Thursday, October 22, 2015

Building a bull shed annex

Slowly over the last few years, we've been modifying the barn to suit our particular needs -- or more specifically, the needs of our livestock.
When Don built the bull pen in 2012, he included a nice shed to offer shelter for the bull and whichever penmates he had with him.

As it turns out, this shed got bogged in mud (gutters are our next project) so we had to add tons of gravel to keep the animals elevated out of the wet during bad weather.

Also as it turns out, one shed wasn't enough. Dominant animals boot out less dominant animals, so last month Don built a second shed to house everyone.

But the bull pen had yet another weakness: it had nowhere to feed the animals. For the last few years, we've simply pitched hay over the fence onto the ground, possibly the single worst way to feed livestock in existence. It's hugely wasteful and resulted in an ever-growing mound of buildup. Additionally, it meant the animals fed outside regardless of rain or snow, so any leftover hay quickly became inedible. They also soiled it with abandon (urine, feces), so nothing stayed fresh or edible.

We did this for several years. As the mound rose higher, we had to tie cattle panels (some call them hog panels) to the pen rails so the bull couldn't jump over the top. Clearly this massive mound of hay/manure buildup was a problem we needed to address.

Don cleaned out the bull pen over the summer before he built the shed extension, and his next project was a two-fer: feed boxes for the bull sheds, and a lean-to annex to cover them.

He started with slats for the feed boxes. We blocked off the first shed so the animals wouldn't get in, and he stripped off the outer wall. Then he installed sturdy boards across the bottom. (The sagging PVC pipe holds the wiring for the hotwire around the perimeter of the pen. We secured it later on.)

Then he started bolting in diagonal slats, using the same jig he used while building the feed boxes under the awning.

Then he switched focus and started working on the lead-to annex outside, to cover what would become the feed boxes (and, incidentally, to shelter us in inclement weather while we're feeding).

By the way, take a close look at that middle 4x4 pressure-treated post on the left. Notice it's bent near the top?

In anticipation of this project, last year Don had cemented these 4x4's into the ground. The middle post warped over the winter. So, clever fellow that he is, Don inserted a shimmy to "straighten" out the post so he could install a cross-board. That's my smart man.

With the support structure in place, he started putting up the roof structure.

Here he's installing furring strips across the roof boards to hold the metal roofing.

Incidentally, the roofing metal came from the massive (and lucky) salvage find at the dump a few years ago. You know the old saying: one man's trash is another man's treasure.

With the roof on, it was time to cut a door into the back side of the barn.

Don measured and marked, then started cutting.

VoilĂ , a door. Eventually he'll frame the metal sides of the door with wood so no one slices themselves on the sharp edges.

Can you see what an improvement this will be when it comes to feeding in wintry weather?

Here Lucy explores the new space.

Next, the floor. We needed a deep gravel base so nothing would get water-logged, as well as to provide a platform for the feed boxes to rest upon. Don scooped up some gravel with the tractor and dumped it at the mouth of the annex...

...and the girls spread it evenly.

Don also dumped, and the girls spread, a layer of gravel in the new shed.

With the infrastructure of the annex in place (roof, siding, floor), finishing the feed box itself didn't take long. Don had to build the angle of the backing a bit steeper than the original feed boxes under the awning, simply because the space in the annex is more cramped.

Then we removed the paneling that had been blocking off the shed, and let the animals in to try out the new feed box.

They took to it like a duck to water. Yay! No more feeding on the ground and wasting hay!

But wait, Don's not done. He still wanted to build a second feed box for the new shed.

So he repeated the process. We blocked off the shed so the livestock couldn't get in, then he removed the fence and installed sturdy boards across the base.

Up went the diagonals. By the way, the little square-ish slot on the right became a little hatch door so we can climb in and out of the shed, for cleaning purposes, without having to go into the pen itself.

The second feed box didn't take long.

Here's the little hatch door. There's a similar hatch door by the other feed box as well. Clever, no?

That's currently where things stand. Don still needs to close off the end of the annex (since it faces the prevailing wind direction). He's also going to frame the end to hold a window -- we have a number of salvaged windows we could use -- but that may not happen this year.

Little by little we're making progress!


  1. Be still my heart.... a shed with covered feed bunks! Have to put this at the top of my "must have" list!

    Thanks for sharing about another great project on your farm.
    Blessings, J at Creekside Farmstead

  2. very nice. projects like this are always such a great investment, and will pay off for years.

    which raises the question - how will you and your husband pass along this homestead when you are both too old to work it? is the plan for one of your daughters to take it and work it? do either of them want to? will the homestead take care of you both when you are past the age to actively work it? how many more years do you feel you can both work the place? will you WANT to work it in 10 or 15?

    my wife and i are looking at the same thing. we are both still young, but in 20 years or so, will we physically be able to keep up the work. will we WANT to?

    an investment like a homestead is great value, but only as it works long-term. if a child or the kids decide to sell it off, it will never bring the $ that is worth all the time, labor, and love invested in it. the best payoff is for the next generation(s) that can appreciate it and make it work.

    just curious. any thoughts or inputs appreciated.

  3. Don you are now a world class feed box building champion!

  4. Here in north Texas the ranchers are moving away from the round bales because of all the waste. They are going to the large 3' x 4' x 6' or something like that square bales. That way they can feed a small amount of "flakes" at a time in a trough and save lots of $$. I think the start of this was 2 years ago when in our dry spell they were going clear up to Nebraska to find hay and could just not afford the waste. Great find on the roofing material!

  5. That Don! He's handier than a shirt with two pockets.


  6. Oh it said shed. I was looking for a different story.

  7. My dear Opinionated Lady: Please consider that your faithful readers may be tired when they get to your blog and think the title said "Building a bull sh** annex" It was the second or third read before my brain sorted out what you really wrote :>)

    1. This is funny. Until you and the other reader above mentioned it, it literally never even crossed my mind how else it could be, er, construed.

      - Patrice

  8. Hi Patrice!

    For clarification-- and this is all from memory since it is dark outside and I don't want to go measure the actual panels.....

    Hog panels are about 38 inches high and the bottom several rods are about 1 1/4 inches apart, and 4 to 5 inches apart at the top.

    Cow panels are 50+ inches high and the bottom rods are about 3 inches apart and about 7 or 8 inches apart at the top.

    Both are about 16 feet long and have vertical rods/stays about 6 inches apart.

    Clearly, hogs are shorter than cows and cows are more likely to jump.

    Your farmer's wife friend from central Idaho.