Many smallholders will, by reason of finances alone, want to convert existing structures on their plots into stables or coops or other animal housing. If not done with care this can result in one’s plot soon looking like a slum. It is much better and neater to construct one’s animal housing afresh, even if the materials one uses are secondhand. A coat of paint works wonders to neaten things up.

Bearing in mind the regulations regarding roof heights and floor areas, here are some general tips which will make your constructions neat, safe and long-lasting, without breaking the bank.

Wall Materials

While bricks or blocks, preferably plastered and painted in a light colour, make the best walls, there are alternatives. These commonly include timber split poles, concrete walling and corrugated iron or IBR profile.

To build a stable from split poles requires corner posts of CCA treated gum poles. These are preferably 100-125mm diameter and long enough to allow roofing timbers to be affixed at their tops. The slope of the roof should be backwards unless one wishes to be drenched by rain run-off each time one has to interact with one’s livestock in their housing during rain.

The overhang of the roofing material should also be enough to prevent hard-driven rain from entering the stable through whatever gap exists between the top of the timber and the roof itself.

Split poles used as walling material.

To the corner posts two or more horizontal square timbers, at least 50mm x 50mm, should be bolted (cut your bolts to length from threaded rod), one close to the floor, another at chest height and, if you wish, another close to the top.

To these, split-poles are securely fastened, smooth side towards the square beam, hard up against one another. You will need approximately ten split-poles per metre of wall length.

Cladding with split-poles on one side only is adequate. However, a much neater and longer-lasting structure is built by cladding on both sides. The downside of this is that the space between the split-poles offers mice and rats a perfect runway and hideaway.

Concrete wall panels, and their associated grooved vertical poles, can be used for housing for small livestock, sheds etc, but are unsuitable and dangerous for horses and large livestock prone to pushing or kicking.

Corrugated iron or IBR profile is the least attractive material from which to build a structure, and has the drawback of resulting in a furnace-like interior on hot summer days. These drawbacks aside it is quick to erect, easy to clean and long-lasting.

Take care, however, when building animal housing from iron that all sharp surfaces, corners etc are concealed to prevent wounds.


Naturally, corrugated iron or IBR will be most commonly used in South Africa as roof materials for animal housing. Both are light in weight, easy to handle and result in a fast-to-construct, neat roof.

animal housing
Corrugated iron roof at an angle.

Light can be introduced to the stables by including the occasional length of transparent polycarbonate sheeting. This is available in both corrugated and IBR profile.

Much better insulation from both heat and cold is achieved by thatch or reed. This can also be cheap if you have sufficient growing on your property. It is particularly suitable for poultry houses, less so for large livestock and horses, especially if the animal can reach the roof with its mouth. In this case the grass will quickly be pulled out and the roof damaged.


In all cases of livestock housing with the exception of poultry, rough-cast concrete is the best material. What is rough-cast? It’s simply concrete that is not levelled to a smooth floor surface and with the profiles of the stone still visible through the surface. Why? Because livestock have hard feet that can slip on smooth surfaces, and no toes with which to grip.

Thus, when mixing concrete for animal flooring, use a strong mixture that will withstand hard wear, and use large hard stone, commonly 19mm, in the mix.

Another tip is to build up the concrete a little around the sides of the stable to prevent moisture from collecting against the walls.

For poultry housing, a sheet of thick plastic laid over clean compacted sand makes a suitable surface as it can be easily lifted when the house is empty, washed and dried in the sun before being relaid and covered with bedding before the next batch of chicks is introduced.

This is a part of a series on buildings and infrastructure on smallholdings and small farms. To read the series, click here.

1 thought on “Tips On How To Build Animal Housing

  1. I enjoyed invaluable information, and I would like to know about how to make ecobricks for basic plot infrastructure, how to build an afdak.

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