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what is the best flooring for barns

Leah Sattler

Joined: Jun 26, 2008
Posts: 2603
In my experience the best flooring differs with each situation, goals, and animals. here are some of my observations....

concrete - cold, hard and absorbs urine smell. but if you need an ultra clean enviroment and it will get cleaned well and frequently and always have fresh bedding (or no bedding) you can't beat it for keeping things sanitary. I would like a sloped area with a gutter like drain for my milkers and have bunks for sleeping. so those times when they refuse to leave the shelter due to weather I can keep them as "sanitary" as possible by sweeping it out a few time a day and hosing it off.

dirt - well draining soil really can be a good flooring. if you want to practice "compost bedding" (adding bedding to the top periodically to create a "clean" surface and allowing the bottom to compost and produce heat all winter) then it is probably the best choice. a big con is that you have a big cleanout ahead of you in the spring and you will have to dig out and replace some of the dirt after the cleanout. It isn't as "sanitary". animals will sometime dig a hole down to the composting stuff. but for alot of situation, especially when you have plenty of room, dirt works well and I think is perfectly acceptable.

sand - coarse sand works pretty well. it drains well, is easy on the feet and legs of animals but it can be difficult to clean out imo. after a while the manure and bedding turns it to mush and it has to all come out and be replaced.

anyone have any flooring options to add? 


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Gwen Lynn

Joined: Sep 04, 2008
Posts: 736
What about ground up limestone (or "chat", screenings, etc.; does it fall into the category of dirt? Or it it inadvisable for goats? Seems like it works pretty well in the horse barns I've been in. Seems safer footing for horses vs. concrete aisles which can be slippery.
Fred Morgan

Joined: Sep 29, 2009
Posts: 961
Location: Northern Zone, Costa Rica - 200 to 300 meters Tropical Humid Rainforest
One thing we do down here is to made boards that have gaps, and cover that with heavy gauge grating. This is with sheep. This keeps them out of their own urine, and we just lift it to scrap it out once a week. Works very well.

Remember we are in the tropics and our greatest problem is rain.

Sustainable Plantations and Agroforestry in Costa Rica
Leah Sattler

Joined: Jun 26, 2008
Posts: 2603
excellent gwen! screenings are awesome! it turns to almost concrete hardness but still perks.
Gwen Lynn

Joined: Sep 04, 2008
Posts: 736
I think if I were to build my dream barn, it would definitely have a combination of floorings, and of course the type of animals in that barn would have an affect on my choices. You can't beat concrete for looks, ease of cleaning, etc. It sure has it's drawbacks with safety for large animals. I have seen one too many horses slip and fall in nice fancy concrete aisles. Watched the sparks fly from their shod feet! Yikes! Yet, concrete is helpful and more sanitary, as Leah mentioned. I think a slope and drainage is a good key point.

I can remember being at a horse barn that had concrete grooming stalls with rubber mats, but nobody gave drainage much of a thought when they built those grooming stalls. Ugh, when a horse would decide to urinate in the grooming stall it was an awful mess to clean up. The urine would just puddle underneath the rubber mat, there was no place for it to go. You had to throw a bunch of shavings down to soak it up and even after getting the majority of it out, it still stank to high heaven! A little slope and someplace for it to drain would have helped that situation immensely!

Dirt/screenings that drain well would be my choice for the majority of flooring. Horses in particular seem a lot more comfortable standing on that type of footing, vs. concrete. Concrete does have it's place in a barn though, that's for sure.
Kerrick McCoy

Joined: Dec 01, 2009
Posts: 211
Location: Northern California
What about pigcrete? Could you use pigs to create an impervious barn floor to put bedding on top of, the way you can use them to make an impervious pond through animal compaction? The method for a pond is to dig it out, corral the pigs in the dry pond bottom for a few weeks, feeding and watering them in there, and maybe now and again adding some clay to let them trample it into the pond bottom along with their manure and urine, making layers of pressed sediment that turns into a sort of adobe. Then you let the pond fill up, and the weight of the water finishes pressing the muck into an impervious surface. (Getting the pigs out first is considered both wise and kind.)

