Cattle Shed Design for a Small Herd

How to Start a Cattle Farm with Fencing, Sheds, and Pastures

Cattle Shed Design for a Small Herd

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The lure of the wide open range and the romance of ranching may entice you to search cattle breeds and cattle shed design ideas. You live on the east coast or some other busy area of the world. You don’t have a thousand acres. But can you still build some sort of cattle shed design and appropriate fencing for cattle on a smaller parcel? If you start with the right type of infrastructure, you can raise a small herd of beef cattle on small acreage.

Cattle farming for beginners is all about starting out from scratch and building the correct facility. Cattle shed design is an important part of the improvements. DIY fence installation will also consume a large portion of time and budget. Building your own fencing and shelters will save you considerable funds if you have learned the skills needed. If you purchase an existing farm operation, it may be possible to reuse the existing fencing and buildings for cattle.

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How to Start a Cattle Farm

Before you start looking at cattle shed designs, take a look at your property. Find at a minimum, two large areas of ground that can be fenced. The two or more areas don’t have to be completely cleared of trees but having enough clear space for the cows to eat and move around is preferable.  

How Many Head of Cattle Can I Keep?

This answer can vary wildly. If you have a good healthy pasture, full of edible grass and forage, each animal may need only two acres. But in many areas, the drought conditions have greatly increased the amount of acreage needed to sustain one cow. Placing a call to the local extension agent would be a good place to get guidance on the number of cattle to start. Another source of information would be a local cattle grower. Making friends with a possible farming mentor is an invaluable move when considering how to start a cattle farm.


Take into consideration the quality of growth in the pastures. Is it consumable grasses or weeds that cattle avoid? Of course, grasses and legumes are excellent but burdock, milkweed, goldenrod, and thistle should be avoided. When the toxic plants are few, the cattle probably won’t consume enough of them to cause a problem  But, where the toxic plants are all there is or they take over the grasses, the potential for toxicity is high.

On small holdings with just a couple of pastures for rotating, make sure to have enough hay to use during the winter months. It’s a good idea to have plenty of hay on hand even if the pastures are available all year long.  

In addition to good pasture and hay, it is necessary to have fresh water and salt licks available. Feeding grain during the time when pasture is limited will help keep the cows in good condition.  

Another possibly more costly option for smaller space cattle raising is partially or fully feeding hay and grain. Supplementing the grazing land with hay and grain feed allows you to keep more cattle on a smaller pasture setting. Care should still be taken to not overcrowd the area. Crowding leads to stress similar to that in a commercial feedlot setting and is very hard on the land. There is a somewhat fine line when deciding how many cows you can comfortably keep.

Cattle Shed Design

DIY Fence Installation

Fencing will be the next step in building your cattle farm. Done right the first time means that you won’t be spending every weekend mending fences and mending relationships with your neighbors! Cows that are fed well and are content are not likely to try and escape. After the heifers and steers grow up, they may try to test the fence line if there isn’t enough to eat.  

Types of Fencing for Cattle Farming

High tensile steel wire fencing is the best fence system for cattle for many reasons. The high tension steel can be electrified to deter fence grazing and pushing. Four strands of the high tension steel wire is often used in cattle farming. The steel wire does not rust or suffer damage as easily as wooden board fencing and is used frequently in cattle raising operations

Board fencing can be successfully used if kept in good repair. Many homesteaders use board fencing for DIY fence installation. Electric line can be run at a couple of heights inside the board fencing to keep the cows from pushing on the fence and posts. Pressure treated posts can be used for longer life and oak fence boards are the usual choice for pasture fencing.


Netting, cattle panels and other lightweight fencing is not appropriate for marking grazing areas. The electrified netting may deter some cows but they can also hook a horn or foot in the netting easily. For small holding pens, the cattle panels might be an acceptable cattle barrier. Using a round pen would be best for short-term holding areas or quarantine.  

Cattle Shed Design and Shelter

Most cattle shed designs are structures often referred to as a run-in shed. In warmer areas, a simple pole shed might also be used. The run-in sheds are typically three sided with a sloping roof toward the back of the shed. Positioning the cattle shed so that the prevailing winds will hit the back side of the shed increases the protection offered by the shelter.

The cattle shed design you choose should offer shelter from the wind and rain and have enough open ventilation that it does not trap heat during the summer months. The run-in shed should offer protection from storms and also from the heat of the sun.  


Cattle shed designs are offered in metal pole barns, wooden sheds, and open barns. The size of the interior space needs to take into account the size and weight of cattle, the space needed for them to lie down and ruminate, and move around each other without banging into the sides of the shed too much. Cattle are hard on your infrastructure! For our small herd of five cows, we built a pole barn from timbers and boards that remain open on all sides. It backs up to a hill which offers a natural windbreak. The roof is sheet metal and it is tall to keep the cattle cool during the hot days and yet covered when heavy storms occur. I think it is important to note that not all cows feel the need to go into shelter areas at all. We would put food under the shelter and the cows would sometimes still stand in the field, eating what was there while snow piled up around them. Sometimes a small grove of trees is enough shelter for the cattle. Whether the cattle need shelter in your area or not, I still feel it is best to provide some sort of shed or protection from the weather. You may not be able to make them use it but if the cows feel it is necessary, they will seek shelter.


Waste Management

This is a big deal on a smaller homestead. If spreading manure in the fallow fields to add nutrients is not an option, what are you going to do with all that manure? If you let it sit in the field, the cows will eventually have nowhere to graze. It is pretty amazing how fast the stuff piles up. Having a manure management plan in place will avoid this becoming a nightmare situation. If you are raising a few head of cattle on two fenced pastures, partially cleaning one while the other is being used might be an option. Just remember that you need to keep up with it because the cows are each producing fifty pounds of manure a day. Leaving the manure in the field will help fertilize the grazing land, but in the meantime, the cows won’t eat where they have deposited a pile of manure. This is definitely something to think about if you are raising a few head of cattle on a homestead instead of a large ranch.

It is very possible to start from scratch, learn cattle shed design, DIY fence installation and make water available. As with any livestock raising decision, have the facility set up first, before the cows come home. The hard work that goes into raising beef cattle on a small farm is very rewarding. Knowing that the meat you serve on your family’s table was raised humanely, fed wholesome fresh pasture, quality hay and had room to move around while growing is good for the soul.

Do you have a favorite cattle shed design or do your cows prefer to stay outdoors?

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