Building Permit Requirements for Livestock Operations

Factsheet - ISSN 1198-712X   -   Copyright Queen's Printer for Ontario
Agdex#: 720
Publication Date: 12/07
Order#: 07-063
Last Reviewed: 08/2015
History: Original Factsheet
Written by: Matt Wilson - Environmental Specialist/OMAFRA

Table of Contents

  1. Zoning
  2. Minimum Distance Separation
  3. Nutrient Management Strategy (NMS)
  4. Site Characterization Study
  5. Conservation Authority Approval
  6. Professional Engineering Design
  7. Summary

The Ontario Building Code Act, 2006, (OBC) is the main regulation that governs farm building construction in Ontario. Buildings that are used to house animals or store manure are also regulated under the Nutrient Management Act, 2002 (NMA). These regulations and others need to be considered when planning to build or renovate any farm structure. For all agricultural construction projects, the farm owner is responsible for obtaining a building permit.

This Factsheet provides an overview of requirements to obtain a building permit from a municipality to build a farm structure associated with a livestock operation. Across Ontario, the requirements of local building authorities may differ to reflect local bylaws. It is best to discuss a project with your building official to ensure all requirements are understood early in the planning process.

Delays in obtaining a building permit can result from missing required information. If the proposed building site fails to meet the provisions of the local bylaw, the project could be delayed considerably, or a building permit could be denied. Figure 1 shows a livestock barn that has met all requirements for a building permit, including an approved Nutrient Management Strategy (NMS).

Figure 1 shows a newly constructed livestock facility with under-barn manure storage that has met all building requirements.

Figure 1. Newly constructed livestock facility with under-barn manure storage.

Table 1 can be used to determine which sections of this Factsheet apply to your project. It shows all the requirements for a building permit for structures on livestock operations. For all projects, it is important to consider:

  • municipal zoning
  • conservation authority
  • professional engineering design (Professional engineering design can be both a municipal and an NMA requirement.)
Structure Minimum Distance Separation I Minimum Distance Separation II Nutrient Management Strategy Site Characterization Study Building Permit
Livestock Facility No Yes Yes No1 Yes
Concrete/Steel Manure Storage No Yes Yes Yes Yes
Earthen Manure Storage No Yes Yes Yes No2
Implement Shed No No No No Yes
Feed Storage No No No No Yes
Dwelling Yes No No No Yes

1 A livestock facility containing manure storage may need a site characterization study.
2 An earthen manure storage requires a professional engineering design.


Not all agricultural land will be zoned the same; the zoning can vary according to total acreage and nearness to urban areas. There may be building restrictions on the land, based on the zoning classification. Check with your local municipal planning department to determine what your land is zoned and then refer to the municipal zoning bylaw to determine whether your proposed building is a permitted use in that zone.

It is important to know:

  • the zoning of the site
  • the type of buildings permitted in that zone
  • any additional zoning restrictions for the site

If a project does not meet the zoning requirements of the site, there is an option to apply for a zone change for the property. However, the process can be lengthy, and fees for the application may apply. In addition, a rezoning will require a public hearing. It is important to note that there are no guarantees a zone change will be granted.

Specific information on local zoning and zoning requirements can be obtained from the local municipality.

Minimum Distance Separation

Minimum Distance Separation II (MDS II) is the minimum separation distance required between new livestock facilities or manure storages and property boundaries, houses, recreational areas and other land uses. The separation distances calculated by MDS II will vary according to a number of variables, including:

  • type and number of livestock
  • type of manure system
  • livestock management (i.e., tie stall barn vs. free stall barn)
  • expansion factor (any building permits issued for expansion in the previous 3 years)

MDS II distances need to be calculated early in the planning process to determine if a structure can be built in its proposed location. Figure 2 shows an example of a map, which may be requested by a municipality to demonstrate that your building meets the separation distances prescribed by MDS II.

Minimum setback distances will be calculated from:

  • nearest neighbour's dwelling
  • Type A land uses (lower density of human occupancy, habitation or activity)
  • Type B land uses (higher density of human occupancy, habitation or activity)
  • nearest lot line (side or rear)
  • nearest road allowance

If a proposed facility is to be expanded or the operation will have barns or manure storages added to it in the future, MDS II will also apply to these additions or to new buildings. Consequently, locate new facilities where MDS II will not be a problem for future expansions to the operation.

MDS II is the municipality's responsibility to verify and enforce. If the actual setback distances are close to those calculated by MDS II, the building official may require verification of actual distances by a legal survey.

If your proposed project cannot meet the MDS II setback distances, applying to your local municipality for a minor variance may be an option. However, obtaining a minor variance can be time consuming, and fees may be required. In addition, there are no guarantees that a minor variance will be granted by the local Committee of Adjustment.

Minimum Distance Separation I (MDS I) is the minimum separation distance required between new development and existing livestock facilities or manure storages. MDS I calculations do not apply to proposed dwellings on the same lot as livestock facilities or manure storages.

More information about MDS can be found in OMAFRA Publication 707, Minimum Distance Separation Formulae Implementation Guidelines.

Figure 2 is an example of a site map that may be required in a building permit application

Figure 2. Example of a site map that may be required in a building permit application.

