Thursday, January 8, 2015

3 concrete pours and we have functional stalls for the dairy cows!

While newly pregnant, we did a mad race with the cold weather we knew was coming to get three loads of concrete poured in the barn. The purpose was to have functional stalls. Over the last two winters we've tried bedded pack (doesn't work so well in a bank barn with low ceilings and was horrendous to clean out at the end of the year - it minimally composted) and we've done some finagling tie stalls too. We really felt like bedded pack was the way to go but after researching more (relying heavily on information from Bob White Systems), a tie stall barn seems the most humane and efficient for a small herd. We don't intend to have a milking herd above a dozen max and at this size the square footage would have to be too small for the cows comfort to make the bedded pack work.

Tie stalls it is. Which meant ripping out a barn's worth of old concrete by hand (and loading it into a skid steer bucket. Evidently there was a school of thought that concrete was stronger if you put a layer of large rocks down first, back when the concrete was layed in our barn. I would argue with this belief given how cracked our concrete was. There was a mallet and a crow bar involved too. And there were layers - a thin layer on top of thin layer.

So that was hard - but how hard can it be to pour concrete?
Harder than I thought.
There were forms to build and reinforce. Concrete is heavy and you don't want your forms to blow out! There was a dirt ground to get very level and free of debris. There were posts to put in to support the barn on blocks - sometimes temporary posts that would later be put right on the concrete slab, sometimes permanent posts, depending. This required jacking the barn (the jack kicked out more than once - one night it happened at least a dozen times). There was a level involved ... and a laser level. Late nights that were freezing and I was shutting my eyes for just a minute while Ren Man thought through the next measurement. Our three and a half year old was freaked out by the level light hitting her, she'd try to whack it off her coat and get very upset when her hand went right through the light - and if she noticed the light was on her hand ....!

And the night before each pour and the morning of we were always in a panicked rush to get a few more things done. For the first two pours Ren Man drove the skid steer to the concrete truck parked as close as possible and filled the skid steer bucket with concrete. Then he'd drive into the barn and carefully dump the concrete while I raked it into place with the help of a neighbor or two. One pour required us to use a large sheet of plywood as a slide to get the concrete over the previous pour and where it needed to go. Concrete is HEAVY! And talk about ab muscles as you scrape this thick goop into place. Did I mention I was pregnant?

The third pour was the largest with two sections to pour concrete into - the actual stalls and the center aisle. I offered to drive the skid steer. I was nervous about my aim and speed, but the truck driver was impressed. He said it's hard to find a woman who will get her fingernails dirty. I said he wasn't hanging out with the right people.

And then 2/3 of the "cow barn" concreted, which was all we needed before the winter set in. It was hard to wait as many days as possible to let the cows into the barn full time. Back in August I mapped out the pasture in my mind and figured we could make it to October with the pasture we had left. Then we started taking cuttings from a neighbor's hay fields and feeding that directly to cows, pastured on our pastures they had already eaten from. And then Ren Man's dad sold us some round bales (the huge round hay bales you see drying in fields - I think they hold the equivalent of 20 square bales) and we fed those to the cows. So it was December and the cows were still outside (awesome! It wasn't too cold, the water lines weren't freezing yet, and the poop stayed outside!). I was thrilled that they were able to stay outside so late in the season.

But it was getting colder. We'd covered "windows" (really window frames with glass long-since gone) with plastic, covered the concrete with plastic, and ran a heater whenever we were in the barn working to try and keep the temp above freezing to minimize the curing time for the concrete. And finally we put in horizontal pipes connected to the vertical pipes that were positioned in one of the concrete pours at the front of the stalls. And then we brought in the three cows we were milking.

And life in the barn took on its meaning.
We recently finished 90% of the pipework needed to complete the stalls and now have 5 cows in the barn with plans to move three more into the cow barn (right now they are in the "horse" barn, able to come into the barn or go out into the joining pasture (the "triangle piece")).

Next is the debate to work on the milk room (where the milking equipment is washed) so we can be license to sell raw milk OR work on the creamery (where cheese making will happen) and buy in milk from other licensed dairies until the milk house is complete and our milk is licensed.

No comments: