flock (not all at the same time), so I did my best to consider the various needs of those types of uses and built accordingly.

Since I intended to run a layer operation, I had to account for flock size and bird space. A 10’ by 16’ floor space gave me 1.6’ square per bird for 100 layers which would provide a comfortable floor space for the flock, so that’s the direction I went in.

Research: I’d never built a structure of this size on my own before, so some research was called for on my part. Instead of completely winging it I decided to purchase a set of shed plans on line and adapting them to suite my needs. I figured $20 for a set of professional prints was a good investment and I suggest you do likewise if you endeavour to build a structure of any significant size. Also, the help of a more knowledgeable builder buddy was a great assist to this whole project.

Location: I chose a location about 150’+ from the house in an easily accessed but segregated area on the property. Previously, my father and I had erected several structures much closer to the house which made walking to the barns quite convenient, however they made it hard to segregate different areas for the sake of Biosecurity, so I decided to distance this coop from the rest of the structures on the property.

The foundation piers have been laid and leveled to compensate for the grade

The foundation piers have been laid and levelled to compensate for the grade

Foundation: I cleared the building site of brush and trees, but I didn’t level it out. This was more a matter of me being lazy than anything else, especially since I had a loader and backhoe at my disposal. Instead of grading the ground level and using crushed stone I decided to use solid concrete blocks as piers to build off of. I dug below grade, added and compacted fine crushed stone then built out square and level, compensating for the grade of the site. The good thing about using concrete blocks like this is it keeps the floor off the ground and dry, but the downfall is there is now a space under your coop that critters can hide under. Nothing is perfect, but this worked out fantastic for me and 5 years later I haven’t seen any shifting or sinking.

The base of the barn built of 2x6" pressure treated timbers

The base of the barn built of 2×6″ pressure treated timbers

Floor: Once I built the floor framing per the designs specifications I decided to use 3/4” pressure treated plywood as the floor. The base was also built out of entirely pressure treated timber, but that was just me over-engineering things again. Unfortunately, I ordered the wrong size plywood and only had 1/2 PT plywood on hand. What I should have done is ran to the lumber yard for the 3/4” I planned on, but me and my building buddy were too lazy to bother so we used the 1/2” plywood anyway (I’m starting to see a pattern here…).

The floor has been laid on the base. Yes it's level, trust me

The floor has been laid on the base. Yes it’s level, trust me

Floor, Take two: Once we finished covering the floor with 1/2” plywood, we jumped up on the platform to test out the floor. I was not impressed by the amount of give the floor had so to properly atone for my lazy ways, I promptly ran to the lumber yard like I should have done in the first place, but instead I bought more 1/2” PT plywood. Since I already cut and nailed the first sheets I couldn’t return them now, so I just added a second layer of 1/2” plywood to compensate and made sure I shifted my sheet placement to avoid seams running through both layers. Finally, success!

The walls are framed, now for the sheathing

The walls are framed, now for the sheathing

Walls: I deviated from the original plans here and added a hefty dose of winging it. Instead of the typical 24” on center (OC) measurement for shed studs, I opted to use the house standard 16” OC instead so I could use 16” wide R-12 house insulation.

The last thing I wanted to do was have to crouch or risk hitting my head on hanging equipment, so instead of the prescribed height I went the full 8’ tall on the walls to give myself a tall ceiling.

Tim my builder buddy cutting out the window openings.

Tim my builder buddy cutting out the window openings.

For the sake of ventilation and light I included 2 windows on each side wall (the 16’ walls). All 4 windows measure 24” by 48” giving me ample light and a great cross breeze when open. 1/2” hardware wire keeps chickens in and pests out and appropriately sized Plexiglas sheets fit inside the windows to block the draft without blocking the light.

The Door: I wanted a large front door that could open wide for clean-outs so I figured in a 6’ wide double door instead of a pre-hung door like the design called for. I failed to consider the fact that I would only open one of the doors to enter and exit on a daily basis, which would prove to be an irritating nuance of this design. I’ll explain that later.

