Sunday, August 19, 2012

Cattle Panel Structures and Snow Loads

Of all the posts I've done, the one that gets the most hits daily is the cattle panel greenhouse I built.  The next most popular post is about the cattle panel barn.   The other day I was on a forum and there was a discussion in progress about my cattle panel greenhouse and the question being debated was how much snow load could it stand.   Its a excellent question.

Over the years of homesteading I've built a number of structures with cattle panels.  They are easy up and easy down, wallet friendly and they serve the purpose of sheltering whatever it is your needing sheltered.   I've used them open ended for hay and for summer animal shelter.   I've used them for year round shelters with the ends closed up to house goats, pigs and chickens.  I've built the greenhouse which is meant to be a permanent  structure.  I love them and can't say enough good about cattle panel structures.  For animals worm loads in the ground around barns is a given but you can move these barns.  Maybe not yearly but every few years you can relocate them to fresh ground and leave the ground around where it was previously located.  In a few years you can again use that land to relocate your animals to after mother nature has had time to get the parasite load back down.  And with goats these parasites can literally be a killer.  

Still cattle panel structures have their share of problems.   Snow load being the biggest one unless you build it with that in mind.   You can see in the picture above what the weight of this little buckling is 
doing to this shelter.   Just the slightest build up of wet snow would do it in.    This one is very weak because it wasn't built like so many are with t-posts on the sides.   I used 4 x 4's for the base and attached the cattle panels on the bottom to it.   This makes for a very weak structure because it's only stable at the very bottom.  

This one here was my first one.  It was built with t-posts on the outside and I later added the ties to the front to hold in the bedding since we use deep bedding in winter.   It also had a cattle panel across the back which added more stability.   Even so one winter it started to collapse.   I normally go out every hour or so all night and day in a snow storm to brush them off.    This time it was either wetter snow or  I let it go a little longer.  It was 1/2 way down with about 6" of snow.  Maybe 4".   It wasn't tons to be sure.   The one the buckling is on above wouldn't have even been able to bear that.   

We got through it with a few 2 x 4's.   One along the roof and the others vertically to hold it up.  I worried of course the goats would hit them and knock them down but they didn't and we made it through the storm.

In these two pictures of the greenhouse you can see on the left it's leaning without even a tarp on it because it's only attached at the wood base.  I needed to add a board to hold it upright until I could add a crossboard.    And if they bend as the one in the brown covered one did it's going to be tough to fix.  These obviously aren't going to hold much snow.

On the other hand, once I added this support to the greenhouse I've gone through many storms, a few that really dropped a lot without having to do anything at all.  Of course this is Virginia.  If I were in Minnesota I would probably add 2 more boards going the length of it were the 3 cross boards are now.    And as it stands now the 3 boards going across the width of it hit the panels so its solid.  I don't worry about having to stay up all night to go shake or sweep this off.   

When I first started with cattle panel structures I thought I wouldn't mind when we got the occasional storm having to be up all night doing that but trust gets old fast.    Still, if your in a pinch you can get by without support structure but only if you keep brushing it off.   All night long.  Sigh. 

I know some of you out there are using these.  Please if you have a better way share it with us.   I would love to have someone do a guest post on their way.  Or just add it to comments. I promise, it will get seen here.   This subject generates  1/2 the hits to this site.  We only get better by sharing.

Next I want to talk about weatherizing them for the animals so if you are already doing this share that too.


Posts on building with cattle panels:

Building a Cattle Panel Barn
Building a Permanent Greenhouse with Cattle Panels


  1. We had built a chicken shelter with cattle panels. We had wood supports on the ends, a door, the entire thing covered with poultry wire and then tarps. We are in Maine and it did just fine in the winter with no internal supports! We DO live on a hill with regular winds which keep the snow pretty much cleared off our roofs and such, though! We lost the entire structure a year ago July 4, when a freak wind/rain/hail storm took it into the air, over our next door neighbor's electric fence for her horses and it fetched up against a fence post on the far side of the paddock, taking down some of the fence wire. Fortunately she had put their new horse, who had been in that paddock, in the barn earlier, as they were planning on leaving and were not sure about leaving him with the electric fence and unsupervised. The wood structures were broken and the panels bent. We disassembled and have been using cattle panel A-frames since. Smaller, but we have small flocks.

  2. We live in MN and our chicken coop and greenhouse is built with cattle panels without a ton of bracing. I will try to get pics up tomorrow on my blog. (this is a great motivator, I have been trying to get a post done about these structures for awhile). :)

  3. Starwalker... I don't know why mine did so badly in snow when yours didn't unless it was a height difference. Ours was about 6' tall. Quite an adventure you had there!

