Self-Sufficiency Series

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Hay day

We have had the most exhausting day. That's because today we moved hay.

Now that the barn is finished, it was high time to get those 750 bales of grass hay under cover before the weather turned. We had a thunderstorm on Sunday evening (first rain in over two months) which got just the tops of the bales wet, but yesterday's sunshine dried them again. We knew our luck wouldn't hold forever. Fall is moving into north Idaho, and that hay needed to get protected from the weather.

Before we could stack the hay in the barn, we needed to bring in a couple dump trucks full of 1.5- inch gravel so the barn floor would have drainage. The truck barely fit under the trees.


The driver is making sure branches aren't getting caught in the truck bed.


While Don spread the gravel...


...Older Daughter and I joined some neighbor boys to start hauling hay.


It was an all-hands-on-deck work party. We needed two teams of three for hauling hay: each team needed a driver, a lifter, and a stacker. Here's our teenage work crew (Don and I rounded out the teams), looking rugged.


While the first team started hauling hay, Don and Younger Daughter smoothed out the gravel floor before stacking.


After each haul of hay, of course, we had to stack it.


Gradually the stacks of bales grew. At this point the boys were still rather cocky and cheerful. The day was fresh, the air was cool, and they were earning money.


And believe me, they earned every penny. It was brutally hard work.


Sometimes we saw weird things, like this carcass of a fawn.


But mostly it was just hard work. Yet gradually the stacks of bales grew.


We stopped for a sophisticated lunch of macaroni and cheese...


...and because everyone was working so hard, we made a quick batch of ice cream too.


Then it was back to work. At least the scenery was nice.


Here's Don's crew, across the field from us.


Can you see the barn on the right, with that growing stack of bales under the roof?


More stacking. To reach the upper levels, we made a chain gang, heaving bales from one level to the next.


And gradually the stack of bales grew.


More scenery, more endless rows of bales.


By this point the kids were getting mighty tired.


It took no time at all for the chickens to discover the bales.


More stacking...


...more endless rows of bales.


By this point the kids were getting seriously wiped.


A lot more resting between loads, a lot less cocky exuberance.


When we started at 8 am this morning, we optimistically thought it would take about five hours to move the bales. In fact, it took six people eleven hours. By the end of the day, a quarter of the barn's volume (one-half the floor space) was taken up in bales... and we were almost too tired to admire it.


We paid off our hard-working tired young men and brought them home. All over the American heartland during this time of year, there are similar scenarios unfolding: young people working alongside their elders, bringing in this nation's harvest and training muscles toward honest labor; cultivating food as well as cultivating a work ethic.

We're all tired tonight, but it's the tiredness of a good day's work.

Off to bed.

Barnraising! (Part 4)

Ding dong, the barn is done!

Sure enough, it's nothing more than a roof on stilts. But it's a roof that should last decades. We have all sorts of plans for completing it, but the hard part is finished and this roof will now offer protection for the 750 bales of hay which have been sitting out in the fields for the last three weeks.

Yesterday morning, the first thing the builders did was start unrolling tar paper on the roof.


Fortunately it was a touch cooler yesterday. The last week has been brutally hot here in north Idaho -- mid 90s, which is unusual and tough to handle since no one is used to heat. It was like working in an oven for these poor guys.


Once the OSB sheathing was covered with paper, they covered the ridgeline.


Then it was time for the metal roofing. Metal is the preferred roofing material in these parts because it sheds snow loads so beautifully. We had not seen many metal roofs until we moved to north Idaho, but it took only one winter for us to become absolute fans of this material.


Piece by piece, they hauled those metal sheets up to the roof and screwed them down. Thankfully it wasn't a windy day because that would have made the task exponentially more difficult.


After both sides were roofed, they put on the ridgecap.


After the metal roofing and ridgecap were on, I wondered what was left to do. But what the builders did next impressed me: they bolted the roof trusses to the uprights with massive bolts.


We get frequent high winds in our area -- 70 mph isn't all that uncommon -- so having this kind of shear strength is wonderful, especially once we increase the surface area of the barn by putting up siding.


And that was it -- the barn is done! Now came the boring task of cleaning up. They used the little Bobcat to level the dirt pad and fill the holes where the concrete was poured around the uprights.


Then the builders consolidated piles of scraps...


...loaded up their equipment...


...and departed amidst a blizzard of thanks for all their hard work.

This morning we have a load of gravel being delivered first thing. This will gravel half the barn floor (we'll have another load delivered later in the day). We have an all-hands-on-deck neighborhood workparty today. We hired three of the neighbor kids -- strong, strapping teenage boys -- to help us move hay. The weather is starting to change and we need to get those 750 bales of hay under cover or we'll lose the crop.

Thank the good Lord above, we have a barn!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Barnraising! (Part 3)

On Friday, the builders working on our barn raised the roof -- literally.

The day before, they had put the trusses in place and built the framing for two sections of the roof, but at ground level. We wondered how they would get those roof sections in the air with just two guys and no crane.

First thing they did was add a temporary 2x4 below the top board, so they could straddle the top board and support themselves on the 2x4.


Then out of their truck they pulled these nifty gizmos called boat winches.


They had left the 20-foot 6x8 uprights taller than they needed to be for the sole and exclusive purpose of supporting the winches. But since the winches only fit on a 6x6, they first had to trim the 6x8s down to 6x6s at the top.


Then the winches fit.


They pulled the winch cable down until they could wrap it around one end of the truss.


They had four winches, one for each corner of the roof section. Then starting at one end, they started cranking, a few inches at a time.


Back and forth they walked along the 2x4 support beam, cranking first one side, then the other side, no more than a few inches so as not to tweak the roof section.


And slowly the roof section was raised.


When the roof section was at the correct height, the builders nailed it in place. A truly elegant and deceptively easy method to accomplish what seemed impossible.


They repeated this procedure for the other roof section.


With the two outer roof sections up and in place, the builders now had a structure on which to stand while they built the middle sections.


Amazing to think those roof sections were on the ground just a couple hours earlier.


Next they put up the OSB sheathing.


What an incredible day's work!


The builders: Don (on the right) and his assistant Mike (left).


While Don and I chatted with the builders, I happened to photograph a dust devil that formed nearby.


On Monday the builders will finish the job. Tar paper and metal roofing should be the last step. The result will be a roof on stilts, and Don and I can finish out the rest. We already have salvaged metal siding, and we'll add bays, feed boxes, interior lofts, etc. as time and money permit.

As Don mentioned, this barn will change the whole tenor of our farm. Within a year or so, we will no longer look like a patched-together place. It will be much more efficient.