Story: Farm buildings

Buildings on New Zealand farms range from the grand homesteads and huge brick shearing sheds of large sheep stations, to simple corrugated iron mustering huts, where men slept on bunks made from wooden poles and sacking.

Story by Robert Peden
Main image: Morven Hills cookhouse, Central Otago

Story summary

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Building materials

New Zealand’s early farm buildings were mostly made from local materials – timber, stone, cob (mud mixed with straw), concrete, or bricks made on the farm – or imported corrugated iron. Today, many farm buildings have a steel or wooden frame, and a corrugated-iron roof and walls.


Sheds for shearing sheep have four main spaces:

  • an area to keep sheep dry overnight before shearing
  • the shearing board – so named because shearing used to be done outside on boards
  • the wool ‘room’, an area in the open shed where wool handlers sort the fleeces
  • a storage area for wool bales.

The basic design of woolsheds has not changed much since the 1860s.

Milking sheds

Milking sheds have changed greatly over time. Originally, cows were hand-milked in simple sheds. Later, sheds had concrete floors and running water.

After milking machines were introduced, more rooms were needed for the motor, vat and separator. New Zealanders invented the herringbone shed, where cows line up on each side of a pit, and then the rotary platform, where cows are milked on a revolving platform.


The farmhouse or homestead usually has a verandah to hang wet gear and a woodshed. At the gate is a big mailbox where goods can be left.

In the past, large farms with many staff often had men’s quarters – a line of bunkrooms with a cookhouse at the end. Mustering huts in remote areas were built of corrugated iron, and had dirt floors and bunks made from wooden poles and sacking.

Other early buildings

Other buildings included:

  • hay barns
  • stables for horses
  • a smithy, where a blacksmith made horseshoes, gate hinges and catches, and repaired iron tools
  • a futtah – a store shed on stilts for keeping food supplies safe from rats, named after the Māori word ‘whata’.

Other modern buildings

Farms today may also have:

  • implement sheds, for storing vehicles and tools
  • a killing shed, where animals are killed for meat
  • a super bin, for storing superphosphate fertiliser
  • a concrete pad where cows are kept in winter, sometimes under a roof.
How to cite this page:

Robert Peden, 'Farm buildings', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 20 May 2024)

Story by Robert Peden, published 24 November 2008