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Shed Dynamics

March 2, 2012

Ms. Jane Butterfield has her own shed…this winter anyway.

Adalyn and HeadFarmSteward had some questions about my comments on the workings of the feeding shed, and it seemed easiest to explain in more detail in post format.  I don’t know about you but those little comment boxes drive me a little batty. ;p

In most cases a loafing shed is a three-sided building or a three-sided attachment to an existing barn to allow animals a place to feed and loaf out of the weather year round.  Summer or winter.  The stock access the loafing area on the long open side to the pasture.  To a cow, that big open side gives her ample room to get away from her bovine bullies. These are real common and a fixture on fixed pasture/continuous grazing farms.  In the photo above, Jane is standing in a shed of that design.  Note they are hard to clean and generally are not deep bedded.

Enter now the feeding shed concept.  A place to confine cattle in close quarters and gather all their manure while the pasture rests in the off-season.  Kind of a loafing shed with benefits. If you’re of the deep bedding mindset you are bedding this shed like crazy… 😀  To clean out all this deep bedding, the simplest design is to have the long sides enclosed permanently – one side secure enough to keep errant cattle/hogs in and to keep the bedding in, the other long side is the feeding area.  The cattle enter from the end/ends and they stay in there. Prison basically.  To clean out all this precious material that DBManiacs amass, the ends are usually the entrance.  It’s much easier to clean out when you can get at the deep bedding from the ends and therein lies the rub.  What’s good for the equipment operator is not necessarily good or easy on the cows.  There are tons of studies on how wide to make lanes for watering cattle or moving them from pasture to pasture.  Cows don’t like narrow lanes and essentially that’s what a feeding shed is.  No one except the dominant beasts want to go down to the end of the box canyon, that’s just instinct.  And heaven help the doofus that goes into the corner of a barn.  Cattle use their heads like battering rams and they aren’t afraid to do so if someone is ticking them off by breathing or something other such infraction.  If the demure cow goes down to the end of the shed to eat and someone gets their tail in a bunch, that poor cow has to get back out to the end to be feel safe.  Pretty stressful at meal time, it’s up to us to alleviate that if we can.  Our shed is 18 feet deep and 40 feet long, because again we had to take into consideration the constraints of the building, roof pitch, location etc.  25 feet would be great but it wouldn’t be possible on this site.  Someday when I suddenly wake up 20 years younger or win the lottery I will build a different barn, but in the meantime we had to work with what we had.  Attaching a feeding shed to an existing hay barn where all the hay is stored is kind of  a no-brainer.

To mitigate the 18 feet depth that is sometimes problematic with the cows, we have put a rub rail against the outside wall.  I call it a rub rail, but actually it is a 40 foot log that spans the length of the shed and it is actually a strong piece of wood that when the cows fight (if they do) they do not push anyone through the fence.  They hit the log instead, and because the grain has not been broken like in dimensional sawn lumber, the log holds the cow in.  Why logs?  Besides strength, they are readily available in the forest.  We have them in the loafing shed too along the wall, it sure saves the siding from getting kicked out.  This older post shows more feeding shed photos.

I think where humans (me included, we’re still honing our observation skills) err is on the math.  To animals, the square footage is just a number we use.  It really matters what configuration the square footage is in.  Take a Salatin style field pen for broilers, 10′ x 12′  120 square feet, and will hold about 75 broilers comfortably for 5 or 6 weeks on pasture if moved every day.  Build that same pen long and skinny, but the same square footage, and the broilers would be stressed out to the max.  Same with a 20 x 96 greenhouse, compared to a 30 x 72, for plants it works pretty well, put chickens in there for winter deep bedding, and you’ll find the chickens bunched in the narrower greenhouse, and not as spread out.  As for cattle grazing paddocks, square is good when the cows are nursing babies and trying to get in shape for re-breeding, cow comfort and health should be at the forefront.  Late in the year you can use the cows and older calves for more landscape redemption by putting them in narrower paddocks.  They will trample more and eat less and rejuvenate the soil faster.  Keeping this in mind explains why fixed paddock sizes produce mediocre results in rotational grazing.  We’re always told size matters, and it does for many reasons, but it pays to use that size in configurations that help instead of hindering.

14 Comments leave one →
  1. March 3, 2012 3:39 am

    I’d not come across the USE of square footage as you described. It makes sense. Like you, we are constrained for the same reasons to use what we have. Long and narrow. And we also have done what we can to keep the cows comfortable.

    This year we’re reducing herd size and I’ve been contemplating how to configure the rotational grazing for the smaller size of herd. I’ll bear your post in mind….

    • March 3, 2012 9:22 am

      Pam R, yeah always tweaking here too, the first year we used the shed we had way too many cows in there, it’s working pretty well right now, but like anything, once you start using it you can usually see room for innovating. 🙂

  2. March 3, 2012 4:42 am

    Very informative post. Thank you.

