A farm consists of land and buildings used in the production of crops and livestock. Farms are found in every state and nearly all are family-owned and operated. They typically consist of a farmstead, which includes a farmhouse and buildings used to shelter livestock and store crops, livestock feed, farming equipment and land used to grow crops or pasture to graze livestock. Farms today can include both the classic white farmhouse and red barn and more industrial complexes with modern barns and storage sheds that are primarily functional. Most local governments do not regulate the construction and design of farm buildings.

The regulatory responsibility of local governments over farms typically covers issuing building permits and requiring farm buildings to be set back a certain distance from property lines. Some activities related to farm operations can have impacts beyond the farm. Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) can generate extensive noise and odour. Also, certain nonfarm businesses may be located in farm buildings, generating traffic or sewage that cannot be adequately handled on the farm. These businesses might be more appropriately located in a commercial zoning district off the farm.

Farm Sizes

Farms vary considerably in their size and buildings. Small farms those smaller than 50 acres (20.2 hectares) usually produce specialty crops, such as fruits and vegetables or horticultural nursery stock for landscape planting. Typical buildings on small farms include greenhouses, small machinery and storage sheds and roadside stands for direct sales to consumers. Specialty livestock farms, especially horse farms, are fairly common. Horse farms have barns for boarding horses and often have an indoor riding ring for training horses. Row crops, such as corn, soybeans, wheat and cotton are usually grown on medium and large farms. Barns, grain bins and commodity sheds are common on medium to large farms. In the past 30 years, many livestock farms have added large numbers of animals. Many of the hogs and chickens produced today are raised in CAFOs, with thousands of animals in a single building. Farm size can also vary by geographic location.


The area encompassing the farmhouse, barns and other outbuildings is called the farmstead. Many farmsteads still have an older wooden barn, but modern livestock and production buildings are often the centre of the farming operation. These structures are low and long and cover more land area than barns in the past did. Specialty buildings, such as machinery sheds and grain bins, built out of corrugated metal are also found on farmsteads. In order to support frequent truck traffic, farmsteads often have significant amounts of pavement.


The main farmhouse is where the owner and the owner’s family usually live. It can vary in style and age. Some farms may have additional dwellings for other members of the family to live. Tenant houses provide a place for full-time hired help to live. These houses can also vary in their style and construction, but are usually one or two stories high and can be permanent or temporary, sometimes including mobile homes. The temporary housing for migrant labour is meant to shelter several people, often resembles a small barrack.


A barn is used to shelter animals and store farming equipment and feed for animals. The traditional wooden barn is typically 5,000 square feet (50 feet by 100 feet; approximately 464.5 square meters or 15.2 meters by 30.5 meters) and 60 feet (18.3 meters) high. In recent years, specialty barns have replaced the traditional style. Specialty barns have become popular because of the greater number of livestock raised on farms. Such barns are often dedicated to one type of livestock. For hogs and chickens, there is also the need to provide a barn closed off from the outdoors to minimize the possible spread of diseases.

a) Dairy Barn

A dairy barn consists of two main parts, the milking parlour and the loafing barn. The portion of the barn that contains the milking parlour and other support areas may be approximately 2,000 square feet (185.8 square meters). The size of the milking parlour depends on the size of the herd. A large dairy farm may have a double-30 “parlour,” which has two rows of milking stations, 30 stations in each row, to milk 60 cows simultaneously.

A loafing barn is where the cows sleep, eat and feed. In modern milking operations, cows are not let out to pasture but are kept inside the loafing barn in stalls. The size of the loafing barn may vary. For example, a loafing barn with 105 stalls, passageways and holding areas may be 8,000 square feet (40 feet by 200 feet; approximately 743.2 square meters or 12.2 meters by 61 meters). The loafing barn is attached to the milking parlour, providing the cows with a short walking distance to the parlour. Silos containing corn silage and other buildings storing hay and animal feed are typically located close to the loafing barn.

b) Hog Barn

A hog barn is a large, long, low rectangular building, usually constructed of corrugated metal, that sits on a concrete slab and is equipped with large fans to regulate temperature. Some hog barns also have slat systems to collect manure. A typical hog barn is 8,000 square feet (50 feet by 160 feet; approximately 743.2 square meters or 15.2 meters by 48.8 meters). A hog barn can house several hundred to a few thousand hogs. Larger hog farms have a number of hog barns, along with large manure and grain storage facilities and farm machinery sheds.

c) Chicken Barn

A chicken barn (also referred to as a chicken house) is also a long, low rectangular building that sits on a concrete slab. A typical chicken barn is 15,000 square feet (50 feet by 300 feet; approximately 1,395.5 square meters or 15.2 meters by 91.4 meters). The roof and sides are often constructed of corrugated metal or plastic. A chicken barn may be used for layers, which produce eggs or to raise broilers for eating. Although chicken barns contain thousands of chickens, it is fairly common to see more than one chicken barn on a farm.

d) Horse Barn

A horse barn is likely to be constructed of wood. Older barns can be adapted to house horses, or a new barn can be built. A horse barn features stalls for the horses and storage areas for hay and grain and may include a loft. A typical horse barn may be 1,440 square feet (36 feet by 40 feet; approximately 133.8 square meters or 11 meters by 12.2 meters), which allows for two stalls on either side of a 16-foot (4.9 meter) wide alley, a feed area and a tack area. A typical stall is 144 square feet (13.4 square meters) and the feed and tack areas may be of similar dimensions.

