On the type of small, diversified operation we’re developing, a variety of small buildings and shelters are necessary. Greenhouses, storage, animal shelters, and so on are all needed, but I’m leery of building permanent structures. Real (wood or metal) structures cost time and money, and plans often change as new things are learned or decided. For example, I had designed a nice 10’x20′ permanent goat shed to be built out of our milled cedar, but decided that such a project was getting ahead of ourselves, as we were sure to learn more about our needs and those of the goats as time progressed, and why lock ourselves into something before we knew what we were doing?
Enter our favorite temporary building, the cattle-panel hoop structure. This is something we first saw demonstrated at the annual Small Farm Today trade show in Columbia, and we’ve adapted it for our own use. Basically, it consists of a series of 4’x16′ cattle panels (a strong yet flexible grid of metal rods), staked to the ground, and flexed into an arch. These provide a very strong, sturdy, yet flexible base for a greenhouse or structure for less cost and bother than building a solid wood or metal structure. Cattle panels sell new for around $20, but can often be found used.
One side of a panel is staked to the ground with 1/2″x3′ rebar, then flexed into an arch before the other side is staked in. A floor 8′ wide produces an arch just under 6′ high. The rebar is important because these panels, while flexible, take a lot of pressure to stay in place and 3′ rebar pounded deeply provides the necessary strength. Each panel is erected next to the others, and fastened to its neighbors with looped wire at many intervals along the hoop. Cover can be provided by plastic sheeting or tarps; the latter are stronger and easier to attach using office-supply binder clips and twine tied from the grommets to the base of the panel.
I find that an 8’x12′ structure using 3 panels takes me 1-2 hours to build from start to finish. We have three of these structures currently, serving as chicken house, milking shed, and hay storage, and more are in the works as greenhouses and other storage. They are easy to take down and move if plans change, and generate no waste as everything can be reassembled elsewhere as needed.
This sort of structure is easy, affordable, completely reuseable, and stands up to weather quite well, as it’s able to flex in high winds and won’t rot or decay. Thick tarps ought to provide reasonable hail protection, and are easier to replace than shingles. We love these structures, and it’s something many folks with small farms could consider using. For our chicken house, we simply lined the inside with straw bales for insulation and built plywood and screened walls for the ends. For our milking shed, we staked additional panels across the ends (one loose as a gate) to keep the goats out as needed. For hay storage, we just left the ends open and place the hay on a raised platform to keep it off the damp ground. For greenhouses, we cover the hoop in clear plastic and built ends with windows and doors as needed. Flooring can be gravel, wood chips, straw, or a combination depending on need.
Using these gives us quickly available structures, while letting us learn and experiment with interior floor layouts so that when we do get around to building a more permanent hen house or goat barn, we have a better sense of what we want to do. This is certainly not our idea, and a Google search turns up many versions, but this is how we do it and it works wonderfully for us.