That is the start of winter housing for our pigs. We do not have a barn. If we did have a barn I wouldn’t house the animals in it because it would be unhealthy for both them and us. The animals need lots of fresh air and a conventional, closed up barn means a build up of ammonia and other gasses plus dust in the air that will irritate lungs, sinuses and cause respiratory diseases. None of that is good for the pigs, sheep, chickens, dogs or us.
Besides, the other problems with barns is you have got to clean them out and pay taxes on them. I don’t shovel manure. The animals do that for me. Who am I to take their job away from them, to play housemaid to a bunch of pigs and sheep. This way they keep their bedding clean and go out to poop in the fields and gardens. I just throw in more bedding occasionally as they eat it up.
Instead of barns we use open shed housing. The first one we built was a pole shed using post and beam construction techniques. That has been standing in our main kitchen garden for four, almost five years now. It is a simple open wall construction so there is plenty of air flow in the warm weather. In the fall we put hay bales on the west, north and east sides to block the wind. We also fill one of the bay’s in the shed with hay. The hay in the bay and then eventually the walls provide food for the animals in the shed – by spring when the days are warmer they have finished eating themselves out of house and home – although they still have a good roof over their head! We also gave them a deep bed of hay on the ground to give them a warm place to sleep. Originally we used it to house our sheep and then pigs when they were in the garden for the winter making the original sub-soil all rich and fertile. Now we use it for raising up baby chicks and over wintering the young poults.
By the by, if you use rock maple for your beams don’t expect to ever pound a nail, punch a staple or set a screw into it later once it has dried… It isn’t called rock maple for nothing. Nails and screws go in fine when it is green.
Last fall Will and Ben helped me dig holes along the upper hillside of the sow level terrace. We covered these over with a log in front and some old plywood concrete forms in two of the three dens – the third we roofed with two large slabs of granite. Remember, the third little piggy’s house was made of stone… Filled with hay for bedding these minimal dens gave the pigs and sheep comfy sleeping quarters for the winter. Each one was big enough for six sheep or four large sows and they only used two of the three.
Interestingly, on nice nights, even when the temperatures were in the -20째F’s or so the animals often just sleep outside the shed or dens on the hay. The time they use the shelters the most is when there is precipitation, especially wet sleet. What they mostly want is not to be in the cold wetness. Cold is not much of an issue. Dryness is very important. When it gets really cold they just dig down into the hay and snuggle up against each other.
This year we expanded the cuts in the hillside to make the dens much larger. A backhoe is a wonderful thing! The den that Kita, Holly and Hope are standing inside of in the photo above is the smallest den. The others are about twice that wide and deeper into the hill. I cut back into the weak ledge of the hillside to get very solid walls.
In the photo above we had just finished putting up the wooden structure consisting of a central post, beam, joists and battens. The beam and joists are raised up off of the earth on small stone walls and then 3′ long sections of 1/2″ rebar were driven through drilled holes in the logs into the ground to anchor the roof in place. The resulting structure is very solid. Next we will put on the roofing, the swimming pool metal. We’ll screw the metal to the battens which are spaced 12″ apart. The resulting shed opens to the south east so the pigs get the morning sun to wake them. On the windward side I build up a wall of dirt that acts as a wind break. When the snows get deep they’ll extend the windbreak considerably.
I’m not building the White House or the Ritz – perhaps it is the Pig-mahal. I do need to keep costs down. I figure that if I were to store buy the materials at the lumber yard for these sheds they would cost $500 to $700 each or even more even with the cash discount. I might be able to make it cheaper using lower dimensional lumber but it would not be as strong or last as long. As it was, we are building these three sheds for under $10 per shed – the nails and screws.
To keep costs down we saved good straight logs and tops from our wood cutting and land clearing. Since I am already cutting these materials and they aren’t high enough grade to sell this means the cost for the wood is zero. My firewood pile is already full. For hardware I mostly use spikes made of old sections of 1/2″ rebar as well as a a dozen 20p nails, some 2″ screws for the battens and two handfuls of roofing screws with the rubber gaskets. That’s for all three sheds combined. Keeping it simple.
For roofing material, a big cost, we did use store bought metal on one shed a few years ago – it comes to about $100 roof. Nice roof. Metal prices have shot up a lot since then. When possible I scrounge old roofing or other materials like what is going on the three roofs we’re working on right now. In this case someone down in the valley had their above ground swimming pool blow out – ripped the metal wall clean in half. I saw the mess in their yard and asked if they would like me to clean it away. They were delighted. I got a large amount of 4′ high heavy duty sheet metal with a baked on paint coat and the pool liner which makes great hay tarps. They saved on their trash bill – a win-win situation. That little win-win meant I now have enough metal to roof over the three pig dens for free. Word got around and we picked up another broken pool liner a few weeks later.
The sheds will last for a good long time. They have no foundation so the town considers them a temporary structure and doesn’t tax them. The only part touching the soil is the base of the central post which is 12″ thick. We set it up on a bed of stones in dry dirt under a protective roof which should make it last well. When it rots I can cut off the bottom few feet and replace that with a stone. I’ll pin the remaining post to that.
These sheds aren’t going to win any house beautiful awards. They will keep the animals dry and the wind off their backs. A little scrounging and careful design keeps the price affordable with simple post and beam style construction. A simple, low cost, easy to build, healthy solution to winter animal housing.
“A penny saved is 1.58 cents earned” -B. Frankling (adjusted for taxes)
Low 16째F, High 36째F, Sunny
Also see: Pig House Warming