Keeping the critters comfy

A barn is a barn is a barn. True? Or false?

No way. Like the animals that inhabit them or the buildings’ uses in the scheme of things on the farm or ranch, barns can be as different, inside and out, as their owners.
Whether they are exotic alpacas or lowly turkeys, dairy cows or aristocratic horses, the characteristics of the breeds determine what is needed in housing and caring for each.

Irresistible alpacas
When Lori and Gary Knapp of Grosse Ile, Mich., got into the business of raising alpacas, they turned to Graber Post Buildings for help. The barn at Knapp’s Island Alpacas, on a modest seven acres, now houses 63 of the docile, sweet-faced alpacas.

Natives of the South American Andes, alpacas need fairly simple living accommodations, says Lori Knapp. While the Knapps’ barn is enclosed, some farms shelter their animals in three-sided barns.

“Alpacas are cold-tolerant because they have their fleece to keep them warm,” says Knapp, adding that they don’t care for rain and need the shelter of an overhang, at least, in wet weather.

Nor do they require separate stalls, as do horses. While the Knapps originally constructed seven stalls, they’ve removed some partitions. Now, most of the males inhabit one area and most females another.

Fairly docile and non-aggressive, the males don’t fight. The animals’ gentle nature, coupled with their cute faces and touchable fleece, makes the Knapps’ farm a popular for school tours and other visitors.

Knapp says groups of seniors also come to visit. When some wheelchair bound visitors couldn’t get off the bus to meet the alpacas, Knapp haltered an alpaca and walked it onto the bus to meet the delighted visitors.

In contrast to horse barns, alpaca barns don’t require areas such as tack rooms, heated areas or special flooring. Knapp says alpacas are happy with gravel underfoot. Eight to 10 alpacas will roam and graze on an acre of pasture and their soft hooves don’t tear up the ground.

Also attractive, says Knapp, is the fact that “they don’t eat like horses,” eliminating the need for the massive covered hay storage. These days, she says, she sets out three bales of hay twice a day to feed a total of 63 animals they either board or own.

Considered fairly clean livestock, alpacas have little odor and know how to train themselves to drop dung in a communal area. The low-odor dung, Knapp says, is great fertilizer for houseplants. Organic farmers in the area stop by to pick up droppings for fertilizer.

Alpaca farmers see their livestock as investments ranging from $5,000 to $50,000, says Knapp. “A nice rose gray female born this year sold for $25,000,” she says. The bottom line is their fleece, “fiber that’s softer than cashmere and warmer than wool,” Knapp says. Each animal is shorn once a year, yielding about five pounds of fleece, which is then sold by weight.

When alpacas were first imported in 1984, Knapp relates, they were all white. Now 22 shades of color are recognized, in variations of brown, black, fawn, rose gray and silver gray.

Let’s talk turkeys
A completely different kind of livestock on a farm in South Dakota is on its way to Americans’ dinner tables. Turkeys, raised in just a matter of months, will be spending their short lives in relative luxury.

Raising turkeys and processing them for market is a mainstay of the Pleasant Valley Colony, a Hutterite community of about 90 people some 50 miles north of Sioux Fall, S.D. The community is currently building two huge post-frame barns enclosed with structural insulated panels.

Each 900 x 68 feet, the barns use Enercept SIPs to help regulate barn temperature. The two barns, plus an existing facility, each will hold 18,000 birds at a time. From day-old chicks to 43-pound average weight adults, 9 million turkeys will pass through the facility each year when the buildings are fully operational next year, says manager Chris Hofer.

“State of the art” is what Hofer calls the operation. “All the newest and best, the most efficient that’s made” is going into the operation that processes turkeys and turkey products for Sara Lee, WalMart and other well-known and lesser-known companies. The meat goes to market fully processed, sliced, cooked, pre-packaged and ready to eat, says Hofer.

Crucial to raising turkeys are temperature, disease control and air quality, according to Hofer.  The day-old chicks are kept at 98 degrees F, Hofer says. Temperatures are lowered about 3 degrees per week until they birds are comfortable at 74 degrees. Any colder, it takes too much feed for the birds to keep warm and they become more costly to raise.

