Country Living Series

Monday, October 14, 2013

Building an awning

As I alluded in yesterday's post, Don and our neighbor's son Master Hand Grenade have been engaged in building an awning on our barn. This will shelter our animals in inclement weather as well as cover a long feed box which will take up one entire side of the barn.

The awning has been planned ever since we built the barn two years ago. The size is generous enough to shelter our herd while being steep enough to shed snow.

Don started the infrastructure for this awning last year, but winter caught up with us before he could complete it.

This year he is committed to finishing the awning before the snow flies. Master Hand Grenade's help has been wonderful.

Two of our neighborhood's manly men -- I love it!

Last Friday they had finished the rafters...

...and today they got an excellent start on the sheathing.

It's been rather exciting, watching this project come to fruition.

The prevailing wind direction is on the opposite side of the barn, which means this awning will offer the animals the maximum protection.

But what happens if the "blizzard of the century" rolls through? What kind of shelter can we give the animals when the wind vortexes around the barn and dumps snow inside?

Well that's a story unto itself. You see, all summer long I've been collecting old billboard tarps from an advertising company. Originally the idea was to use them as weed control in the garden (where they've performed splendidly), but we quickly realized that these tough vinyl tarps have a thousand-and-one uses on a farm, anything from tarping hay to funneling rainwater into the pond.

One of the pre-cut sizes of these tarps is 14x48 feet which -- I'm not kidding -- happens to be the exact dimensions of the long side of the barn. So our plan is to grommet one of these tarps, fasten it under the eaves, roll it up when not in use, and have it ready to drop down and secured to the barn beams when necessary. This will offer both wind and snow protection inside the barn.

And, as Don puts it, if that mythical "blizzard of the century" comes roaring through, to heck with keeping the animals out of the hay bales. It's more important to keep them alive. In such circumstances, we'll shoo the whole herd into the barn and secure them there.

Actually, this mythical "blizzard of the century" isn't so mythical to the folks in South Dakota. Doubtless you've hard about the horrible recent tragedy in which a catastrophic early-season blizzard killed a hundred thousand cattle. My heart goes out to all the farmers and ranchers who lost stock.

Apparently "Livestock were initially soaked by 12 hours of rain before 48 consecutive hours or snow and winds up to 60 mph." That is one heck of a storm.

It's not just the economic loss to these ranchers, though that's devastating enough. It's an emotional loss as well. It's no easy thing to see dead animals, much less a tenth of a million of them. And the thought of losing one's entire herd (and livelihood) is devastating.

So we want to be prepared should the "blizzard of the century" roll through north Idaho. All of our dear animals -- Matilda and Ruby and Jet and Polly and everyone else, including the calves -- are too valuable, both financially and emotionally, to lose.

So an awning, as well as a pre-positioned tarp to drop across the entire front of the barn -- sounds like an awfully good idea to me.


  1. you let two people who aren't certified government carpenters wield power tools?! that has to be against some rule wrote down some where at some point in time, so some body should 'inform the proper authorities' that there are people 'endangering children' (after all, aren't all regulations for the children?) then they can charge you to have someone do it 'properly' and 'safely'. you were not by any chance using a a assault nail gun that can fire nails with every pull of the trigger were you, because 'everyone' knows the is a no-no. anyway its looking really nice.

  2. be careful when you unroll that AWNING TARP. HORNETS !!!!!!!

  3. Great idea and do be sure to cut some wind slits in the panel so it doesn't act like a sail and take off

    1. ...and melt (or cut) round holes at the ends of the slits in order to ensure the slits do not grow in length.

  4. Patrice,

    Talk about a fantastic job Don and Master Hand Grenade have done on the barn. I knew you would be using those billboard tarps for all kinds of things.

  5. Patrice, Thank you for raising awareness of our plight in SD. While we didn't lose any animals I know many who did. Eleven days later, some people are still without power.

    Even in the middle of winter, this would have been a serious storm. Winds actually made it up to 70mph, and at our place in the Southern Black Hills we had 4ft drifts.

    Hotels were offering free rooms to stranded travelers and those with no power. People were trying to clear roads with their own plows, neighbors were helping neighbors. It's going to be a long recovery for many ranchers, so please pray for them.

    1. Our prayers are with you all, Christina. I hadn't realized there'd been this extent of livestock losses. I am truly grieved to hear it.

      It's good to know your family wasn't affected in that way, and I hope you'll keep us aware of what's going on and if we may help in some way.


  6. Those tarps sound like the perfect thing for a farm. They are UV resistant, strong and free. I can think of all sorts of usage we could have used them for on the farm. I liked the weed stop use a lot and the awning / barn door use will be another good one. Your hay selection looks kinda short for this winter.

