10 September 2008

Homesteading Skills: Building Barns

We moved onto a bare piece of land in the fall, two years ago. Before us were 10 acres of clover and Timothy grass pastures, 90 acres of mixed woodland regrowing from clear-cut, and an 80 year old hand-drilled shallow well with a hand pump. The rest was up to us. We put our homesteading skills to the test.

We brought with us a modest but temporary mobile home, a good wood cook stove, a milking cow in calf, a Standard bred workhorse, a dozen hens and a few hand tools. Our first priorities were to design an affordable power system, and build fences and a barn to winter the animals. We did not do this with very much money behind us, so we relied on effectively using what we had, and experimenting with new ways of doing things.

Since there was an abundance of small timber that needed to be thinned for the health of the regrowing forest, we used "bush timber" to build the barns. But lacking the skills and hand tools that built thousands of beautiful barns before gas motors and electricity, we used a less ideal, but effective power saw. The cost of the power saw was more than covered by the savings in purchased lumber. I would have loved to build our barns "the old way", but with winter coming, I had to sacrifice an ideal for the necessity of getting a thing done. The small amount of gas used to power the saw is significantly less than the amount of gas required to drive to town to purchase eggs, milk and meat.

We experimented with different methods of milling and building, using 4-6 inch diameter poplar and fir thinnings. Mr. Fritillary learned to cut decent free-hand inch boards, posts, and rafters in just about any size and shape we needed. We brought lengths of wood down from the forest with our trusty horse Pilgrim, who puts in honest work for his oats. Log cabin type walls were the design we settled on, and before winter arrived, a curious and generous neighbour donated some used tin sheets to cover our 256 square foot shed roof barn. It wasn't much to look at, but it brought us and our animals through winter and each year we have continued to improve it.

We learned to build inexpensive roofs with a layer of boards, tar paper and a tarp. We learned how to best insulate the animals from the bitter winter winds by organizing our hay storage. We learned from a few mistakes. Not including the saw, our barns cost us about $150, and we now have a 1200 square foot barn that provides hay, grain and shelter for a horse, a dairy cow or 3 goats, and a small flock of hens. And more than this, we have the confidence and knowledge that we gained from the experience. Above all I have learned that homesteading skills are less about method, and more about resilience and commitment. In other words, there is always a way to get something done, and you may not do it the best way, the first time.

Our power system was a challenge of a different sort. We are still improvising, experimenting and researching appropriate renewable home power systems. I will detail that story in another blog.


Susy said...

I LOVE your stove. Have you ever seen the UK show "Good Neighbors"? Reminds me of when they bought their old wood stove. If you haven't seen it you should get it from the library this winter. You guys would appreciate it. Mr Chiots and I loved it.

Anonymous said...

first I have to agree with susy, LOVE "Good Neighbors!" :) And secondly I'd just like to say how amazing I find all the work you've done! (I LIKE the look of the barn too, btw.) I cannot wait to hear all about how you power the place.

Freija and Beringian Fritillary said...

susy and farm mom, thanks for the recommendation, we will check it out this winter!

susy, the stove is the centerpeice and the workhorse of the household. It can heat 2,000 sq ft, and I can really process some food on this baby. The oven will bake 8 loaves of bread. It also heats all of our domestic hot water.

farm mom, thanks for the praise on the barn, we are usually pretty shy about the way it looks. We would love to build a beautiful barn, but functionality won out this time!

Throwback at Trapper Creek said...

Love your barn, and woodstove. We find our woodstove to be very economical heating and cooking. We too have an abundant supply of wood, so using wood for fuel is efficient in our area.

Cattle are best for our area, as we have to deal with cougar predation and the cattle for the most part can protect themselves. We do not feed grain so that isn't an issue for us.

Your homestead is beautiful, and I'm looking forward to more posts.
Thank you.

Freija and Beringian Fritillary said...

Throwback at Trapper Creek, cougars wow, do you keep any livestock guardian dogs? We have some cheeky coyotes and the occasional hungry bear, but no cougars to worry about. Our three little border collies keep the predators away. And they are shaping up into great herders, so they could be helpful with a small flock of goats and sheep.

I have gotten hooked on that rich Jersey cream, but on our scale, the cow requires too much pasture and hay, and gives so much more than we need. I think goats will be enough of a relief that I will make the switch to goat milk and white butter without bellyaching too much!

Throwback at Trapper Creek said...

We have Australian Shepherds (another herding breed) to keep most of the predators away, but the cattle have to fend for themselves as far as the cougars go. We have changed our calving season to a little later than the deer and elk (cougars preferred food)and we rotationally graze, so the cattle do not have access to the forest during calving. The cattle would prefer to calve in the woods, but with the hunting laws being changed to enhance the cougar populations, I don't see that happening anytime soon. The real worry is there is some talk of introducing wolf pairs, and we live near one of the areas that the government is considering. That would be a huge problem. Coyotes here are not a problem, unless people make it so, they stay with the cows at calving time to get that milk rich calf poop. We can tell by the cows actions that they are not bothered by this, however a strange dog will upset them.

I hope the goats work out better for you. I will go to once a day milking in the dead of winter, and that helps the cow and gives us less milk to deal with. A family cow is a lot of work. Now we raise roots for winter, instead of feeding grain, and that has helped the health of the milk cow quite a bit. Probably the single thing that has made a difference on our carrying capacity and pasture/hay quality has been to follow the MiG (management-intensive grazing) with electric fencing. This in conjunction with composting our cattle's manure for a year and applying that to our hay ground.

Freija and Beringian Fritillary said...

Producing dairy poducts at home is an intensive but managable process. I really admire the way you are approaching and organizing the way you use your land and animals.

We grew a small plot of mangles (fodder beets) this year to see how the cow and/or goats would do with them.

All of our composted manure has been needed in the garden as yet, but we intensively graze (horse, cow, pig or chicken) over any new ground we are turning for grains and garden. The hay fields would produce a much heavier crop with composted manure.