Needless to say, we’ve been busy!
We did, however, have some spare time left to put together a ranch up for the month of July. Hopefully this will give you an insider look at our successes, failures and future plans.
Day by day things are changing around the ranch, and we’d love to keep you in the loop! Please excuse our mess.
Thanks to the endless number of pine trees in our backyard, we could use them as posts for our goat fence. Up in our area, we get extreme winds, and our ground consists of mostly solid rock. Next door to our acreage is a handful of rock quarries, so digging post holes for the fence is not a day project but more like a month-long project. It would have involved blasting at some point, I’m sure. So instead, we took advantage of the pine trees and used them as posts for the fence. It worked out fantastic! Those “posts” aren’t moving an inch even with hundred-mile-plus winds!
As goats are natural climbers, we opted to go with a “no climb” fence which is just a simple vertical block pattern that prevents them from being able to scale up the wall with their hooves. You can pick up a roll at your local hardware store for around a hundred dollars. Ours was 14-gauge welded wire, 5’ high by 100’ long. One and a half did the trick for our entire “mini” pasture. It’s a small pasture, tiny for that matter, but it will work in the meantime while we construct the permanent fencing.
We used electrical cable staples if you’re wondering how we attached the fence roll to the tree. They are over-sized “U” shaped nails about an inch or two long. If you’ve got thick tree bark as we had, you must keep hammering them in until you get lucky and find a solid wood spot. We spent around 5 dollars for a pack of 100 “metal cable staples.”
Now onto bear and predator protection, we used an American FarmWorks charger, non-solar. We ran a 100’ extension cord which does the trick. At 0.7 joules, it feels like a surprising shock, not the heart-jolting shock you’d expect. However, that’s all it takes to keep the bears, mountain lions, and other unwanted animals out.
So fast forward to today, it’s been over a month, and the fence is holding up excellent, even with strong winds, hail, heavy rain, neighboring dogs, etc. No issues! The electric fence is functioning great too. We haven’t had any problems with larger animals.
Did I mention that electric fences need grounding? We had no idea until we read the instructions. Out came the backhoe, and we dug a 50’ long hole, about 3’ into the dirt. We connected six or so copper ground rods and ran a solid copper wire back to the electric charger. Even our sandy, dry mountain earth works well enough to deliver a powerful shock. We read we could have issues with our rocky/sandy/dirt being so dry, some even suggest watering the soil around the ground rod, but we haven’t needed to do that.
The Goat Shed
We welded together the frame of the goat shed using square tube steel. 14GA is the thickness, though you could go thicker if you wanted to. After assembly, it weighed a few hundred pounds easily. Moving it by hand is just impossible, so the backhoe came to set it in place. Thanks to the design, you can effortlessly scoop it up with the bucket or forks, add some ratchets straps to hold it close and move it around effortlessly.
To keep the design simple, we used a rectangle design, 5×10’ in size, and opted for a 3:12 sloped roof. Welding and cutting all of the steel was the most time-consuming part, but once done and welded together, it will last a lifetime.
Speaking of a lifetime, we choose IPE or Brazilian walnut; it’s a hardwood (super expensive) for the exterior of the goat shed. It’s super dense, rot resistant, fire resistant, and should last over 50 to 100 years. I’d imagine 100 plus in our dry climate. If you compare that to your local Doug Fir that you find at any hardware store, it’s easily 10x the price per foot. Not cheap! But wow, so beautiful.
To attach the wood to the metal frame, we used “metal screws” that penetrate wood and are threaded at the end to grab the metal frame. Most of these screws are “self-taping,” but with the IPE being so dense, that’s not a reality for us. We had to pre-drill every hole with a 1/8” drill bit. If you’ve ever drilled steel before, with many holes, you’ll know that drill bits do not last long. We used around 8 bits for the entire goat shed. At a few bucks a piece, the cost wasn’t that high.
Had we hired a fabricator to build this goat shed, I’m sure it would have been in the thousands of dollars price range. The steel was a few hundred, wood a few hundred, and we probably spent around the thousand-dollar mark altogether. We used scrap steel left over from other projects and scrap wood, so our cost was “free” -ish. In the end, the goat shed will last forever, so the cost is relative.
As you can see, we’ve still got a few more boards to attach and a roof that needs to be completed. We’re planning on using steel plate for the roof, so the entire structure lasts forever. Another option would have been a standing seam metal roof or asphalt (though we don’t like its non-recyclable nature).
