Cedar Post Arrival

Will Unloading Cedar Posts

Back in 2007 I had been working on designing a large greenhouse for winter farrowing. We had saved up our money to buy the materials to build the greenhouse. Then in the spring of 2008 when we were supposed to start construction our butcher announced he was retiring. We slammed the brakes on the greenhouse project and switched gears to the Butcher Shop project because if we can’t get our meat to market there are no sales. Priorities became clear and shifted quickly. Life can be like that.

The money we had saved up to build the greenhouse went into the butcher shop. I had already been planning to build a butcher shop but had planned on starting construction in 2014. Well, now it is 2014 and we’re almost done construction of the butcher shop so we’ll be able to soon open for meat cutting. Now it is time to do something about that greenhouse project.

FarmTek is offering zero percent down with zero percent interest for four years on the purchase of their greenhouses and that makes it so that financially we can swing it. It will cost about half a pig a month – something we can do. Being able to farrow more of our sows through the winter will pay off with larger numbers of pigs being ready in August through November when we normally have a low count in our pig numbers.

What we need to do to make this happen is build a foundation for the greenhouse. It will be cedar post knee walls – basically two fence lines. Even our south field plateau which we carved out of the mountain is sloping ground. Having sloping ground is good as it drains, however it makes building a little more challenging. The knee walls will give us a solid, level base to build the arches on and also raise the greenhouse a little higher which helps the tractor drive in for delivering hay to the pigs as well as aiding in ventilation.

We’ve used open greenhouses with the pigs during the winters for about a decade. The ones we’ve been doing so far are all small, temporary ones made out of livestock panels, pallets and such and then covered with cheap construction grade plastic. These work. The trick is building them on a slight slope for drainage, having lots of ventilation leaving the south end, the lee to the wind end, open and having a vent at the north. They also must be pig tough as the animals tend to grab plastic if they can reach it and they rub up against posts to scratch.

One of the things we discovered long ago is that the pigs prefer to sleep under an bright sky. They don’t like dark sheds but prefer translucent glazing overhead. Thus open greenhouses work very well for them. I say greenhouse and most people will think of a hot house for keeping plants through the winter but these are really open cold frames.

What the greenhouses do is shift our seasons by about two months. Inside the greenhouse it feels like October or November in January and February. That makes a big difference to the smaller grower pigs and the piglets.

Inside the greenhouses we lay a deep bed of wood chips topped with hay. This composts producing heat – warm toes. The composting hay and twigs also become more digestible and the pigs eat much of it over the course of the winter. This is similar to the forest floor material that they like to root in during the warmer months.

Bright skies, shifting the seasons, local warming and easier winters. Happy pigs. Life is good on Sugar Mountain, even in the winter.

The irony with me buying cedar posts is I have maybe a hundred acres of cedar trees. However they’re not in my current rotation with our sustainable forestry and it is actually cheaper for me to sell my cedar logs, which are much higher quality, and buy in cedar posts. Economics work in funny ways.

Outdoors: 39°F/21°F Overcast, Light Snow
Tiny Cottage: 63°F/59°F

Daily Spark: It is easier to pull a pig with a treat than to push it up a hill.

About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor...
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21 Responses to Cedar Post Arrival

  1. Charlie says:

    How big is the greenhouse going to be? How many sows will be able to farrow at a given time?

    • Well, theoretically I suppose you could farrow about 80 sows simultaneously in it as it is 38’x96′ however that is a lot more than we’ll do and the greenhouse will serve more than just for farrowing. At any one time we only typically have about 10 to 20 sows in the phase of late gestation through nursing and they tend to farrow in groups rather than being precisely spaced out. That is to say, in one week ten sows might farrow and then there might be a couple of weeks of no farrowing – there is a bit of sorority style clustering.

  2. Bob says:

    I am looking forward to following you closely in this project, Walter.

    Our plans are to move to our land next year and the first farm project will be a greenhouse for animals. Do you have any concerns re dealing with snow load on yours? 38 feet is a large span and I wonder how you plan to deal with the weight of snow. We will be in Ontario, the same latitude as you but down near Lake Ontario where there is still quite a bit of snow some winters, but not as much as you get.

    Thank you and all the best!


    • Snow load has weighed heavily on my mind for years. We typically get around 14′ of snow which compacts down to about 40 to 48 inches of hard pack. I have seen a lot of greenhouse, riding arenas and similar structures, as well as barns, that have collapsed under the weight of snow and do not want that happening to us. Never mind the loss of the greenhouse, the loss of life would be far greater. Thus I have bought the strongest structure I can, will reinforce it with tensors and verticals in the inner section rather than trying for a clear span as they are sold. The company is confident that their arches will hold up the full 38′ clear span under heavy snow loads. We will divide it into three bays each about 13′ wide thus allowing for internal support and dividing the span’s weight into shorter sub-spans. This width is adequate for us to drive our tractors through and will make for good sleeping spaces through the winter nights. The pigs spend much of their day, even in the winter, outdoors so the greenhouse will not be a confinement setting but rather a bedroom much like our tiny cottage is for us. Interestingly, the pigs will have approximately proportionally the same floor space in their big cottage as we have in our tiny cottage and like them, we spend most of our day outdoors.