    Megan, if you send me a picture I'll add it on the cattle panel page with a link back to your site if you would like. Cattle panel anything seems to be a hot topic for a lot of folks. I guess we are all looking to do cheap structures. I like the mobility of them myself.

  4. Elizabeth, do the panels come in different sizes? I think ours was actually close to 6' tall in the center, I'll have to ask my S.O. how much he had to bend to tend the birds! He's 6'4, I'm only 5' so the height was sufficient for me to not have to bend, that I am sure of.

    I think our main saving grace (or should that me MAINE saving grace? LOL) was out wind. We had snow build up AROUND but not ON the thing, thanks to the blowing and drifting. Also, how many panels did you put together? Ours was only two panels deep.

  5. Starwalker, If you look at the picture of the one with the brown tarp on it you can see how far apart it was at the base so the top wasn't at all steep so snow just sat on it weighing it down. I think it was like 9' from side to side and had it been 6' from side to side the sides would have been angled enough that the snow would have fallen off. I didn't think about the till I read your comment. Actually I did when I was going through it but promptly forgot again and it's an excellent point. So the taller they are the closer the sides are and the steeper. Wouldn't want to have to say that again.. I know the horse one's are 5' but all the rest are 52", 48", 34" as far as I know.

  6. Also I put a linky tool on the cattle panel page so anyone wanting to add pictures can do it themselves so if you find a picture would love you to add it.

  7. I built 3 this fall for car storage and of course the one fell that had the corvette in it, it doesn't handle snow load in Minnesota, we got hit with 7 inches of snow and it collapsed

  8. I do realize this post is pretty old but thought I would add a comment. I live in Buffalo NY so we get a little bit of snow. I have found that if you keep the ends between 6.5 to 7 feet wide this keeps sides sufficiently sloped to shed snow well. This will give a center height of about 6.25 feet. Also as another poster said, wind direction also helps shed the snow. If you generally have a west to east wind, setting up the structure in a north south orientation really helps, of course if you are using this as a green house the east west orientation is probably better for growing conditions and should have extra bracing to support extra weight.

  9. We have used them for shade in our smaller treeless pasture to make shade for our miniature sheep and goats. cattle panels We arched them as you did for your arbor and then covered it with a heave tarp. We arched the sides high enough that the pygmy goats could not jump on top of it.

  10. what a beautiful pics you have uploaded.I also made cattle panels and it is very helpful for me to make a fancy panel.thanks for sharing.

  11. We built corner and middle columns and laid 2x12s corner to corner and the same on the west end of it. I wanted barrels filled with water on the north, so used the barrels as the support for the 2x16. The east end was filled with barley straw bales after the weather got cold (it gets to -40 here sometimes in the winter since it's over 7,600 feet here in the Rockies). We got a local metals firm to laser cut holes in angle iron so we could attach it to the top of the boards, where the cattle panel ends would rest. We just used nails and bent them over to hold the panels to the rails. Not the perfect way to do it, but it held the panels with no problem. the bottom part was 4' high, and the panels were a pretty wide span, with a 4' height in the middle, making it 8 feet tall. Covering it was a job, and all we could get here was 4 mil plastic. We anchored the lower walls to the ground with rope and the side with the barrels full of water, I tied rope around the barrels and the boards to anchor it more. The thing went through some 70 mph winds great, but one day a strong wind ripped the plastic and to make matters worse, the wind was out of a direction so that the wind hit the house and bounced down to the north side bowing it in and out badly. That was a scary sight, since the structure was near a plate glass window. We decided to rip the plastic off, since I had already taken the plants I wanted to save, into the house. I had planned to build an arbor support structure such as you have down the middle, but with other work, we couldn't get to it in time. It did extend the growing season here by 2 months, but I will put a rocket mass heater in the next one - electricity was too costly to take it beyond the middle of November. The next one will also have a center support, definitely. With winters here as harsh as they are (we have a 3 month growing season) I'm thinking of putting a hoop over a pit and creating a walipini. I've even thought of getting the ends overlapped a foot, putting each panel end to end, and welding the overlapped parts. Would make a wider greenhouse, but would need plenty of support in the center area. I dug trenches in there instead of building raised beds (which seems like raised beds next to the trenches, so all I have to do now is dig the center bed out and make the side beds wider to make way for support in the center. The walipini would be 3 to four feet deep with the cattle panels resting on the ground or on boards. Still in the planning stages, but that would cut down the wind, and if I stacked hay on the west, 2 bales deep or so, that would also cut the wind. I do want barrels, again, perhaps in conjuction with the rocket mass heater heating the water in them, but that's a lot of room to sacrifice. We'll see. I do have pictures, but don't see how to upload them here.


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