We’ve had a handful of torrential downpours, and the goats remain dry and happy. They seem pretty cozy in their lovingly-hand-built shed. Soon we’ll have wall waters, feeders, and fun stuff for them to enjoy inside.
The Food Forest
How do you grow enough food to support a family for a year? Enter the food forest. It’s going to be huge! To start, we picked a section out of 30 acres and began to make the entire plot flat. Being on a mountain, there are very few flat spots; when we need them, we make them. The backhoe is the heavy lifter, and operating it load by load takes a lot of time, but in the end, it’s rather rewarding.
Being near rock quarries in the mountains, as you can imagine, our “dirt” is mostly “rock.” To solve this problem, we built up the flat part, so it’s essentially all “fill dirt” and already broken up. Now when you want to dig for planting, it’s pretty easy. Everything has been moved around, and the rocks tumbled. To further grind up the ground, we bought a carbide rock-grinding wheel. It’s the type cities and government municipalities use to grind up concrete sidewalks and asphalt roads. According to the manufacturer, it should cut through our sandstone rock like butter and leave fine sand/gravel behind. In contrast, if we could remove each large stone by hand, it would probably take years. Just being able to rip through the entire ground and grind it up to 11” will be excellent for future gardening efforts.
So as of right now, we’ve heard stories of 1 acre being ideal to 35×100’ being the right amount of garden space to sustain a family for about a year. We’re at a 35×100’ mark, and the food forest is getting larger by the day. We expect the final size to finish up before the end of the year. It shouldn’t be too much larger, but we’ll be sure to update you with photos once the next phase begins.
On our 30 acres or so, we’ve got tons of fire mitigation work, which means lots and lots of tree branches need to be trimmed and chipped into mulch. We’ll scatter that mulch 8” in dept to snuff out weeds and provide material to break down. This should give us an excellent starting point.
We’re considering a cover crop as well; these include Crimson Clover and oat or wheat to be determined. We’ll plant these seeds, grow them, and then tarp them over with a black cloth or plastic to kill off the plants. It will leave behind a beautiful, nutritious addition to our soil.
Okay, so now on to the good stuff! What in the world are we planting in the food forest? We’re still working on the “master” list, but for now, here’s what we’re considering.
Trees: Edible Apple Honey crisp – all around McIntosh – juice and cider, applesauce Granny Smith – baked goods Apricots Moorpark – all around Puget Gold – all around, canning Goldcot – all around Pears Harrow Delight – all around Hospital- all around Plums Emerald Beauty Superior Plum Sour cherries Non-Edible, high canopy Beech
We’re hoping to have an orchard at some point, so expect lots and lots of fruit trees!
The Raised Garden
We used 4×6 wood cedar beams to build out our raised garden beds. The beams are staggered and, in a sense, “interlocked,” so each beam rests upon the next. Using super long HeadLOK structural screws, we could join all the beams together at the corners.
At the time of writing this, cedar wood prices have skyrocketed, and we ended up getting an incredible deal on these beams, but now, they are probably around a thousand dollars or more to acquire. However, you don’t have to use cedar; Doug fir or another wood would be fine. Cedar lasts far longer and is far more rot resistant.
For beams, you’ll mostly find old salvaged railroad ties for sale at super low prices but avoid the temptation. The chemicals used to preserve them are not ones you want leeching into your foods. Old traditional treated lumber can be tempting, too, but it’s best to avoid it due to copper-arsenic content. Today’s modern treated lumber is much safer, still copper-based, but in a far less toxic form.
If you don’t want to use dimensional wood such as beams, there are a ton of different options out there. 55-gallon plastic barrels cut in half. Galvanized steel panels, treated plywood panels, pallets, etc. It just depends on how often you want to have to rebuild your raised garden beds. We expect ours to last 10-20 years or longer; who knows. But if we wished for 50-100 years of service, we’d have used thick Corten steel sheets or something along those lines. The number of methods is endless; it depends on how creative you want to get and your budget.
To fill the raised garden beds, we used the “hugelkultur” method. First, we fill the bottom with tree branches from our property. The next layer was food compost, pre-composted soil, and alpaca poop droppings. Next was topsoil, and finally 6 inches or so of mulch.
Now onto the good stuff; what did we plant?