Nutrient Management Strategy (NMS)

The Nutrient Management Act, 2002, requires any building project relating to livestock housing or manure storage facility to have an approved nutrient management strategy (NMS) before a building permit will be issued. This applies to all farms that generate more than five nutrient units and are proposing to build, expand or renovate.

An NMS takes into account:

  • types and numbers of livestock
  • type of housing and manure management
  • manure volumes produced
  • manure storage requirements
  • management of runoff
  • available land and/or agreements to utilize the manure
  • location of sensitive features (wells, wetlands, surface water and inlets, floodplains) on the farm unit in relation to livestock housing and manure storages
  • location of nearest municipal well

An NMS must be prepared by a certified person. Producers have the option of taking the required courses to prepare their own NMS or hiring a private consultant. Once an NMS is prepared, the document is submitted to OMAFRA for approval. Once approved, a legal document called a Record of Approval is issued.

Allow at least 3-4 weeks to receive an approval, as the processing time varies with number of applications and completeness of the submission. The Record of Approval is required by the building official as one of the requirements for obtaining a building permit.

For more information about Nutrient Management, see or call the Nutrient Management Information Line at 1-866-242-4460.

For information on becoming certified and a list of private consultants holding the Agricultural Operation Nutrient Management Strategy/Plan Development certificate, see

Figure 3 is a concrete liquid manure storage that would require a site characterization study before construction.

Figure 3. A concrete liquid manure storage that would require a site characterization study before construction.

Site Characterization Study

A site characterization study is required under the NMA. The study must be completed and reported prior to the construction or expansion of any of the following permanent manure storage facilities:

  • permanent liquid manure storage for any livestock operation greater than five nutrient units, including liquid earthen storage facilities
  • permanent solid manure storage without a concrete floor located on a farm unit that generates 300 or more nutrient units

Figure 3 is an example of a liquid manure storage that would require a site characterization prior to construction. The study must be conducted by a professional engineer or a professional geoscientist. Under the Nutrient Management Act, two levels of protection are required as a defence against seepage of nutrients to surface or groundwater from permanent manure storages as defined above. The site characterization study determines the proximity from the bottom of the storage to bedrock and water table. It also determines, to a specific depth below the structure, whether the native soil is capable of acting as a second line of protection against seepage, or if an artificial liner will be required.

Site characterization studies take time to complete and should be scheduled along with other required tasks. If a study is done before the NMS is completed, any problems encountered can be addressed and options evaluated. Keep in mind that the structural engineer will need the site characterization report before designing the storage.

For more information about site characterization studies, see Ontario Regulation 267/03, section 64.

Figure 4 is an example of a wetland area regulated by a Conservation Authority

Figure 4. Wetland area regulated by a Conservation Authority.

Conservation Authority Approval

Conservation Authorities have the responsibility to regulate activities in natural and hazardous areas in order to prevent the loss of life and property due to flooding and erosion, and conserve and enhance natural resources. This is done under Ontario Regulation 97/04, for example, in areas near and affecting:

  • rivers
  • streams
  • floodplains
  • wetlands
  • woodlots
  • severe slopes

Figure 4 shows an area that may require a permit from the local Conservation Authority before a building permit can be issued.

Projects in regulated areas are reviewed based on their impact on:

  • flooding
  • hydrology
  • wetlands
  • woodlots
  • severe slopes

Review of applications may take several weeks and may require:

  • site plans
  • location maps
  • building plans
  • site visits

If the impact to the area is determined to be too great, the project application may be declined. It is best to check with the Conservation Authority in your area to determine the location of any regulated areas and the associated building requirements.

More information on this topic can be obtained from your local Conservation Authority.

Professional Engineering Design

All building construction in Ontario must follow the Ontario Building Code Act, 2006 (OBC). The OBC describes the requirements that must be met for all new or expanding buildings in the province. The OBC specifically defines when a building permit is required and when the building or component is required to be designed by a professional engineer or architect. If required, engineering drawings of the structures are prepared that include the seal and signature of the licensed professional(s) responsible. Earthen manure storages do not require building permits, however, engineering is still a requirement under the NMA. Check with your local building official to determine if your project requires engineering beyond NMA requirements.

Engineering drawings should reflect all functional, structural and environmental requirements of the structure(s) and associated equipment. When professional engineers design a structure, they are responsible to ensure construction follows the design requirements and specifications. The engineer will be required to make scheduled site visits during construction to ensure the design is being followed as per the OBC and the NMA, when applicable.

The engineering drawings must be submitted with the building permit application. With an estimate from the designer of the time required to complete the design and drawings, it can be factored into the project schedule.

More information on engineering requirements can be found in the OMAFRA Factsheets Engineering Requirements for Farm Structures, Order No. 10-089, and Constructing a Farm Building in Ontario, Order No. 07-007.


Be sure to allow for adequate time to obtain all necessary approvals for your project before scheduling construction. You may want to create a checklist to ensure you investigate all the needed requirements.

Your checklist should include, but not be limited to:

  • discuss project with your local building official
  • verify zoning
  • satisfy MDS
  • obtain Record of Approval for your Nutrient Management Strategy
  • complete site characterization study
  • obtain any required Conservation Authority approvals
  • complete engineering drawings
  • complete building permit application

For more information:
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