Because of temperature fluctuations on South Dakota prairies, as well as serious concerns about exposure to bird flu strains and other diseases that would be fatal to the flock, Pleasant Valley turkeys are raised entirely indoors.

When summer temperatures soar to 105 degrees outside, indoor barn temperatures are targeted at 80 or lower because turkeys are susceptible to overheating, which is life-threatening. High-pressure misters also help keep the indoor temps down in hot weather.

Ventilation is crucial, too, says Hofer, and the new barns will get a complete air exchange every 45 seconds, helped by under-eave intakes and 16 68-inch fans on each end of the massive 900-foot long barn.

Hofer says the Hutterite community to which he belongs has been raising turkeys since 1973, but other communities got started in poultry in the ’50s.

Today, the Pleasant Valley community has an operation that employs 450 people, a few of whom are Hutterite community members, although the administration of the operation is handled by a board comprised of community members.

Making SIPs for the Pleasant Valley barn project, says Enercept sales manager David Carlson, is “major for us” and “very interesting.” It’s among several similar projects, including hog farming projects, that involve Enercept.

The turkey producers, says Carlson, decided on the SIP panels because they are energy-efficient, strong and able to handle long spans as well as the heavy snow loads dished out by Dakota winters.

In the country’s heartland, business is good. Carlson says a recent show generated 100 building leads for him to quote, including many rural “toy shed” projects. With farmers seeing good times, Carlson explain, many are ready to make improvements to their homes, barns and other ag buildings that they’ve “put on hold.”

“Our economy is ‘hot,’ it’s tremendous,” he says. “Farmers finally have money so they are doing things they’ve wanted to do for 20 years, and because of the energy situation, they’re leaning to high energy-efficient products for their projects,” he says.

Elsie should be pleased
In Upstate New York, building large dairy barns is one of Sam Cottrell’s specialties. A former member of  National Frame Building Association board of directors, Cottrell and his partner, Stuart Hoskins, do business as Hos-Cot Builders. They’ve been in business for 35 years, with Hoskins focusing on commercial projects including firehouses, and Cottrell on ag projects.

Hos-Cot barns — post-frame, of course, and metal-clad — are built to house large herds. “We have some pretty good-sized farms in this area,” says Cottrell. “They’re not ‘mega farms,’ but consist of herds of around 1,200 cows.

That means building large freestall six-row barns, perhaps 110 by 320 feet. Cottrell says he prefers to use Starwood Rafters because there are fewer places for birds to roost. “We used to use materials that provided a lot of webbing,” he said and “it created a mess. With feed stored in the barn it was a bird buffet.”

Today’s well-housed dairy cows enjoy facilities with automatic alley scrapers to keep the place clean, curtains on sidewalls to provide open-air ventilation in amiable weather and thermostatically-controlled heat.

Cottrell says everything his company does is custom work. “If the farmer says ‘I’m new in the area and I want a freestyle barn to milk 500 cows and, oh yes, I need a milking parlor too,’ we’ll design the barn, the traffic area, the milking parlor, everything,” says Cottrell.

Cottrell can talk dairy farming with the best of ‘em. He knows about carousels in milking parlors, what it takes to encourage the cows that have been milked to get off the merry-go-round (some of them enjoy the ride enough to want to stay on for another trip) and about the computerized systems that identify each cow and instantly display her vital, production and health statistics.

Hos-Cot builds four or five barns a year, including all the concrete work and ventilation “everything except the electrical work,” says Cottrell. Average completion time is six to eight weeks, and the company enjoys a healthy backlog of jobs.

Because the company enjoys a good reputation, Hos-Cot people have become known as the “go-to guys.”

“I like what I do, no doubt about that. I like going out and doing everything. I talk to the guy, see what he wants, do my own drawings, price it out. I’m on the jobsite myself. I’m there when the last nail is set.

“Customers can deal with one guy all the way through the project. I’m committed. If they call, I know the answers,” he says.

