Old Bank Barns: What to Look for When Buying a Farm

ArticleHow to - General Equine AdviceFriday 20 January 2012

If you are looking to buy a farm there is a good chance that you have seen many old-style bank barns.  Some are in excellent shape, others are barely standing.  When your goal is to keep horses in that barn, it is important that you know what to look for.

Going in the Door

When looking at a bank barn, you need to start from the first place you go in, the door.  Many bank barns have only small doorways, better suited to small animals like goats or sheep.  When considering a barn for equine use, you need to make sure that the main doorway is at least 4’ wide.  The doorframes should be high enough that a horse can easily pass under it without having to drop its head excessively.  

There should be at least two entrances, one for regular use, and one in case of emergency.  Once you pass through the doorway there needs to be adequate space for the horse to enter safely, and move into the aisle to get to his stall.

Check the Ceiling

Far too many horses have been hurt or killed by hitting their heads on a too low ceiling.  Many old bank barns have low ceilings that are not suited to horses.  Others have a decent ceiling, but have beams that drop excessively low.  You need at least a 7’ ceiling in a barn, preferably 8’ or more.  That gives the horses plenty of head room and decreases the risk of injury to the poll.

Look at the Floor

Many bank barns have cement floors.  This isn’t too bad if the floor is even, but often it consists of many raised sections, and even places with no cement at all.  These irregular floors are not safe for horses.  You will need to break out the cement so that the floor is level throughout the barn.  This is a lot of work, and involves laying a new floor once the cement is gone.

Where Will Your Horse Stay?

Many old bank barns were built with animals other than horses in mind.  Some will have cattle stanchions, while others will have stalls that are too large or too small for the average horse.  Consider that you may need to tear out what is currently in the barn, and replace it with stalls that are better suited to your animals.

A Solid Foundation

As the years pass, bank barns sometimes lose stability.  The old stone walls begin to lean or sag.  Sometimes the damage is minor and will last many years before needing repair. Other times the damage is such that the wall may collapse without warning.  If you plan to use the barn for any length of time, it is essential to choose a barn that has a solid foundation.  If there is some degree of damage, it is worth having an expert assess it so you know how much it would cost to repair.

Above the Head

Finally, you need to investigate the hay loft.  Check that the ladder or stairwell to the loft is solid and secure.  The loft itself should have strong floorboards that can support your hay without risk of breaking.  While most bank barns will have some loose boards, there should not be excessive gaps in the sides of the loft.  If you plan to store hay up there it is important that it be protected from the elements.

Don’t Settle

The barn is your horse’s safe haven in times of foul weather.  It is essential that the barn not only be comfortable, but also that it is safe and secure.  It is not worth compromising on the structure of a barn just to get a deal on a property.  The costs of repair and maintenance will quickly outstrip the savings you get on the sale price.

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