  3. March 3, 2012 8:14 am

    That is a very good point about the square footage issue! I hadn’t thought of it like that before, but it makes perfect sense! 🙂 I know the Salatins use 26’x96′ hoophouses for their layers during the winter, and I do remember the hens bunching up while we did chores in there… There was plenty of room for them, but I think the narrowness caused them to not spread out as much as they could have.

    • March 3, 2012 8:59 am

      Goat Song, even that extra 6′ makes a difference in that length. We noticed it in the 30 footers too. Of course, that being said, even a 20′ wide hoophouse for winter quarters for layers is better than outside during our winters 🙂

  4. March 3, 2012 12:15 pm

    I wish we could get straw cheap here in Alaska. Farmers want the same price as hay though, which, for good hay, the cheapest is about $12 per bale.
    Since the goats make there own bedding by way of messy eating, we just let them pile it up, and then I shuttle out sled fulls all winter and add it to the chicken shed.
    Chickens are kept busy, and my eggs stay nice and rich as a result, throughout the winter.

    We did make a wall feeder where the goats have to poke into wire squares to get the hay out, so thankfully, that reduced waste by more then half!

  5. Linda Zoldoske permalink
    March 3, 2012 1:59 pm

    Fascinating! Thanks!

  6. Dawn permalink
    March 3, 2012 8:38 pm

    Like others, I never considered the “shape” of the square footage – but what you say makes total sense. I’ll be bearing it in mind whenever we are creating housing for critters from now on. As a matter of fact, I think it matters to humans too – a 100 sq ft bedroom could be 10 X 10 or it could be 5 X 20 and which would most of us choose?

  7. March 4, 2012 5:01 pm

    Thanks for the added detail. You cleared up a lot for me.

  8. Hayden permalink
    March 5, 2012 5:32 am

    wow, the square foot comments and excellent and will bear further thinking. Am/(was?) planning a 6′ wide chicken run for my hens, to encircle the garden. The goals were to exclude deer (double fence) provide a 6 foot barrier patrolled by hens that slugs and crawlies would have to cross to get to my plants, and to make the hens predator barrier of dug-in outside fence line do double duty to keep rabbits out of my garden. Hens would be close at hand for easy access for green stuff and observation, and I figured I could turn them into the center garden area at the end of the season for clean up.

    It all sounded so permaculture cool until I read this post. Will admit that I worried a bit about how much they’d use the space, and figured I’d move the feeders around to help coax them into using more of it.

    Now, I’m thinking that I’ll proceed cautiously, maybe do only the back couple of sections where the deer would come from across the back field until I figure out if/how I can get the hens to use the space.

    • March 5, 2012 7:30 am

      Hayden, I think it would work if you’re diligent about moving the feed, etc, although hens really like a secure egg laying place. I think trying small areas is a good idea, permanent fencing is expensive, and you want to make sure it is in the right place and achieving the effect you want. Chickens are good at decimating a few areas and lightly impacting others in an enclosure, unless of course the area is too small and the whole thing is decimated. But that is also a good tool too. You might find that having the poultry there no matter the condition of the area offsets the damage deer and rabbits might do to the garden area. Finding the sweet spot for you and your operation is the hard part. Maybe a rotation of sorts and plan on using the space in sections, of course that may entail some mowing on your part, so plan your fencing so you can get your tractor in there if you have too.

      Gotta beat the next snow storm and haul in a jag of wood – so I’ll get your turkey ? answered later…I haven’t forgot you 🙂

      • Hayden permalink
        March 8, 2012 4:13 pm

        Thanks, Nita. Right now I only have 12 hens and a rooster, though by the end of this season there’ll be more. Was thinking of a semi-permanent location for their shelter, with the nesting area – and the fenced run. But using the outdoor feeders w/ hats, and moving them. I already have that kind of feeder since keeping the feed dry was impossible w/o in their straw bale shelter this winter. The current designated garden area is about 60 X 120, which is more than I want/need to plant this year anyway. I could do a run 6′ wide X 60 connected to their new coop. Ideally, the coop would be in the center of the run, but it’s already set and difficult (but possible) to move. First 100 guinea keets arrive tomorrow and I’m freaking out- we’re having a wind storm and the temp inside the barn has plummeted. Don’t know if I can hold it steady inside their stall for the first 2 weeks. They may end up in the mud room like the last batch. 😦

        • Hayden permalink
          March 8, 2012 4:14 pm

          whoops. should have re-read. Long day and somewhat incoherent. Sorry.

  9. Janet permalink
    March 6, 2012 1:46 pm

    Love how observant you are and how you point things out that make perfect sense once your bring it to attention. I am trying to learn to “pay attention” to things! Totally agree on the configuration of your square footage. Wouldn’t have necessarily thought about it for chickens etc but know about it with horses in mind.

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