One of the larger projects this fall has involved building a permanent barn to house our goats in the winter and our dairying operations & hay year-round. We used portable and/or temporary shelters for the first few years we kept goats, partly for budgetary reasons, and partly to gain experience that would allow us to decide (a) whether we wanted to do this in the long run and (b) what management methods and setups worked best for us. Three years later, we’re pretty comfortable sticking with the home dairying and are ready to establish a better setting. Enter the nearly finished dairy barn:
Sited just north of our main vegetable field, at a central location to most of our pastures, this will make life far more efficient. Goat living space is in the eastern half (this view looks roughly east), with the western half devoted to milking space and hay storage. More hay storage is in the loft (I haven’t yet added doors to the open gaps you see). The south extension (closer to the camera) houses a frost-proof hydrant and tool storage, along with a covered sunning area for the goats. The north extension will be fenced away from goats, allowing for general tool/supply storage there. Below, you see two residents enjoying their hay rack:
And here is a view of the not-quite-finished milking area, with hay temporarily on the milking stand. I still need to install a basic sink in the corner under the windows, build some shelving, and so on. But it’s usable:
As may be clear from the photos, the entire structure is built from our own cedar lumber cut and milled on-farm. All we purchased was the concrete mix to pour our own footings, some hardware like bolts and brackets and hinges, and the roof. The windows are reused plexiglass panels from a set of old storm windows a neighbor gave us years ago. The metal roofing was purchased from Martin Metals in Versailles, MO, a local company which custom-manufactures its own metal roofing and siding to order. I called in my order at 10:30 in the morning and had the panels delivered, custom-cut to the inch, by 3pm that afternoon. And the price was effectively equivalent to standard, non-cut panels from a big-box store that I would have spent a lot more time cutting to size (and potentially wasting the leftovers).
This barn won’t house goats year-round, as we keep them rotating onto new pastures from May through October to avoid a buildup of parasites which are the main health concern with goats. Taking them to the same home site all the time would destroy that; we use portable shelters during the grazing season. But it will house them during the winter when the need for comfort outweighs the parasite risk, and will allow for clean, convenient, and weather-proof milking year-round.
We’re looking into other ways to make the most use of this building, including housing young pigs in the spring once the goats are turned out to pasture. Based on our experience this year, very young pigs are really nervous and jumpy and need time to become tamer; they also fit through most fencing. Housing them in this barn post-goats would allow them to settle down in a secure, easy-to-manage setting while contributing extra manure to the winter’s pile for later composting. Once they grow large enough for other fencing, and are more manageable (about a month) we can turn them out onto pasture as well. Poultry are another long-term possibility.
All this may seem a large project just to avoid the convenience of buying milk, cheese, and yogurt from a store or farmers market. But beyond the highest-level food quality we get from this, there are two more benefits. One, everything we do for ourselves is a form of farm insurance against product loss or other disaster. If we have to buy all our food, then we have to earn enough to do that, which puts more pressure on us to grow more and earn more to make that happen, exposing us to higher risks. We can exist with a much lower gross income than a farm buying all its food (and building supplies) from the outside world. Two, as we’ve tested this year, these products can be used to pay employees and possibly even to complement a future CSA (vegetable CSA with optional hog share, anyone?), thus also generating value for the farm that does not involve money we have to earn with all the benefits listed above. And this structure is designed to allow for herd expansion, whether dairy or meat, if we ever decide to.
We’re going to have to work long hours on a farm no matter what; we’d rather that a larger percentage of the work directly benefit us with no middleman than work just as hard to sell twice as much to go back and buy all this stuff with the narrow profit remaining. It simply makes more sense to us, though I think we’re pretty rare in that respect. Just too bad that most of this won’t let us earn anything directly, as it doesn’t get us any closer to legal cheese-making or on-farm meat sales. Oh well.