Barn From the Ground Up: Part 1

CJ Millar is living the dream and building her own horse property from scratch — but no dream come true comes without plenty of research, budgeting and hard work! Introducing her new series “Barn From the Ground Up,” bringing HN along for the ride.

Welcome to the Barn From the Ground Up series, as we’re just getting started! This series came about because I am presently in the process of relocating to a new farm in New York that right now has literally nothing but a house and a shed and a whole lot of beautiful grass. It all sounds great — except there are no barns or fencing, so we’re starting from the ground up.

I thought moving wouldn’t be so bad; I’ve done it before. And then I remembered last time I had three horses and was moving to an already built farm, barns and fencing included. That’s when the panic set in — you see, I am moving nine horses, seven cats and two dogs to a property that includes use of over 600 acres, with about 50-60 of that presently cleared and an immediate 30 to fence in.

It sounds lovely! — until you start doing the research on costs and try to figure out a budget. Ugh! What’s the best fencing, that’s also safe, and that I can afford? What about barns? Is a shedrow enough or will Catskill winters be too harsh without a fully enclosed area? How about water and electric? And of course what kind of flooring and base do we use? So many questions, so little time. So let the research begin!

My friend, who owns the property the farm is on, is a veterinarian so her input has been invaluable from the get-go. Safety and cleanliness are important, especially if she decides to take in any racehorse layups. Plus everything had to fit into our budget. After sitting down with her and discussing the options, we decided on what to research and where to start. Here goes!

What We Needed

First, it was important to figure out what exactly I needed to get moving. I own eight horses and have a friend’s horse coming with me for a total of nine. However, most of those are retired pasture puffs (lucky them!) and I just need three or four stalls. I do also need shelter for the horses that live outside. A feed/tack room or area would be nice as I’ve lived with my tack in my house before! For fencing, we wanted something durable and safe that could also be electrified with low maintenance. The property has some lower areas that can get a bit waterlogged, so the ability to move fencing in those areas and rotate pastures is also important. And finally, we needed to determine foundation and stall flooring that was healthy and safe.

From the ground up…

First, we needed to determine what we’re putting underneath it all. Many people opt for concrete as the obvious choice but I’ve always had concerns about the safety of concrete that were echoed by my vet, and have seen firsthand how concrete can shift due to building settling and ground erosion. At my current place, we actually had to hire a bulldozer to lift up the current pads and backfill underneath them with gravel and dirt because the ground had been so badly eroded from past hurricanes that the concrete moved when you walked on it. Eek!

Thanks to a current client and friend of mine, I was able to order Lighthoof, which while its primary use is for mud management, I actually used a few years ago on my current property as a stall base to test it out. Not only did it work great, but the stalls with the Lighthoof panels plus mats were in significantly better shape a few years later than the stalls that just had dirt floors, or the concrete pads that hadn’t been refilled.

In the past, I placed mats over the Lighthoof, but this time I’m thinking about permeable stall covers, so I’m starting some research there to see what makes sense. More on that and on the Lighthoof in the days ahead!

Lighthoof stabilization grid

In my current barn, the Lighthoof worked great as a foundation for the stalls! Photo by CJ Millar.


My dream barn always has been an MD Barnmaster. They fit the bill from a veterinary perspective as they are extremely easy to clean and disinfect, and they have a 0% fire spread rating, which is attractive for any horseperson out there. But alas, looking at pricing and timing and budget, this just wasn’t in the cards at this time, though we do still hope to build a center aisle barn in the next few years through this company.

Because budget was limited and timing was key (I am moving in just a few months), I opted for a shedrow barn that has three stalls and a run-in. This way I can use one stall as a tack/feed room or, if needed, keep it as a stall. It also means that I can make a lane out to the turnout so that the horses have access to the run-in shed, and on nice days I can leave the stalls open for them to go in and out if I want. That would give me the bare minimum needed for at least some of the horses in the one field, but the other pasture still needed something.

There I opted for a 14′ x 40′ shed with a gable roof (to allow more headroom). With garage doors at both ends, it would mean we would could easily drive the tractor through (the property comes with one of those – yay!) and set up temporary stalls for now, and convert to additional storage down the line for the tractor, quad, log splitter and other such things. With that much space, I am able to put a feed room along with those temporary stalls, have room for my tack and even put gates at each end to keep it open for airflow with the garage doors up in warmer weather and use one end as shelter for the horses in inclement weather by sectioning off that end of the shed. Sounds good to me, and thanks to Glenn at nearby American Storage Buildings, I was able to order the barns first and have everything scheduled for delivery in just a few weeks!


While there’s some really great fencing options out there, the fancy fence with the built in LED lights was way out of my price range, and the traditional wood fencing like what I installed on my current farm a few years ago was more high maintenance than I’d like even with electric to keep the horses from chewing on it. Next I looked at some of the other options — Centaur, regular electric tape, coated wire, and a ton of other brands out there. Ultimately, rather than try to figure it out myself, I reached out to Mike at Redstone Supply to navigate through all the information and work together on a quote. I was thrilled to find out that I didn’t need to calculate everything myself and that Mike was able to help me figure out what would work for all the different kinds of areas we had to fence in.

I still need to circle back and research the stall mats/flooring options for what I want to use over the Lighthoof, and get all of the fencing and pastures measured out so that Mike could help me plot out exactly what we needed to get going. And of course, I have to pack the house, the cats, the dogs…. anyone want to come help me move?

Stay tuned for more updates with Part 2 coming soon as we dive right into to building a horse property!

building a horse farm by cj millar

Should we order more stall mats? Or look for permeable options? The cat weighs in next… Photo by CJ Millar.

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