Planning a New Beef Housing Facility: Some important design features to consider

Beef cattle production takes place mainly on three types of cattle facilities: cow - calf operations, backgrounding operations and feeding operations (finishing barn). Typically, backgrounding and feeding operations are confined areas that are an open lot, open lot with barn (shelter), or total confinement (only barn).

Siting the Facility

Many studies show that confined livestock facilities with open lots pose environmental risk to land and water. Surface runoff and leachate from manure piles in open lots make their way to land and water if not contained properly. Drainage and streams near the livestock operation act as potential conduits in transporting these nutrients. Producers should consider siting their livestock facility away from such drainage and streams to reduce environmental risk. In Ontario, any livestock facilities that house nutrients (manure) should be located at a minimum flow path distance of 50 meters from the nearest surface water (O. Reg. 267/03). Also, all subsurface tiles within 15 meters of the facilities have to be removed (O. Reg. 267/03).

Production facilities should be located in an area where there is no potential for standing water. Select an area that is sloped between 2 to 6 % to facilitate proper drainage system. Avoid slope above 6% because it is difficult to control the drainage at higher slopes, and pollutants could be released to nearby water bodies. Avoid areas with very porous soils. Soil maps should be used to examine soil properties. Also, areas with a high water table should be avoided.

Facility Orientation

Site specific weather issues (also called microclimates), such as prevailing wind, and solar radiation are other critical factors that needs to be considered while planning a livestock housing facility. Cattle can handle extreme cold but not heat combined with high humidity. Beef housing structures should be oriented to provide protection from solar radiation in summer. In Ontario, the recommended orientation of animal housing facilities with natural ventilation has been north-south. This allows prevailing westerly wind in the summer to blow in through the open side walls (east-west). However, some builders argue that facilities that have side walls open to east-west allow greater penetration of the morning and evening sun. If sunlight penetration is a concern, facilities can be oriented based on local site conditions to avoid extensive exposure to solar radiation during the summer.

The open end of a mono-slope barn should be protected from winter, wind and snow. In Ontario, since prevailing winds tend to shift northwest during the winter, smaller wall openings should face the north side. Barns that are open to the south will maximize the summer breeze, allow winter sun penetration, and will control winter wind. Locate barns away from large trees or structures to avoid draft within the building and snow load on the roof.

Facility Design

Modern cattle feeding facilities are generally wood or metal frame buildings with metal roofing. Buildings could be both mono-slope and gable roof type. Fabric covered hoop barns are also common for beef cattle housing.

A roof slope of at 1.5:12 for mono-slope or 2.5:12 for gable roof with at least 3 meters of clear sidewall openings are recommended for adequate natural ventilation for buildings up to 30 meters wide (Mid-West Plan Service - MWPS, 2013). Mono-slope barns that open at the south side have the benefit of allowing good sunlight penetration in winter, which helps to maintain dry bedding conditions.

Barns are constructed with either solid floors or concrete slats over liquid manure storage. The base for a solid bedded floor can be concrete, compacted clay or limestone. The type of floor plays an important role in the everyday operation of the facility. Producers should consider a number of factors prior to deciding which type of floor best meets their requirements:

  • Solid floor bedded facilities are typically wider than the slat barns because cattle are given more floor area: 13 to 15 square meters per head versus 6 to 8 square meters per head for total slats.
  • Solid floors needs to be bedded with bedding materials such as straw, sawdust, woodchips or manure pack. This adds extra cost for bedding.
  • Bedded pack barn requires additional labour hours for bedding and cleaning of alleys. Manure handling is simpler in a slatted floor barn.
  • In slatted floor barns, manure is stored under the barn. A separate area will be required for solid manure storage in a solid floor barn.
  • Initial investment for slatted floor barns is high and these barns tend to have higher equipment costs.
  • Manure from slatted floor barns has a higher nutrient value.

Typical layout involves a feed alley on one side of the barn with a drive through alley to deliver feed. A second feed alley is recommended if the barn width exceeds 12 meters. The alleys should slope (6% to 8%) away from the feed bunk to keep the feed dry (MWPS, 2013). The feed alley should be 3.5 to 4 meters wide and the drive through alley at least 6 meters wide to allow movement of equipment.

A water supply system should be designed to meet the maximum demand. Consider daily water needs of 34 L per 1000 pounds live-weight in winter and 68 L in the summer (MWPS, 2013). Provide 2.5 to 7 cm of linear waterer space per animal. In barns with slotted floors, waterers should be located some distance from the feed bunk so that animal traffic improves manure passage through the slats and reduces feed deposition in the waterer. In a bedded pack barn, a waterer should be installed on concrete slabs that have a rough surface and are sloped away from the waterer to minimize animal slipping. Waterers can be located within a pen divider to serve two adjacent pens. In slotted barns, waterers can also be located at the centre of the pen providing access to more animals from all sides.

If bale feeders are being used, bar spacing in the feeder should be between 20 to 30 cm, depending on the size of cattle. Use 25 cm (larger spacing) for cattle that are above 350 kilograms. For a feed bunk, linear space required for cattle depends on the feeding frequency. The following table gives recommended linear bunk space for cattle of different sizes.

Table: Feed Bunk Dimension Guidelines for Twice - Daily Feeding*

Minimum Linear bunk space in inches Calves (weight <600 lb) Finishing (weight 600 lb - market) Cows (weight >1100)

When limit fed


Feed present most of the time

8 - 10

Minimum when fed ad libitum*


Source: MWPS Publication AED 60

*Animals fed only once daily or fed a high forage ration may require a larger bunk.


Producers need to take a holistic approach while planning a new barn for beef cattle. Investment in new facility is a significant economic decision. Consult with knowledgeable professionals and other producers before a commitment is made.


  1. Higgins, S., Wightman, S., Lehmkuhler, J. Feedlot Design and Environmental Management for Backgrounding and Stocker Operations. in: ID-202. Univ. Kentucky Coop. Ext. Serv., Lexington; 2013.
  2. Jones D., Lemenager R., Foster K., Doran B., Euken R., Shouse S. Cattle Feeding in Monoslope and Gable Roof Buildings (revised 2013). In: MWPS Publication AED 60.

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