Rehabbing Sloped Land

Just purchased a ‘fixer upper’ property where there was little maintenance done for a period of time.

One aspect is the barn. There’s a three stall barn with dutch doors. Previously, the land was used for a mix of horses/sheep. There were no gutters on the barn and I imagine extensive damage was done to the topsoil by the animals, so now right outside of the dutch doors is a lot of rocky exposed soil, major ruts, piles of built up manure, and so forth. The land does generally have a gentle slope on the rest of the property, but there’s a lot of erosion right by the barn, so it is more sloped there.

What are good resources for whom to contact about rehabbing this type of property? It doesn’t drain directly into a pond or stream, so not sure if county resources would be able to help? I don’t want to just slap down more gravel and have it erode away again and would rather plan out over a period of time to fix the problem.

Just wasn’t sure who are the right type of people/resources to ask :slight_smile:

Could you share some pictures?

Depending on where you live, someone who restores old barns might be overkill, but they would be good as a consultant to give you the engineering aspects and drainage plan.

A good place to start would be the “Extension” service at your State University. I think many/most places have one.
Here is a link to the one at Colorado State University, just so you can see what it is about:

I would probably put down a terrace system to limit erosion. It doesn’t have to be terribly complicated. Put up either a rock wall about 4-6 inches tall and use that to hold the gravel in place or I have used ground contact lumber to build a terrace. You can also use a log pile. You just want something to prevent the gravel from eroding away.

My yard has sand and it washes out so often we have the neighbor come over with the tractor twice a year. The terraces help, but it’s sand and when we get 6 inches of rain, it’s impossible not to have erosion.

I’ve also put large pvc pipes under the terrace to aid in water removal. The problem with this is the mud accumulates near the drain. Without the terrace the mud would wash away. I’m thinking of removing the lumber in those spots, letting the mud wash out and then putting them back up.

I also tried river stones under the gates- those washed away pretty quickly so that was a failure.

we made a swale system in two of our pastures. One pasture only has one swale 3/4 down the hill and has kept a lovely pasture. It’s deep, lowest point to ‘ridge’ about six feet and perhaps 12 foot wide, so easy enough to drive hay equipment over still. Other pasture has three small swales and has handles that gently sloping pasture nicely. Those swales are only about 18" deep.

On one of my properties i built a barn ontop a pretty slope-y hill. I ended up putting a deep shed at the outside of the barn proper and leaving it open, but putting panels across that whole side so they wouldn’t runn down or up that way, forcing them to enter and exit the side that was mostly flat. The barn did NOT have stalls, it was an open barn, 48x48, with that 16’ open shed. Worked great. I disc’d the slopes and planted fescue every year until finally there was enough fresh soil/manure for it to take hold. Paddock was this attached about a 2 acre run and open 24/7 for them.


Your county extension office is free, government agricultural aid.

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I did try emailing and contacting the county office a few times and had no response, so wasn’t sure if I was going in the right direction. :slight_smile:

Well, the county extension office is, at least in Virginia, an extension of the state’s (land grant?) university, in this case, my alma mater, Virginia Tech. Perhaps that gives you some ideas to find more resources in your area.

ETA:. Virginia Tech, at least, is a massive agricultural school. All sorts of projects and research going on, including horse breeding. My on-campus job was in the registrar’s office; a friend of mine was a turkey inseminator.


Thank you everyone for ideas so far. I’ll see if I can take photos and share them here for additional ideas.

I’m in Wisconsin, so have been trying to contact the UW County offices, but no success on a response yet, but sounds like something similar may still be a valuable resource. Much appreciated.

The first thing is to get an umbrella and pray for rain! Not actually kidding. You need to figure out where the water is coming from and where it is going. No amount of rehab of the downstream area that is eroded will be successful if the water keeps showing up. At a minimum I would start with gutters directed into downspouts that go into actual drains that take the water into an area that you can use as a swale and doesn’t have the horses on it. Ideally, I would also want to capture the surface water that is upslope of the barn and direct it away as well.
I use big four inch gutters (with leaf guards) that then go into four inch solid pvc buried pipe, it runs about a hundred feet to a hedgerow. A gravel filled drain with a buried filter sock pipe picks up water that comes in a sheet flow into the paddock, that sock pipe is also hooked into the pvc pipe.
Once you capture as much water as possible, geotextile fabric, stone dust, and grading is your friend.
As for people to talk to? I’m afraid that I find the extension agents to usually be well meaning but useless beyond being able to tell you what sort of grass would work. A better bet is a good construction company for the details of erosion control.


Remember that water runs downhill. Probably the simplest solution for you would be to dig a shallow ditch around your barn on the uphill side; that will direct water around the barn. Shallow and gradual, to keep from being dangerous. When anything is built, prudent, thoughtful construction is to have the ground slope away from the building on all sides. If that doesn’t happen, a small “moat” or drainage ditch will direct water away or wherever you want it.

This may not be sufficient; perhaps you need a more comprehensive solution.


OP, in this area the drainage guys are best for any water related issues. Same people who tile fields know what, know soil and know how to keep it going where it should and away from where it should not. Just a thought :slight_smile:


…“and what do you do for a living?”

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I would make small terraces over the eroded areas by the barn. As mentioned, wood edging are not hard to put in, then “I” would fill the terraces with rough edged stone or crushed concrete. Tamp down the fill to make a harder surface that will stay put. The rough edged stuff will lock together with use, stay put when the water goes thru or over it.