What if you did this: Dig out a square foundation for the barn or shed, level or graded for drainage as you would want. Corral pigs in it, and make sure to spread their feed as evenly as possible. After a few weeks move the pigs, level the surface of the muck, dam whatever drainage gutter you made, and fill the foundation with water. Leave the water for a week or so, then drain (you get to test your drainage systems at this time, too) and use the muddy water to fertigate some fruit trees. Dry it out and build your barn on top, and you would probably have a tough earthen floor that won't absorb water or urine, and isn't cold or overly hard.
Leah Sattler

Joined: Jun 26, 2008
Posts: 2603
argh! the sound of a shod horse skidding on barn flooring and going down. shudder.

I think the pig idea is worth looking into. would lots of bedding on top undo the packed ground though? just as layering hay or straw on packed earth works to prepare it for planting?
Gwen Lynn

Joined: Sep 04, 2008
Posts: 736
Leah Sattler wrote:
argh! the sound of a shod horse skidding on barn flooring and going down. shudder.

Oh, shudder is right & you just have to see that one time for it to impact you the rest of your life!  Eeek!
Joel Hollingsworth

Joined: Jul 01, 2009
Posts: 2103
Location: Oakland, CA
Leah Sattler wrote:
excellent gwen! screenings are awesome! it turns to almost concrete hardness but still perks.

There is also pervious concrete, which is similar to the usual stuff but with no sand in the mix: lacking fine aggregate, the cement just bridges the gravel and leaves a continuous network of pores where the sand would have filled in.

Not sure what animal waste or horse shoes would do to it, probably nothing good. But it's worth knowing about.

"the qualities of these bacteria, like the heat of the sun, electricity, or the qualities of metals, are part of the storehouse of knowledge of all men.  They are manifestations of the laws of nature, free to all men and reserved exclusively to none." SCOTUS, Funk Bros. Seed Co. v. Kale Inoculant Co.
paul wheaton

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 14168
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
One really great thing about dirt is .... the price. 

Another really great thing about dirt is .... how easy it is to install.

Yet another really great thing about dirt is .... that you don't have to haul the matierals very far - the dirt fairies bring it in the middle of the night and install it for you.  For free.

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Alison Thomas

Joined: Jul 22, 2009
Posts: 933
Location: France
How brilliantly timely this thread is 

I came on to ask what would be the best floor for our new goat house... and hey presto, the discussion is already underway.

On advice from here I did buy Pat Coleby's "Natural Goat Care" and she recommends concrete due to masses of urine from milkers.  I'm trying not to use concrete anymore as it's just such a bummer to get rid of if it's in the wrong place and also not so fine for the environment.  I had been wondering about a rammed earth type floor - I mean I guess that's what they had to have before concrete came around??

We're also thinking of getting pigs so maybe we get them first so that they can help make the shed for their goat friends 
Joel Hollingsworth

Joined: Jul 01, 2009
Posts: 2103
Location: Oakland, CA
heninfrance wrote:I had been wondering about a rammed earth type floor - I mean I guess that's what they had to have before concrete came around??

A compromise, that leans strongly toward dirt as far as carbon footprint, and is often much stronger than rammed earth, is earth with a stabilizer mixed in.

If your soil contains a lot of clay or otherwise has enough silica available, mixing in some lime will make it a whole lot stronger.

Sandy soils can be helped by mixing in a minor amount of Portland cement, but this is both higher-impact and lower-strength.