“We take on the work we can do and, having been in business for 35 years, we have an eight- or nine-month backlog. Because we have good reputation, they (most customers) will wait. They can’t put off calling us until the bulldozer arrives,” he added, laughing. “We’re fortunate to have a great reputation.”

Cottrell says business has been pretty good during the past year. Although dairy is down a bit, Cottrell expects the coming summer to provide a boost because dairy prices are higher than they’ve been for awhile.

Other aspects of his work include farm shops, machine sheds and riding arenas. Interest in horses is growing in the area, he says, and he’s done a dozen or so horse barns in recent seasons.

An equestrian community
Patricia LaFoe of Cape Girardeau, Mo., knew exactly what she wanted when she embarked on her equine project.

LaFoe and her husband, a cardiologist, knew busy people were tired of spending time commuting to the country to enjoy a few minutes with their horses. They also appreciate the desire to live near their animals, escape the pressures of the city and enjoy some of better aspects of a rural lifestyle.

With her three children leaving the nest, it was time for LaFoe to pursue her lifelong interest in horses. “I’m a nurse, but horses are my passion,” she  said.

With the help of an engineering firm and some strong ideas of her own, LaFoe launched Fox Run Stables with business partner Julia Rupke.

The commercial venture offers 20 stalls, an 80 x 150 indoor arena, and plenty of amenities for all its four-legged and two-legged occupants. LaFoe said the facility is particularly suited to training in Western riding, jumping and hunting.

Fox Run, designed for the equine community concept, has sold building lots to others who wish to settle on the 70-acre parcel with access to 1,000 more acres of woodlands, trails and wide-open spaces.

“She knew what she wanted and was very involved with the design when she came to us,” said Steve Keith, Stockade Buildings national sales manager for the central region, describing the angled configuration of the Y-shaped building with its 20 stalls and extensive front porch.

LaFoe said choosing Stockade was an easy decision, based on positive prior experiences with the company. “We felt that Vince Draper would bring to the project the quality and class that we wanted,” she said, citing some of her favorite features such as a slant-walled arena designed so that riders don’t clip themselves on poles. “It’s a wonderful safety feature,” recommended by Draper, she said. “We were happy to incorporate it.”

Other pluses and perks include an attractive front office décor, concrete aisles with a brushed finish to help prevent slips, keep dust down and make cleaning easy. LaFoe also likes the Linear Rubber Products custom floor mats for each stall and timed-release insecticide sprayers from Shoo Fly from Ocala, Fla., above the aisles and stalls.

A second-floor two-bedroom apartment provides space for future staff expansion or unforeseen housing needs.

Fox Run Stables’ web site,, offers more information and ideas for helping other horse lovers make their dreams come true.

Delivering the vision
With several award-winning horse barns to her credit, Vicki Boutin knows her way around post-frame projects. Boutin is a civil engineer who has been convinced of the merits of post-frame for at least nine of the 18 years she’s been in construction.

In fact, she brought several crew members with her when she moved from her former company to Miller Brothers, a large general contractor based in Marshall, Va.

Loyal to Stockade Buildings, Rigidply Rafters, Classic Equine and some other suppliers, Boutin sees herself in the business of helping others achieve their dreams. Her customer-focused outlook means she goes the distance in delivering the customer’s vision. “We sit down and listen to what they want,” Boutin says.

For example, she remembers thinking, “You’ve got to be kidding,” the first time a client asked for a revolving tack room wall. Now, she says, it’s not unusual. And when a client’s daughter asked for a small loft over the tack room as her own special place, Boutin found a way to accommodate, using space-saving “Thomas Jefferson stairs” similar to some Jefferson used in his Virginia home, Monticello.

Working from her home base in Berkeley Springs, W.Va., Boutin does a lot of smaller barns, including one that won a Stockade national award. She’s also headed large-scale projects such as a resort barn with arena

All this brings high praise from Stockade’s Steve Keith. “Vicki’s doing the best in the horse barn area right now,” he says.
“It’s all first class.”

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