Wednesday, August 11, 2010

gimme shelter

Surrey approves

There have been many times throughout our brief but lurid livestock keeping adventures that we have found ourselves woefully short on shelter. Call us irresponsible, but sometimes these things just...happen, despite one's best intentions. Animals arrive when you don't expect them, or must be separated or moved, sometimes quarantined. It's the way it goes. These predicaments, however, sometimes give birth to our best ideas.

We were hard up to devise a goat shelter for our yard of boys. It's not that they had NO shelter, but well, they're goats. They were, let's just say, a bit hard on every solution we had devised. Spring and the rainy season were upon us, and we had to act fast. We needed a shelter that was extremely quick to construct, could be made from materials on hand, and easily be moved around. It had to keep them reasonably dry and comfortable, and perhaps most importantly, it needed to be climb-proof. This last is no small task. Goats will climb on things you never imagined possible.

We devised the pup-tent shelter. It is essentially a large sawhorse - built with dimensional lumber to whatever size is suitable for the circumstances, then sided with whatever durable material is available; we used corrugated tin, as we have loads of it already.

This one is about four feet tall and eight feet long. It can be easily moved by two people, and one person could probably drag it without much trouble. It's large enough for our full-sized Nubian goats to stand fully upright in, and three of them can fit inside at once. It's not apparent from this picture, but we left an inch or two along the bottom uncovered for extra ventilation and to make moving it a bit easier. The grass covers the gap here - I think next time I'd leave a few more inches. We have more trouble with heat than anything else, so if you need more warmth, skip that part.

There are plenty of plans on the web for building a simple sawhorse. Any of those should work fine, as long as you adjust the size to suit your use. Many plans include extra wood about halfway down the sides - this is optional and we didn't bother with it. They also often include some plywood pieces on the ends (I'm not a woodworker, so I don't know the name of this bit). I recommend deliberately leaving that off, as it shortens the "entry" and limits the clearance. Our goats would have to duck to get in had we put those pieces on.

The tin is long-lasting and reasonably light, so it works great as a covering, but use whatever you have; painted plywood would do, or if you need more ventilation, it could be partly covered with chicken wire or similar. In a pinch I suppose you could cover it with a tarp or some tar paper, but this obviously wouldn't last as long.

It may seem small, but our boys really like it. They tend to huddle together in a pile, so the closeness of it seems to make them feel secure. It is also popular with the dog, and great for goat kids to hide in. The best part is that the steep pitch of the design makes it impossible for them to stand on, but it's heavy and wide enough at the base to not tip over. We've built two of these so far, and now consider them indispensable. If you need something cheap, fast and sturdy, these really are hard to beat.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

just in the nick of time

It's August, and here in Texas that means no more garden. It's DONE. Pretty much everything has run its course and we're left with nothing but a few peppers hanging on. When you're trying to eat entirely from your garden, this certainly poses a challenge.

Just as we were wondering what we would do for veggies, I decided it was about time to check on the sweet potatoes. I dug my hands into the dirt and kept my expectations low. They had been extremely easy to grow up to this point, but I thought it was perhaps a bit early for them to be ready. What a relief it was to pull these beauties out of the ground!

We'll let them go a bit longer to let them get a little bigger, but I must say I'm pleased with this result. They were far easier to grow than white potatoes, and we're going to experiment with leaving one or two plants in the bed to see if they overwinter; we'll cut the tops back and mulch them heavily and see if they come back in the spring. It's comforting to know that we have something fresh from the garden to eat in the heat of August.