If it's very coarse soil, I could imagine using Sepp's Brazil nut sealing method (video, but instead of making a pond and scooping out the gravel that rises to the top, you could make something of a French drain. The slope should be able to drain completely, and lead to a place where the urine and lots of water would be useful. To keep odor down, it might have to be regularly flooded up to just below the gravel surface, so it would probably make sense to do that only if there's a well-developed water system uphill.
Emil Spoerri

Joined: Oct 19, 2009
Posts: 415
actually, i was recently having this argument, with my father, me being on the side of dirt, him being on the side of concrete. Only we were talking about houses, not barns.

Dirt all the way.
laura sharpe

Joined: Nov 17, 2012
Posts: 243
I have no barn experience. I read many of these things to learn so when i go to make a barn or whatever...i know the options are arguments.

It does sound to me that what is best depends heavily on what animals you are keeping. I was thinking of a large brooding area, clearly I need sanitation for this....I saw no options but concrete in this discussion but there is also metal, and brick which can be sanitized well. Tiles?

I cannot imagine keeping large animals with large waste inside a building where their own urine and feces are decomposing, the air quality of the animals is to be considered certainly you couldnt put birds in the barn with such a high ammonia level in the air.

I look forward to reading more about other methods mentioned. I am so glad to see you are giving this thought and now i will as well.
John Polk

Joined: Feb 20, 2011
Posts: 5837
Location: Moving to: NE Washington USDA zone 5 Western steppes to the Rockies
I agree with Paul here. DIRT. Nothing to buy. Nothing to import. Nothing to discard.
If these animals were not domesticated, and living as nature intended, they would be living on dirt.
Cement is so unnatural for their feet/paws/hooves.
Cement isn't even natural for humans. Not good for ankles/knees/hips.

It would probably be advantageous to compact it, perhaps with some bentonite on top so it doesn't become urine saturated. With a good straw layer, periodic maintenance would be simple enough.

Using pigs to treat the dirt would not work. They normally do not shit where they eat and sleep.
Given a choice, they would go outside to do that, or else pick a corner farthest from their beds.

laura sharpe

Joined: Nov 17, 2012
Posts: 243
wouldnt you have to remove the first few inches of dirt now and then just to get rid of the urine and smells? I am not against dirt floor but this is my concern... certainly dirt sounds better than cement for horses.

From what I am hearing, for brooding chicks, the best way to prevent passing along of diseases is to make sure the brooder area is well cleaned, how do you do this with dirt? You know it does seem better in some respects but besides the issue of making sure you get rid of any diseases from the last brood, I worry about accumulations of ammonia.

As far as dirt being more natural... The horse and cow are not in natural places, they are in a barn. I imagine it is much more natural to walk away from the place they just urinated not stand in it. Since these animals cannot walk away from their own feces, we must remove it for them. Let's all face it, outside of the longhorn, these animals are far from living naturally.

I think farther explorations of this subject are a good idea...might not be better ideas out there but nice to hear.
Doug Mac

Joined: Jan 07, 2013
Posts: 66
Location: Humboldt County, California [9b]
As with most things we talk about here, the answer is "It depends."

For horses and cows, I like dirt best. Time tested winner. But concrete can have a rough broom finish that works very well

Goats and sheep, concrete has the advantage of self trimming hooves. I keep mine on 2X6 decks over dirt with straw or wood shavings. The urine goes through (mostly) and they stay dry. The bedding composts.

For equipment I prefer concrete. I have a tractor and seven 3pt tools, a fire engine, welder, air compressor, electric and air tools. I long for the day (after I build the house) when I can put my stuff in a barn. I know concrete isn't that easy on the feet, but I like working on a flat surface and not get dirt in things I'm working on.

But perhaps the real question is WHY HAVE A BARN?

My goats live in skid sheds (6X12, the next ones will be 8X20) that moves with them when they change paddocks. I keep hay, feed, medicines, and equipment for the animals in a skid barn (10X12 with room for a loft). Right now I have a dozen bottle baby bucklings in it. Why keep animals in one place and deal with there always being too much manure and urine?
subject: what is the best flooring for barns
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