Farmstead Planning - Elite Agri Solutions

Farmstead Planning

Jon Jon|Mar 27, 2023

Elite Agri Solutions strives to provide background information on topics which are hard to research. In cases where no reputable print resources were available for us to reference, we interviewed industry experts, so it is inevitable that the contents of this document will contain inaccuracies and bias. Use this as a resource to help you ask the right questions, not as a source of definitive answers. Elite Agri Solutions and its employee will not be responsible for the consequences of any decision made based on this guide. Where text or data has been copied directly, the sources have been noted, otherwise it can be assumed that all the information in this guide has only been curated by Elite Agri Solutions and is not our original property.

(Information in this document was gathered from OMAFRA, American Extension Agencies, OFA and ASAE)


For maximum efficiency, a solar collector that has a flat surface should always be exactly normal to the sun’s rays. This is achieved with standalone solar installations where the structure moves with the sun throughout the day. If a barn is to be used as the solar collector however, it is not so practical to change the orientation or slope of the building throughout the day. Solar collectors on a farm building may be solar panels generating electricity or solar collectors heating air or fluid. As a good compromise, most collectors are installed to face within 5of the true south. And the angle is set to be close to the average position of the sun for that time of the year.


Optimal Orientation and Angle of Fixed Solar Collector 


Agricultural Buildings and Structures


James A. Lindley

James H. Whitaker

Revised edition


St. Joseph MI

Season Barn Orientation Collector Angle
Winter ± 5o Latitude +15o
Summer ± 5o Latitude -10o
Fall ± 5o Latitude -5o


An increasingly popular option for cold environment barns is the south facing, open front, passive solar design. These barns usually incorporate a feed bunk on the south wall and are protected by a sloping overhang. This overhang is designed so that in the summer months it provides total shade from mid-day sun and in the winter allows sun to penetrate the barn. The width of the overhang is dependent on opening height, the desired location of midsummer shade and the latitude of the building. Since the same principle is used for residential houses, here are numerous online calculators that can assist in planning the overhang height if you search ‘passive solar eave calculator’.

Prevailing Wind

Wind can provide an excellent and low-cost environment for livestock in naturally ventilated buildings. It can also rob heat from a building in the winter, drift snow into the barn yard and push against mechanical ventilation fans. For most of Ontario, the prevailing wind is from the west, so it is standard practice to align natural ventilated barns north-south so that the wind can pass through the narrowest dimension of the barn. For barns with mechanical ventilation, orientation is not as significant, if sufficient weather shielding is provided on both the air inlet and the exhaust fans. Prevailing winds should be considered when odor or dust could affect a house on the farm or nearby neighbors. Wind breaks are important for livestock to be overwintered on a yard or in an open fronted building. In-depth information on wind breaks, shelter belts and drifting snow can be found on the websites of OMAFRA, Agriculture Canada and various other Canadian and American extension agencies.


The first thing to consider is when laying out a new building is what the minimum setbacks required by law are. Even if you have your heart set on having the new barn fitting nicely into the existing barn yard, it might be the case that barn is required to be built further back on the farm or on a totally different site altogether. Municipalities ensure that the provincial Minimum Distance Separation Formulae are met before a building permit is issued and this will determine the acceptable location of most livestock barns.

If you have existing buildings on your farm you understand the long-term implications that siting a building has. Often older buildings are still valuable to the operation, but poorly set-up or in an inconvenient location. When you build a new structure, ask yourself what the farm might look like in a hundred years and how that building will fit in.

One method is

  • draw out what would be reasonably needed to grow over the next 5, 10 and 20 years.
  • Then, throw out all reason and double the size of all the buildings on the 20-year plan

If infrastructure starts to interfere with each other or the barn yard looks congested, consider adjusting your plans

Often locating all facilities on one site makes farm transition more complex. For example, locating an extensive grain elevator on the same farm as a residence and a large dairy barn limits the options for splitting up the farm down the road. If the grain elevator was built on a separate property, the noise and dust from the elevator wouldn’t disturb the house during harvest and the farm could be split into separate cash crop and dairy businesses down the road.