    1. Oh yeah, we're VERY short on hay. However we have ten more tons at a neighbor's we've purchased. We just haven't had a chance to bring it in yet.

      - Patrice

    we knew a man who almost didn't make it into the house from the garage. but they had tied a rope between the garage and the porch handrail.
    even at that, if his wife hadn't heard him pull in and stood in the doorway calling to him through the blizzard he wouldn't have made it those few steps.
    these blizzards are often sudden. ever read laura ingalls wilder about the two men in shirt sleeves on a hot day being overtaken by a blizzard?

    put ropes between each building. they can lie on the ground and you hold onto them to walk but they lie down again after you pass so they can be walked and driven over safely.
    i don't know if you read jackie clay's column { backwoods home magazine} but every year i look to see what the beavers are doing. it may be a false alarm but they seem to be preparing for an ice age this year.

    we did not hear about the blizzard. our 'news' has no real news unless you want to hear endlessly about sports and amoral 'celebrities'.
    we will pray for them now that we know. thanks!
    a word to the wise.
    deb harvey

  8. Unrolling tarps when needed....Sounds very much like unrolling the walls of an EZ Up canopy while at a show, and rolling them back up when you don't need them. Those business trips to Portland are valuable lessons in more ways than one!

    Also, regarding the heavy losses in South Dakota: The calamity is hard to fathom. Blizzards are a serious force that do real harm to real people. My prayers go them in their time of devastation.

    Just Me

  9. Wow, looks great! I wish both manly men were closer, I have some upcoming projects...but I have a couple manly men of my own. It would just go so much faster with more hands on deck.
    The Master has his plan and we will need to go at His pace, though.

  10. Almost (almost, lol!) nothing feels better than being able to relax at the end of a day filled with honest work! And I'm sure it will be just as good when the storms roll in and you can feel secure about your herds safety!

  11. I read where the ranchers are having trouble also with the carcasses. My prayers are with them.

    How lucky you are to have such good help. It is truly a blessing to have young men around helping.

  12. Manly men? You like them because there are so few of them. It's a good thing you left California. I hear their male politicians wear tutus. The women wear the pants.


  13. Looks wonderful! So glad you've got the help. God bless you all! The winter will be here before we know it!

    Learning in NY

  14. No Tutus for me.

    Make at least a sixsix... B-)

    Two years ago? You built the pole barn two years ago?!? My how time flies.

    Good suggestions above about wind slits and stress relief at the ends of the slits (round holes).

    One more. If you have some appropriate pulleys, a bunch of rope (400 to 500 feet) and 48 feet of irrigation pipe (or any largish diameter pipe - 4 in plastic would probably suit fine), you can -sort of- automate the operation.

    Sure it's "easy" to get the tarp into position - the first time...

    I am thinking about a mechanism similar to ones used on rolling blinds.

    A rope every few (8?) on the outside of the barn and tarp attached at the top.

    The pipe is attached to the bottom of the tarp.

    The ropes are only attached at the outside of the structure and run through the pulley - NOT to the tarps.

    The ropes pass under the pipe backup to the header and through pulleys to pass all of them to a pull point.

    Pulling the mess will be a massive chore, but if you have a winch, or an old garage door opener (better, you should be able to set up and down limits)...

    A method of attachment to the poles for the bottom pipe might help limit the tarp sailing as well.

    Just thinking out loud here.

    I have never seen something that is temporary AND useful remain temporary.

  15. Every thing appears Plumb and Square. It don't get better than that. Good job Guys.

  16. Rob in PRK has a great idea there. He makes me think of the opening flap of a Plains Indian Teepee. They normally had a couple of cross members to add both weight and rigidity to the flap. As Rob suggested, you would only need to secure the ends of the pipe or whatever you use. I would suggest something part-way down and at the bottom. Rebar might work.

  17. We understand about getting emotionally attached to farm animals. Last night my husband found "Blackie" dead. His name originated from the color of his wool, nothing more or less. He was usurped by "Fluffy" (Named for the condition of his very soft fluffy wool, probably some Ramboulet--we are not original with livestock names, if they even get one), but was kept around as a pensioner, better known as a livestock pet--not to be confused with an indoor pet. He was smart enough to wait until the rest of the herd was occupied, then carefully positioned himself to get a personal tid bit. He did give my husband some injuries over the years during breeding season, but overall he was a very nice ram. We will miss him.

    As an aside, female lambs that are bottle fed and will be kept,

    We do not usually have terrible weather in the northeast, save, of course, Hurricanes, northeasters or the almost non-stop rain we had that reeked havoc on the animals and garden. We are always concerned about our animals' (we have more than sheep) well being. If a farmer isn't concerned, they shouldn't be a farmer.

    There is no comfort in the saying, "If you have livestock, you will have "dead stock."