Construction Checklist: Building a New Livestock Barn

10-21-2016 in Livestock

Harvest is well underway in Iowa, and as fields continue to open up across the state many livestock farmers will be ready to begin construction of new livestock barns. There are several fundamental steps that need to be addressed prior to and during the building process. Follow the Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmers new construction checklist to help you evaluate your progress.

Step 1: Location, Location, Location

Finding the ideal site for your livestock or poultry barn is a critical first step. Although the initial site you have in mind might be the best fit for your farm, it’s imperative to also consider the site’s separation from your neighbors, major water sources or wells, public use areas and other business entities or utilities. Other siting considerations include the size of the barn, manure holding structure capacity, land availability for nutrient utilization, land availability for establishment of a windbreak, prevailing winds and opportunities for future growth on the site.

Step 2: Reviewing the Rules & Regulations

Depending on the scale of your proposed project, certain rules and regulations will apply to your livestock farm. In addition to calculating the number of Animal Units (AU) on your site, you will also need to determine if you need to file a Manure Management Plan (MMP) with the Iowa DNR and if any county or state permits are required. You should also verify your proximity to other livestock barns and how you will handle animal mortalities.

Step 3: Managing Your Fertilizer Source

Manure Management Plans (MMPs) are required for new farms with 500 or more animal units, but all livestock farmers can follow these simple steps to improve their manure management practices. Remember to keep a detailed record of your application methods, review and update your plan annually, and utilize soil testing to better identify the N, P and K values of your manure. It’s also important to stay up to date with your manure applicator certification, calibrate your spreaders for uniform application and to assess your emergency response plan.

Step 4: Notifying the Neighbors

Once you’ve confirmed your site meets or exceeds the rules and regulations, visit with your neighbors to communicate your plans at least four weeks prior to dirt work or construction. Be sure to share what types of best management practices you intend to apply at your new site and discuss your time frame for incorporating manure. If your neighbors have questions or concerns, remember to listen to them and respond in a timely manner. This is an important step in building trust among your community.

Step 5: Construction Planning and Preparation

As a general rule of thumb, factor in at least eight months from site selection to project completion. Prior to construction, survey your excavation needs and consider visiting with other farmers about their facilities before contracting with a builder. Ensure all necessary paperwork is properly filed with the DNR or county officials before proceeding. At the end of the day, you are accountable for your building site. Request frequent updates from your builder, demand quality and finish landscaping as soon as possible after construction is complete.

Step 6: Calculating Financial Feasibility

In addition to siting, rules and regulations and neighbor relations, think about whether or not you are financially positioned to achieve your construction goals. Ask yourself if you have sufficient equity and borrowing capacity as well as a long-range budget, cash-flow and a repayment plan. Be realistic about your expected return on investment and whether or not you have sufficient labor available to manage added livestock capacity.

The Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmers is here to help you navigate your livestock endeavors. Whether your building a new barn or expanding an existing site, the Coalition can provide you with free and confidential assistance for siting, interpreting rules and regulations and enhancing neighbor relations. For more information, visit or call 1-800-932-2436.

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