If a house is to be inhabited for the foreseeable future, it should be used as the reference point for the rest of the buildings. In their book “Agricultural Buildings and Structures”, the American Society for Engineering in Agriculture, Food and Biological Systems recommends as a rule of thumb that machinery storage be located 100ft from the house, small animals, grain and feed storage be located 200ft from the house and large animal units be located 300ft from the house.

For operations that have increased vehicle traffic or bio-security protocols, it is important to plan for a second laneway. Signage is important to inform drivers where to go and where to park. A phone number on the sign is useful if enforcing restricted and controlled access zones for biosecurity. It is important to allow a large area for vehicles to turnaround. This doesn’t always mean covering an acre with costly gravel. The use of a grass court in the center of the barn yard, with a perimeter drive is economical on materials, can be used as emergency parking, does not create dust clouds and is aesthetically pleasing.

The topography of the site should be considered for drainage and building locations. Cut and fill is a method of leveling ground that removes topsoil from an area, then uses the sub soil from a high area to build up the subsoil of a low area. This is an economical method for leveling the barn yard but building foundations will require the fill to be compacted and approved by an engineer as it is placed. The engineered fill process can become expensive especially when building long barns that are hundreds of feet long and tens of feet of slope difference.

A site should be grade so that surface water is diverted from buildings, wells, manure storage and can drain freely from the barnyard. Manure tanks that are close to the ground level have potential to take on massive amounts of surface water and overflow during spring melt if grading is incorrect. Ground water pressure is of concern with any building that has a basement or deep pit. Ideally the buildings should be located on a slight rise.

Topography can be a concern for access laneways as well, a steep laneway will be prone to washouts, and can make winter access by some vehicles difficult. A barn that is built along topography lines will fit into the surrounding landscape much better than one cutting though a slope.

If there is a choice between properties when building, consider the above, as well as:

  • strength of water wells
  • access to municipal water
  • access to natural gas
  • access to enough electrical service (potentially three-phase)
  • proximity to public services
  • winter road access

Upgrading natural gas or electrical services can be cost prohibitive, so building on a site with existing infrastructure has financial benefit.

Overhead powerlines pose a hazard when moving large farm equipment, particularly grain augers, if you are installing a new service, it is well worth the extra pennies to install a buried line and pad mount transformer. An added benefit is that the buried cable will not be damaged by collision, falling trees or ice storms.

Fuel storage locations must also be carefully considered, in Ontario the separation distances for above ground fuel tanks are as follows (Information from OFA Fact Sheet: ON-FARM Gasoline & Diesel Fuel Storage):

  • Diesel up to 50,000 liters – 5′ from buildings & 10’ from a property line
  • Diesel up to 2,500 liters – 0′ from a building & 10’ from a property line
  • Gasoline up to 250,000 liters – 10′ from a building & 10’ from a property line
  • Dispensing equipment – 10′ from a property line, 10’ from a highway, 14’9” from an opening in a building, 3’3” from a building.

It is also important to consider the accessibility of the tanks to equipment; enough turnaround room must be given so that fueling large equipment can be done efficiently.

Illinois extension says that where a laneway accesses a highway the transition to the highway should have a radius of 18ft for pickup trucks, 22 ft for grain wagons, 37’ for semi-trailers. They also recommend that at least 5’ be kept clear back from both sides of the approach. A general rule of thumb is that lane ways for single road vehicles be at least 12 ft wide, laneways for farm equipment be 16’ wide, and lane ways for opposing traffic be 24 ft wide. They recommend that the outside radius of a yard should be 55 ft minimum for a transport truck to complete a 180-degree turn.

If a gate is required to be opened to access a laneway, the gate should be set into the property an equal distance as the longest vehicle combination that will be used in that field. This ensures that the operator can quickly clear the roadway and safely open the gate. Cattle guards or ‘Texas gates’ are an alternative that does not require that fencing to be moved, allowing free access for vehicles while confining livestock.

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