Trusses going up. We pre-fabricated them then mounted them on top of the walls.

Trusses going up. We pre-fabricated them then mounted them on top of the walls.

Roof: This is where the shed plans really proved their worth. The prints gave me all the measurements and angles I needed to build the appropriate trusses, which is good because I would have been clueless otherwise.

I wanted an overhang for the door end to shield it from the rain and snow, so we added a ladder box to the first truss to extend the roof line. Since the trusses left enough room for a loft I decided to add a floor in the loft before sheathing the roof. I also included a door to the loft and vents on the end panels of the roof.

The ladder boxes on the front truss gave me the overhang I was looking for.

The ladder boxes on the front truss gave me the overhang I was looking for.

I had looked at different styles of roofing, but in the end I decided to use standard asphalt shingles. With the correct tools it goes up faster than I would have expected.

Siding and Interior: Here’s where I went cheap. Both the inside and outside are sheathed in 3/8” plywood. I could have used texture 111 (or T-111 as it’s known) to give it a clap board look, but instead I just painted the plywood and added furring strips painted white to trim out the barn. On the inside I painted the whole thing white and caulked the seam between the floor and the walls to prevent moisture from seeping in from the bedding.

What I like about it: This barn is easy to work in. There’s ample sunlight from the windows, plenty of ventilation when you want it and lots of head room.

Insulating the walls

Insulating the walls

The real bonus for me is the insulation. This barn holds heat really well! Using a propane-fired infraconic heater I can maintain 90°F easily in February and use less than 30Lbs of propane in a week. Using the same system to heat my 8’ by 8’ barn ate a 30 pound propane tank in 36 hours, so this is a huge plus.

The additional bonus I also like is that its easy to clean out thanks to the 6’ wide door and hard floor. Shovel, sweep, done!

what I would change: The door is terrible. Using 1/2 the door for entry and exit makes for an awkward dance when you try to bring in bags of feed. The 6’ double door is the real weak link in this design. If I did it again, I would make the doorway at least 8’ wide. It would also be nice if our tractor’s bucket could actually fit through the door way.

The Loft was a nice thought, but a total waste. With the 8’ ceiling and the raised piers holding up the barn it’s impractical to store anything up there. I could have skipped the loft floor and door for sure.

An example of a gambrel roof arch

An example of a gambrel roof arch

The barn’s roof peak is ridiculously high. If I was to do it over again I would pick a gambrel roof style barn. If I had used that style roof the ceiling would have been as tall as the rafters, eliminated the loft and allowed me to drop the wall height down without loosing head room.

As a side note, I would have roofed the gambrel roof with shingles like before, but I would have opted for a T-50 air stapler shooting a 1/2” long staple into 1/2” plywood. From building smaller coops that I sold to customers I found that this method results in no exposed fasteners underneath to bump your noggin against, unlike standard roofing nails. I have great faith in this method of stapling shingles to roofs and have tested this method in 80mph sustained winds (while driving down I-84, kind of a red-neck wind tunnel), so don’t be shy of this method.

Almost done

Almost done

Lessons learned: Friends are great, but friends with tools are even better! My patient builder buddy brought along his air tools to make the job easy. If you plan to do something similar, run to your local Harbour Freight Tools and buy:

  • A “pancake” compressor
  • framing nailer
  • trim nailer
  • T-50 nailer
  • A box of foam ear protectors

That brings me to another lesson I learned in this project: wear hearing protection! I unfortunately disregarded my own advice and consequently I now have noticeable hearing loss. Don’t under estimate the decibels put forth by air driven nail guns.

Oh, and you can’t do this alone. You need an extra set of hands to set the walls, build the base frame and place the trusses. If you try it alone you will regret it (unless you’re an experienced builder, perhaps you have a few tricks up your sleeve).

Did you find this article inspiring, or do I look like an idiot? Tell me what you think below!

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