      • Sally Sievers says:

        When you’re figuring proportional floor space do you figure per individual, per foot or hoof, or per space they take up standing in a crowd? Each good sized pig looks like it would occupy about the same floor space as two or 3 of you skinny humans.

        • I was thinking adjusted for size – most of the pigs who will use the greenhouse as sleeping space in the winter are the smaller ones. Thus a human is far large than a typical pig who will be in the greenhouse. As the pigs get larger they seem to like sleeping outside more, camping out. They do like a bright sky and are more interested in shelter if it has a translucent roof that lets in light but all things being equal even then they’ll still often pick outside. Most of all they want a wind block and a warm bed which the deep bedding pack provides as the wood chips and hay compost – warm toes and bellies.

  3. Bill Beaman says:

    Will you have problems with the Cedar tree poles rotting out as time goes by?

    • Our experience is that plain spruce lasts much longer than six years, red spruce lasts much longer than 14 years and cedar is far better than either so it should outlast the time we need. We have well drained soils and will put gravel in the bottoms of the post holes to further improve drainage. Then most rot happens at the 6″ around the surface. If that becomes a problem in a decade or two we’ll just cut the walls off above the rot and jack the greenhouse up a few feet and then set it on a new stone base. I’ve raised houses like that before and the light weight rectangular greenhouse will be easier to do than a much heavier convoluted house. Part of the plan is that in a decade or two we will be making some changes to the greenhouse so I think the cedar posts will last well enough. We’ll see! Check back in 10 and 20 years.

  4. Peter says:

    Your next mission should be to build a sawmill and thus bypass the middle man. :-)

    • Actually, there used to be a sawmill here on our farm but it burned down. It made wood for the local bobbin mill for spooling yarn. Sawmills have a tendency to do that, burn down. There are several thriving local sawmills that we supply with trees – we do a lot of forestry work – as well as biomass for pellet making, pulp for firewood, saw logs for lumber (house framing), saw logs for cabinetry (hardwood) and veneer (mostly we ship to Japan, or rather they come here and pick which logs they want at the landing and by the time it gets to Japan it is already made into thin veneer by on-board lathes). Pulp is an interesting word in the forestry biz – it means trees not good enough for cabinetry or lumber but better than biomass. Sometimes it goes to making paper but not recently as the paper mills around here closed down.

      The reason the cedar didn’t come from our land in this case was that we just don’t happen to be cutting any cedar this year. We have lots of cedar but it is best done in the winter and in batches. I needed these logs in the fall. Sometimes the funny situation ends up where we sell our cedar and buy in posts. Happens with lumber and wood chips too. Weird economics make it work best that way. :)

  5. Peter says:

    I tell my wife, if we hit the lottery and buy the farm, it has to have timber on it so it is producing income as soon as possible. This is as the apple orchard grows of course. :-)

    You should see if you can pull up the Discovery Network show “Swamp Loggers” if you have a chance. Fascinating what you can do in the swamp.

    • I used the same rule. Many years the timber sales pay the mortgage, or at least the taxes. That helped a great deal in the years before our farming was profitable. I’ll check out “Swamp Loggers”. We don’t have TV here in the mountains but we get DVDs sometimes.

  6. Marc says:

    I’m intrigued to see your new construction on a green house has not, or appears to not use the work that you did previously on a green house prior to your butcher shop construction. (See this thread: http://sugarmtnfarm.com/2008/10/17/greenhouse-footer-pour/). I’m curious as to what factors lead you to abandon your previous efforts? What has become of those? I suspect that this new green house is of someone else design weighed in on your choice to begin anew.

    • No, we didn’t abandon the older greenhouse which is also known as the south field shed. That is in use and has been for years. We will continue using that in addition to this new bigger greenhouse. We’ve always had the plan to have multiple greenhouses and there are more planned in the future. We grow into them gradually rather than building out everything at once.

  7. Tim says:

    Paragraph 1. Sentence 4.

    • Hmm… I’m missing it. Can you be more specific?

      • Tim says:

        slammed the breaks… brakes

        • Ah! Thanks! A beautiful example of why it is so hard to proof my own writing. I read right past that over and over trying to figure out what the problem might be… If you can give the word that will get me right to it. I’m actually faster finding it as a word within context than as paragraph and sentence number since then I can use the “Find” feature in the browser. Thanks for catching it!

      • Farmerbob1 says:

        He might be objecting to the capitalization of B and S in Butcher Shop?

        I that was his objection, I’d simply capitalize the P in project, because it is a named project.

        • Tim says:

          I usually only correct spelling and homophones as they are either right or wrong. Extra or missing commas, some capitalizations and other grammatical items enter gray areas where I am not confident in making corrections or suggestions when the meaning is clear.

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