“A barn is only as good as the farmer using it,” Illinois contractor Jim Peters (a 1998 Rural Builder Hall of Fame inductee) believes, noting that a barn properly built, but poorly used is a waste of everyone’s time and effort. That’s why it was a special pleasure for him in 2016 to build a solar barn for the Borchardt family in Caledonia, Illinois, to house weaned calves up to breeding-age heifers.
The Borchardts—Gregg, Patricia and their son Luke—raise international prize-winning Ayrshires at the Family AF-AYR Farm. It’s a farmer’s farm. “They’re good livestock people,” said Peters.
The family, which operates a milking operation of about 140 cows, wanted a barn that offered an open-air environment for the cattle and one that was easy to maintain. They chose solar believing that it would keep the barn drier and warmer in cold Northern Illinois winters.
The Borchardts nixed their original plans to have curtains on both the north side and south side of the barn in preference for a modified 2 x 9 foot solar overhang on the south side. That helps block the south winds and blowing rain and snow, along with providing protection for the exterior feed alley it covers.
The extra overhang, however, called for a closer look at the ventilation system.
Peters is a Wick dealer operating his own business, Freeport Builders, so he turned to Wick engineers to help him with the customized ventilation design.
“We worked diligently on the ventilation to get it right,” Peters said, noting that “in the early days of solar barns, the solar ridge would be long and narrow so we borrowed from what another builder did and came up with a 12 inch overhang [at the top],” Peters said.
The pens are 20 feet wide and provide ample moving room for the animals, and the lack of any post obstructions makes for easy maintenance chores. “It’s just a beautiful arrangement,” said Peters. The Borchardt family designed the pens and did the gate and hardware installation and welding themselves.
Gregg Borchardt explained that having no posts in the bedded pack area, only gates, helps with maintenance. Heavy-duty bolt latches hold the gates together in the middle, “so when you clean the barn or bed it, you just open that latch and the whole backside of the shed is open,” he said.
The Borchardts are happy with their new barn. “It was kind of a mild winter, but we didn’t have any problems having the south side completely open,” Gregg said. “Having the solar panels come down gives it a little more protection along the front.” What’s more, Borchardt added, “there’s still plenty of clearance to drive the tractor under there.”
This is not the first barn Peters has built for the Borchardts. He built two others in 2004 that were compost bedded pack barns, a new concept in the Midwest at the time. Gregg said the family’s familiarity with Peters’ work, his background in ag construction, and a competitive bid helped win them over for a third barn.
So important is tending to the cows and their every need, that the Borchardt family has recently installed cameras so they can watch their animals from inside the house.
- Project: 56 feet wide x 200 feet long solar calf and heifer barn for Family AF-AYR Farm, Caledonia, Illinois
- Builder: Jim Peters, Freeport Builders
- Building System: Post-frame from Wick Buildings Inc.
- Unique features: Customer- and builder-modified solar overhang and ridge vent design for better ventilation and weather protection. An extra 2 feet x 9 feet total cover over feed alley. DripStop to protect steel from deterioration from potential manure fumes.
- Foundation or structural components:
Concrete wall foundations, all sides.
- Doors: Four 14 foot by 12 foot overhead doors by
Raynor Doors, Dixon, Illinois;
- Unique accessories: NORBCO-North side ventilation curtains; NORBCO headlocks on feed aisle, south side.
[Article by Sharon Thatcher, Rural Builder Magazine]