We have a solid, crushed concrete driveway to the barn now. Just kept adding more loads after the first load proved to be so good, despite rushing water trying to move it. Truly, the more you drive on the concrete, the more solid that driveway gets. Took a couple years to get in enough fill, but it is now a raised drive, above the paddock dirt beside it by about 6 inches. That is enough to contain flooding in the paddock when we get heavy rain, so water goes down the dug ditch into the big drain culvert pipe under the driveway, not into the barnyard or backyard anymore. That paddock has dug drainage ditches on two sides, fed by water from across the road drain (6") tile, via the under the road culvert, along with the swale drain pipe (6"). We ARE the low spot! There can be a LOT of water being pushed downhill to us.

In the past we had done sand, gravel, river (smooth sides up to cobble sized) stones. They all were inadequate for the job, washed out, away. The use of crushed concrete was suggested by a contractor and was cheaper than limestone. It has been a great material for us! Over the last few years we buy a load and spread it around on places that make us say bad words! Gates, route behind the barns driven daily to clean stalls. A standing pad for horses to get up out of the mud that usually lasts months.

The concrete can be crushed in various sizes, larger or small, it stays in place pretty well to be packed down. No tender footed horses here, bare or shod, they stride right across it going out or coming in.

The animals grazing the land previously could only benefit soil with their manure. Sheep is better fertilizer than horse. I would get soil tests done so fertilizer you spread will add what is needed for good pasture. Use Ammonium Sulphate instead of Urea, it is a better Nitrogen source with less issues. You WILL have to ask for it, they automatically give Urea to buyers. Benefits are MUCH less volitility, won’t evaporate away if not rained in immediately. No chance of Urea Poisoning if you don’t use Urea! Equally beneficial to the plants, it costs about the same as Urea. My husband the Farrier has seen cases of Urea poisoning, very ugly when the hoofs sluff off! No fixing that. Doesn’t happen every time Urea is used, but we are unwilling to take any chances. Urea Poisoning can affect any hooved animals, not just horses.

If you want to lay tile, get the stuff with th knit covering, called a sock on perforated pipe. Sock keeps dirt out of the pipe MUCH better than using plain perforated pipe for tiling to help control water flow, drainage of wet spots. We have a lot of socked pipe here, makes a world of difference when it is wet outside, much faster drying of The Mud we get!

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Find the best local clearing and grading contractor. He probably doesn’t advertise, doesn’t need to. Around here, you have to know someone who knows someone. Even if you find a phone number, you won’t necessarily get a call back without a referral.

The guys who have been moving dirt in your area for years know the local soil types, and know how the water moves on and in that soil. You can spend a great deal of money trying to convince water to go elsewhere, with varying degrees of success. These guys will know how to do it.

BUT. Do not let them loose with heavy equipment without supervision. Not until you get to know them and learn who you can trust. I have two contractors I can call and describe in general terms what I want, and they tell me about how much and then go do the thing and I don’t worry. The rest of them, I pretty much have to take the day off of work to watch them and answer questions. I learned this the hard way.


Have you tried the USDA Farm Service Agency office?
The Natural Conservation Service is in that same office and are specialists on preserving land programs, may even have one you may like that they will advice on and cost share with you.

When we were going to build our barn, we called them and they flagged a terrace above our location to divert water from those pastures around the barn.
We didn’t go thru them, we build it ourselves to their specifications, but they would have paid for part of it if we had.
Is working great, ask them, they know their stuff.

This. Gutters, a couple of dry wells with rock, crusher then quarter minus and maybe swales. The good excavator can work magic or well nearly magic. I’m in PA and have found my extension office … lacking. When we had a farm that bordered a major creek with some nominal flood exposure the stream restoration folks were very helpful.

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I disagree with the others that the County Extension office is the right place for this particular query. They’re a fantastic resource on many things, but IME they are not equipped to create a drainage plan (which is what you’re after). Just google ‘drainage contractor’ (or try this contractor referral website) and you’ll get a bunch of hits. (The extension office will certainly know of drainage contractors, but gov’t officials generally have strict rules against promoting or recommending private businesses) A contractor project (especially these days!) will probably run a few thousand but they’d fix it right and it’d be a long term fix.

If budget doesn’t permit, and given this seems like a pretty small area, this doesn’t seem all that hard to DIY. Bare minimum requirements would be that you have a tractor with FEL and you are willing to rent and operate trenching tools like a ditchwitch, and have a good eye for terrain. And lots of free time.

Definitely get a gutter installed. Even though it’s not a complex or difficult job to DIY, personally I’d hire this out because the pros can do it so, so, much faster. Homeowners have to buy short lengths of gutter and join them all, whereas a pro can just extrude the metal gutter in one long piece on-site. They did our 30x60 outbuilding in like 45min or an hour, and it was maybe $700.


Check out LightHoof, which is a mud management panel. I have it in various places on my property, including in an in/out off a stall that slopes gently down to a retaining wall. It is filled with 3/4 minus. I absolutely love it. That in/out doubles as my wash stall so it sees a lot of water. With the LightHoof, the gravel doesn’t go anywhere. In fact, we just had an absolute downpour yesterday and it’s perfectly fine. This is with no gutters on the barn.

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