Valuing Animals with Architecture

Piedmont Farm Animal Refuge

How Piedmont Farm Animal Refuge is creating compassionate spaces for its rescues

By Lynn Crothers

Drive down US Hwy 87 N in Pittsboro, North Carolina, and sooner or later you’ll come to it: a sprawling field cut by a narrow drive, anchored by a curious cylindrical structure made of wood.

This is Piedmont Farm Animal Refuge’s future goat and sheep barn.

Shelter barn builder and NC State architecture graduate student Paul Drake spent months researching and designing it before construction began.

“If goats and sheep could communicate their needs within a structure,” Drake said, “I wanted to know, what would they be?”

In its fourth year, the Chatham County nonprofit is putting a new spin on farm animal architecture, constructing spaces that not only provide animals with safety, a sense of security, companionship, and enrichment, but take each species’ specific dispositions into consideration, too.

Research and development
“You can build things fast, cheap, or right,” wrote author and activist Temple Grandin, “but not all three.”

When the Refuge built its first space last year, a hen house, its standard for compassionate architecture was set. A simple, modern space with wing-like doors on each side that prop open and closed, the shelter allows the Refuge’s rescued hens, roosters, and turkeys a comforting space to roost and roam.

Like the hen house, the organization’s goat and sheep barn was funded by a successful Indiegogo campaign. In the midst of raising funds for the new space, Drake and founder Lenore Braford, who are married, were already conducting research, studying existing barns, and talking with local farmers, compiling what they knew and what they were learning about the needs and behavior of goats and sheep.

Descended from mountainous species, goats need room to climb and play, for instance, but also private spaces to nap and sleep. They dislike rain and require sturdy fencing.

Meanwhile, instinctively shy sheep find safety in numbers and don’t fare well with surprises. They need a simple space in which to congregate, one with an easy transition from outside to inside, devoid of dark corners.

With this in mind, Drake began his design.

Animal-based solutions
Halfway into a six-month construction period, you can already see how the goat and sheep barn will look when it’s complete.

The lengthy shelter will be large enough to provide both communal space and insulated areas, should a new or injured animal ever need to be separated. Multiple doorways will provide spacious, light-filled room for the animals to enter and exit.

Goat shelves—an idea Drake gleaned from a farmer who had built “goat boxes”—will provide rescued goats with a comforting place to either climb and play or tuck away when tired.

To keep the animals safe and dry, the arc of the building, which is made of reused lumber, shelters the animals against cold north winds. And a Trombe wall, a passive solar building technique that collects heat during the day and dispels it at night, is an environmentally friendly way the Refuge will keep animals warm through the winter.

Spaces that carry a message
The Refuge credits Farm Sanctuary, where Braford has interned and plans to again, with providing consistent, helpful feedback throughout the design and construction of their shelters.

“How can we provide for our animals both physically and mentally?” asked Braford, who believes creating opportunities for enrichment to be an integral part of farm animal architecture.

“It’s important for animals to feel positive emotions, to be able to generalize, ‘I am safe with people,’” she said. “The spaces Paul has designed are an extension of what we’re trying to say as an organization: that animals are not a commodity.”

Soon enough, the Refuge will begin a campaign for its duck and geese shelter. In time, more campaigns and more shelters will be built, all backed by the generous support of the community.

Drake and Braford are focused on the project at hand, though, building an inviting space for goats and sheep.

“A lot of people slow down when they drive by our property, wondering what this wooden structure will be,” said Drake. “Some even come up and ask us about it, which we love.”

In practicing and promoting humane farm animal architecture, “We are providing a compassionate alternative to what most farm animals experience,” Braford said. “This is what they’re worthy of.”

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