There’s baby chickens in my house and the sun ain’t up yet. Just so you know where I’m coming from. Howdy y’all. My name is Ben, and I’m some type of goatherd here at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage, of rural northeast Missouri. I’m not any sort of expert on much, which is why I refrain from offering advice to anyone on any subject, but I’m pretty good at knowing when something is sorta messed up. I’ve been instructed by my editors to not focus on the negative in this promotional article for our Timber Frame Workshop, and much to their chagrin, I feel obligated to explain, or at least justify, my need for a well-designed, smoothly functioning, non-dilapidated barn. I’d dress it up for you if I could, but I’m just not that slick.
First of all, if you’ve seen my yard, you know that I waste not, and I want not. I have been raising poultry, goats, and hogs in my “five year barn” for about five years. My agreement with this inanimate object is now over; and it has every right to slump and fall over, if it so chooses. The barn was previously located elsewhere, in a different configuration, for decades prior. When we threw it up in its current location, it was nine feet high at the peak and six feet high at whatever the opposite of the peak is. Today it is closer to nine in the front and four and a half in the back. I am not an architect, just someone who built a lot of stuff without passing high school geometry; still, I can infer that something ain’t right.
Our current shed barn was built over the course of two weeks, at the exact same time that we were getting our house to be habitable in time for winter. Some corners were permanently cut. It might be that we built the shed barn partly below grade. It might be the six hundred pound sow who busted out the back posts in a fit of farrowing rage. However it came to be, our imperfect shed is unfit for goats in the long term, which are high falutin’, desert oriented critters who desire dry hooves and a view of potential far off predators.
It is also difficult for us, the human counterparts, to safely and efficiently milk, trim hooves, and assist in kidding. I have hit my head in the current barn at least once a week, for the last half decade. And it is getting shorter. It isn’t that the current space is too small, so much as that it is difficult to utilize. Without a hayloft, storing winter fodder has been a trick. Two winters back, our hay tarps were penetrated by November rains. When combined with the mild start to the season, our hay began to gradually turn to hot ooze. The steam rising from the stack was the metabolic energy leaving. I finished out the winter cutting willows and letting the goats wander far and wide to stay fed. Not an ideal situation.
The new barn will include a hayloft that provides insulation for the barn’s occupants, and makes feeding as simple as dropping a bale through a hole in floor. Currently, to hay the goats I have to shoo away our livestock protection dog ,who wants to sleep in the hay during all daylight hours, pitchfork a pile of hay, move through one gate, push more dogs out of the way, move through another gate, and avoid being mobbed by hungry goats. I find it fun most of the time, but isn’t something I want to be doing for the rest of my life. It wouldn’t be sustainable.
I want to create ever increasing amounts of nutrition and fertility out of ever smaller spaces. This is what the world needs more of, among other things. That task will be much easier when everything has its proper place. I really am a fierce believer in design. A well designed space, with sensible infrastructure can increase our yield of food and fertility, and decrease our workload. A half decade into raising goats and other critters sustainably, I have a few notions
about how to design for that. Subtle things, like mobile stalls and partitions, sliding doors between rooms, trap doors for fodder and manure go a long way in a barn.
Thankfully my friends Thomas and Cynthia are helping with the part that has to stand up to fifty mile an hour wind gusts. Also they’re artists, which is great. My structures only look good if you’re into the falling apart aesthetic. That’s why I’m not doing a workshop of my own. A part of being lighter on the land is not wasting resources, and building things thoughtfully, with intention, that’ll stand the test of time. Last month in “It Could Hold Two Rhinos!”, Thomas shared some details about how this barn is going to be built to last. I hope you can help us do this.
When the goat barn of our dreams does come to be, I hope to continue to use our old barn for winter shelter of chickens and mini-pigs. It’ll be a fine space for that, and I value thriftiness above much else. The old shed barn has a few more stories to compile, and I think it has some seasons left in it, despite the fact that the bed of manure is probably holding it together better than some of the nails.
Barns are markers on the landscape, of time passed, of lives and livelihoods. They tell the story of families, of how land was and is used, and of how things were commonly dreamt and built. This new barn is intended to tell a story about simplicity, cooperation, and abundant, healthy food. Everyone who is a part of the Timber Frame Workshop will make a mark, and help it stand for these things. See ya in June!
P.S. I hear folks can register now to save $150!