Housing and Space Guidelines for Livestock

Goat in a pen

As New Hampshire becomes more urban, the potential for conflict between the farming and non-farming communities increases. By using *best management practices, farmers can greatly reduce or eliminate problems arising from odors and flies, pesticide drift, contamination of surface and ground waters, and damage to neighboring crops. Following best management practices can help eliminate problems that arise between farming activities and other land uses in urban environments.

Farming activities may involve full-time, part-time or backyard farmers. Existing commercial farms, as defined by RSA 21:34-a, are protected by the Right to Farm Law; RSA chapter 432. This allows for properly managed agricultural enterprises to continue operating in residential areas.


Most farm animals need some kind of shelter to escape the elements. Most people think winter is the most important time to provide shelter but an animal’s natural coat can allow them to tolerate much colder temperatures than people can. Summer heat can by far, be harder on animals than winter if shade is not available to them either by trees or structures if they are out on pasture, or lack of ventilation in a barn or building. Many livestock animals like pigs and rabbits, do not sweat, so heat stroke can quickly set in. A simple, three-sided shelter with an open front will meet the needs of many farm animals on pasture and is often the building of choice to raise healthy livestock. When designing a three-sided animal shelter, make sure the open side faces south, away from prevailing winds. Locate the structure on an elevated, well-drained site and keep winter access in mind for feeding and water handling.

*Refer to the Manual of Best Management Practices (BMPs) for Agriculture in New Hampshire for specific guidelines on proper animal waste handling and barnyard management. For a print copy of the manual, contact the New Hampshire Department of Agriculture, Markets & Food, at 603-271-3551.

There are several factors to consider when planning adequate livestock shelter in cold weather:

Air quality: Animal shelters should be open, providing natural ventilation, or enclosed, using fans and proper air inlets around the ceiling perimeter to provide good air circulation. Tight buildings result in a buildup of respiration gases, and animal odors, which can irritate the animal’s lungs and cause pneumonia. Dangerous ammonia levels1can also build up and lead to suffocation death of animals and their caretakers.

Drafts: Animals can stand cold temperatures, but you should protect them from drafts. Constructing panels in front of an open building can reduce drafts. Consider drafts at animal height, not person height. When animals are allowed to run loose in a pen instead of being hitched, they will search for the most comfortable spots as needed.

Dry bedding area: Animals will be far more comfortable in the cold if they have clean, dry bedding. A thick, dry bed provides insulation from the cold ground and decreases the amount of energy the animal has to expend to keep warm. Shelter from the snow and rain allows an animal’s coat to remain dry, which provides maximum insulating value.

Fresh water2: All animals need water to survive. Under cold conditions, provide fresh water often or use freeze-proof watering devices. Animals will drink more when water is 50°F.

Adequate food: Animals can endure severe cold temperatures if they eat enough food (energy) to maintain their energy reserves (body fat). Animals need energy for growth and maintenance. Extra energy is expended to keep warm. Therefore, they will require additional amounts of good quality feed during cold weather. For herbivores, free choice hay in hay racks should be supplied in addition to a purchased feed.


Refer to the table on the next page for estimates on the space needs of various animals for exercise yards and pasture. If zero pasturing is practiced, you will have to provide adequate purchased feed, have an exercise yard and develop a sound plan for manure management.

If you do provide pasture, the number of animals it will support per acre depends on soil fertility and environmental considerations. These conditions vary widely across the state. Rotational grazing3— the practice of sectioning off a piece of a pasture with electric fencing and confining animals in that section, then repositioning the fence and moving animals to another section depending on grass growth— prevents pastures from being overgrazed, helps prevent internal parasite loads, and will support more animals than a set stock system.

The following table lists the suggested minimum space required, housing types and fencing needs of various farm species, along with the number of animals that will meet the food, fiber, recreation and other needs of an average family farmstead. This is a rough guide (table seen in downloadable version). For more information and guidance, contact your local County Field Specialist.

1Ammonia Emissions and Safety, Alberta Food and Rural Development
2Livestock Water Requirements, North Dakota State Univeristy.
3Four Steps to Rotational Grazing, PennState Extension

Note to municipal planners: The minimum space and housing guidelines in the chart apply to both commercial farms and backyard operations. However, you should not apply the numbers of animals suggested in the “Family Needs” category to commercial farms when drafting ordinances regulating agriculture in your community.

Download the Resource for the complete printable fact sheet.