How to build an open-sided cattle shed

A three-sided cow shed is an afternoon project. The structure can be used for livestock or by gardening enthusiasts alike. This simple design will produce the desired results and improve the looks of your dooryard or farm, whether you have animals or a need for equipment storage.

Decide what kind of floor you want. A concrete floor may be preferable to dirt, as it is easy to clean and may reduce the risk of hoof infections. Horses, especially if they are unshod, should not stand on concrete without rubber mats. However, concrete is optional. If you chose concrete you will need to frame 15 to 20 square feet of floor space for each animal. Curing concrete may take two or three days, depending on the temperature. The amount of concrete needed can be ascertained by following the concrete mix directions.

Lay pieces of 2-by-6 planks horizontally as footer plates for the walls. Anchor them to the concrete. The best time to anchor them is when the concrete is set up but not completely cured. If you chose to stay with a dirt floor, you only need to make sure it is level and square. The best soil for this would have to have a high clay content as opposed to sandy soils, which erode more easily.

Set upright studs every two feet perpendicular to the footer plates. Reinforce each stud along the bottom plates. Some people prefer to start the framing on the ground and attach it to the footer afterward. (Later, when the siding goes on, the insulation will rest inside each two-foot section.) Place 4-by-4 beams on the corners upright. They must be nailed or screwed top and bottom, with studs on both sides. Brace the studs with smaller pieces of 2-by-4 which are nailed into the stud and the footer plate. Continue this on both sides of each stud.

Place the 2-by-6 planks along the top of the vertical posts to square off the roof level. This creates a top plate for the walls and roof trusses to join. Brace them to the top plate with 2-by-4 pieces the same as on the footer plates. You will need one more upright column (stud) at the front and a top plate over the entrance. The roof will need to rest on this side too, even though it will stay open.

Ensure that the planks are level, and trim the tops of the studs to be flush with the planks. It cannot be stressed enough that you must use the plumb line and level at this stage to be absolutely certain each upright is squared at 90 degrees. This makes the sheathing and roofing steps easier, and safer.

Space the pre-built trusses on the roof plates every three to four feet, depending on the overall size of the structure. Pre-built trusses are just that. They can be ordered in almost any size and type of wood. They should be as long as the structure is deep--this is measured from front to back. Many of the big box stores carry them ready to use. Nail or deck screw the trusses into place.

If pre-built trusses are not in your budget, you can also use a flat roof, but if you are in a region that gets a lot of snow, you will have to slant the roof so that it will shed rain and snow. This calls for an adjustment to the side measurements, as all studs and plywood must reflect the angle of the shed. Instead of trusses, you can use more 2-by-6 planks placed front to back.

Lay 3/4-inch plywood sheets over the trusses to form the base of the roof. Nail along the truss lines. Then, use the same 3/4-inch plywood sheets to finish the outside walls. Nail or screw the plywood into place along the stud lines. You may want to find the two ends of the studs and "ping" a chalk line to make sure you don't miss the stud and cause unnecessary holes. (A tube of wood filler is pretty cheap, though, just in case.) The outside shell is now ready for either vinyl siding or clapboard. Follow the manufacturer's directions.

Staple roofing felt over the plywood sheathing on the roof. Shingle the roof as per the shingle-manufacturer's instructions, paying careful attention to the shingle overlay pattern. Always start with the lower edge and work up to the gable, or peak.

Staple insulation into each two-foot wall section on the inside walls, according to the manufacturer's instructions. Staple the roof insulation one section at a time. If the shed is to be used only for lawn equipment, you can skip this step. Use the thinner sheets of plywood to finish the inside walls. Feed trays and water buckets or shelving can be attached where the studs are.

Paint the siding, if desired.


Many times people chose a pattern of shingles and siding that matches or at least compliments the main house. Some people build this structure into a mini barn as well. Making a sketch of the finished project before you start is always a good idea. In New England and other colder climates if you are using this for livestock it is suggested that you insulate the roof and sides.


Use a level to ensure that all uprights are plumb. This will make attaching the 4-by-8 sheets to the outside easier, and it will ensure that the trusses are attached at the proper angle. Framing a crooked wall is dangerous.

Things You'll Need

  • Concrete mix
  • Plywood in 4-by-8 sheets, ¾-inch and 3/8-inch thick
  • Shingles, roofing felt and ½-inch roofing brads
  • Roof trusses (shallow pitch, pre-built)
  • 4-by-4 structural support beams
  • Siding material---clapboard or vinyl sections
  • 2-by-6 planks
  • 2-by-4 studs for door frames
  • Ten-penny nails, or long deck screws for wood
  • Hammer or drill
  • Skill saw
  • Mitre saw
  • Level
  • Plumb line
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About the Author

Roberta Kingsley has been writing stories since 1971. She is knowledgeable about forensics science, forensic psychology, true crimes, housing construction, history, medicine, livestock and veterinary medicine, especially equine. In 1984 she graduated from Salem State College in Massachusetts with a Bachelor of Arts in English and a concentration in written communications.