Manure Storage

Livestock farms with large numbers of animals typically store manure for several months before pumping it out and using it to fertilize cropland. There are three main types of manure storage facilities: manure pits, lagoons and slurry systems. A manure pit is an in-ground concrete lined cylinder. A manure pit is typically approximately 12 feet (3.7 meters) deep and 100 feet (30.5 meters) in diameter. A lagoon is fairly shallow and open to the air, resembling a large swimming pool and may have earthen sides or concrete. Lagoons have been banned in some states because their sides may rupture, or the lagoon may overflow during a major rainfall. A slurry system is a large aboveground metal tank.

Silos and Grain Storage Structures

A silo is a common structure on farms with livestock, especially dairy farms. Silos are used to store corn silage or chopped hay (known as haylage) that is fed to farm animals. Silos are either vertical or horizontal in their construction. The tall and cylindrical silo, which has a rounded dome and is often located close to a barn is the most common. These silos are typically 20 feet (6.1 meters) in diameter and 80 feet (24.4 meters) high. Horizontal concrete bunker silos are often used on large dairy farms, feedlots and in parts of the areas with low rainfall. A bunker silo is often covered with a plastic tarp, held in place with temporary fixtures (such as old tires).

Farmers store grain to feed to their livestock and to sell on the open market. Older barns often have small grain storage bins inside. A grain bin is usually 25 feet (7.6 meters) in diameter and 35 feet (10.7 meters) high. Some farms still have corn cribs, which are metal buildings that resemble oversized birdcages stuffed with corn on the cob. Modern farms often need larger structures to store grain. Common storage buildings today are round, corrugated metal bins with a funnel top. Pipes, called grain legs, connect the grain storage bins to a central loading and unloading point.

Machinery Sheds

Machinery sheds are specialty buildings for storing machinery and other farm equipment. They vary in size and often are made of corrugated metal or plastic. These sheds are quick and easy to build. A typical machinery shed is 3,200 square feet (40 feet by 80 feet; approximately 297.3 square meters or 12.2 meters by 24.4 meters) and 20 feet (6.1 meters) high.

Commodity Sheds

Commodity sheds are specialty buildings for storing feed that does not need to be covered, such as cottonseed. They typically have a number of storage bays that offer easy access to bucket loaders or for shovelling. A commodity shed may be constructed of metal or wood with plastic sides. A typical commodity shed is 600 square feet (15 feet by 40 feet; approximately 55.7 square meters or 4.6 meters by 12.2 meters) and 15 feet (4.6 meters) high.

Farm-Based Businesses

Many farm families supplement their farm income with other businesses conducted on the farm. In some cases, these businesses can be operated within existing farm structures. In others, farm buildings may need to be remodelled. And sometimes completely new buildings are built. Permitted farm-based businesses should be described in the local zoning ordinance. Typical farm-based businesses include machinery repair and storage, bed and breakfast operations, woodworking shops, beauty salons, limited food processing and farm stands among others.

a) Roadside Stands

Direct marketing of crops, arts and crafts produced on the farm to consumers has recently grown in popularity. Roadside stands are usually seasonal buildings that cater to consumers arriving via automobile. The stands are typically located close to the road and should have adequate parking space for safety. The local zoning ordinance should define the maximum size of roadside stands allowed. Most of the goods sold from roadside stands should be produced on the farm.

b) Roadside Markets and Garden Centres

Some communities have allowed farm stands to expand into year-round commercial operations that sell many products not grown or made on the farm. A roadside market features food and fibre products. A garden centre typically combines a nursery operation with the sale of mulch and fertilizers to the general public. Key issues with roadside markets and garden centres are parking and whether the operation should be moved to a commercial zone off the farm.

Siting of Farm Buildings

The siting of farm buildings has grown in importance, especially as more residential and other non-agricultural development occurs in the countryside adjacent to active farms and as livestock farms increase their number of animals. The local zoning ordinance should establish siting standards to protect health and safety. New farm buildings should be set back a certain distance from property lines to minimize the spill over of noise and odours onto neighbouring properties. In the case of farms with livestock, setbacks can vary from a few hundred feet or meters for crop producing farms with storage buildings to more than 1,000 feet (304.8 meters) for CAFOs.

Environmental Issues

Agriculture is often cited as a major source of water pollution. Rain and wind cause soil erosion from farm fields which contribute sediment to rivers, streams and lakes. The increased turbidity can adversely affect drinking water and fish populations. Soil particles often bond with manure and nitrogen fertilizers carrying nutrients into waterways that can produce algae blooms and reduce water quality. Herbicides and pesticides also can be washed into waterways and seep into groundwater. Air pollution, especially from large hog operations, has recently become a major concern. The issue of farm odours, mainly from the spreading of manure on fields, also has become contentious in some areas. Noise from farm machinery operating early in the morning or late at night may raise complaints from neighbours.