Acorn Squash (Table Queen)
Asparagus (Mary Washington)
Beets (Bull’s Blood & Golden)
Black Beans (Black Turtle)
Broccoli (Yod Fah Chinese & Calabrese Green Sprouting)
Carrots (Kyoto Red & St. Valery)
Green Beans (Cantare)
Lettuce (Parris Island Cos & Merlot)
Melson (Honeydew Tam Dew & Blacktail Mountain WAtermelonO)
Onions (Wethersfield Red)
Spaghetti Squash (Vegetable Spaghetti Squash)
Spinach (Strawberry & Gigante d’Inverno)
Summer Squash (zucchini Black Beauty)
Tomatillos (Rio Grande Verde)
Tomatoes (Black Trim, A Grappoli D’Inverno & Amish Paste)
We’re still working on:
These plants will have to grow in pots or inside of the greenhouse:
Mint (Marvelous Mix)
Oregano (Wild Za’atar)
Sage (Broad Leaf Sage)
So far, we’ve harvested:
The peas were incredible, sweet, not overly earthy, and just a fresh taste that leaves you in wonder. If you don’t like peas, these will make you re-think how good peas can taste—our first favorite from the garden.
Both Topaz and Druzy are doing fantastic! They are eating everything in sight and have already stripped most of the plants in their mini-fenced-in area. In addition to their hay, we bring them a box of fresh weeds that we handpick daily. The goats love the variety and will munch down on anything we get them. Oddly enough, they don’t prefer the soft, velvety leafy plants and instead choose the coarse, prickly weeds. They will devour anything that has some rough texture first.
Both Topaz and Druzy enjoy their minerals and pellets daily too. Aside from the fresh weeds, they go crazy over the pallets. Both boys are gaining weight and getting bigger by the day. Every time we enter their mini pasture, they jump all over us, want to cozy up in our laps and be next to us. They are magnificent animals with such big hearts!
From chicks to chickens, the birds have just exploded in size! We’ve upgraded to a giant waterer and feeder and transferred them from their plastic bin coop to their full-size coop. The full-size coop is just like the Goat shed, featuring a steel frame and clad in IPE wood siding; the roof will also be sheet metal.
Inside we’ve installed a few large tree branches to encourage them to roost and move around, and they seem to love it. We toss fresh fruits and plants, which seem to disappear by the next day. Of course, they love “Chicken crack” too, which is a bagged feed and worms given as a treat. All birds are doing excellent, and we believe we’ve got three or so roosters so far.
The Water Tank
We’ll need a lot of water storage for our garden and animals, so we’re installing a 12,000-gallon water tank. Yup, you read that right, 12,000 gallons! The tank is just absolutely massive and a monster. To put this in perspective, most homes off-grid have a 2,000-gallon water tank; our home has 8,000 gallons. Having a 12,000-gallon reserve tank just for the garden and animals is crazy. It will take dozens of trips to fill it with our trailer and portable water tanks.
So why did we go so big? We’ll we never intended to in the first place. We looked at all sorts of options: an above-ground tank, concrete tank, plastic tank, etc., in much smaller sizes. Luckily, we found this one at a local auction and snatched it up for less than two-thousand dollars. An incredible deal in our minds, as they usually go for 30-grand new!
Our goal is to bury it horizontally in the ground, though they are supposed to be placed above and vertical. Doing so will bulge out the sides and destroy the tank, but we’re doing something different to prevent all that. The tank will be surrounded by steel rebar with concrete poured around it, essentially turning it into a hollow plastic form. The concrete layer outside will be a second barrier to stop water from leaking, so we should have a lifetime tank. While we could install it vertically, we still couldn’t bury it, and who wants to see an ugly white tank above ground? Burying the tank and encasing it in concrete is our best solution.
Oh, did I mention how we got it up the mountain? A 20’ flatbed trailer and our farm truck. Fun, terrifying, hilarious, and exciting all at the same time!
The Free Farm Materials And The Barns
Woah, what’s all that stuff? The 55-gallon plastic food-grade barrels we got for free from another local farmer! We got around 30 or so and plan to cut the tops off and use them for water storage, feed storage, and so on. A handful will be used for bio-filtration for the farm pond.
The wood is all salvaged decking material we picked up, consisting of all sorts of dimensional lumber. We hunted around for aged, near rotted-ish boards with a robust wood-grain look. We will use all of these for the board-formed concrete walls for the barns. Instead of going to landfills, we can give them another useful life. How this works is we’ll build the walls with the wood boards and leave a hollow cavity to be filled with concrete. Once the concrete cures, we’ll strip off the boards, revealing a beautiful wood grain pattern. No siding, house wrap, wood, etc., just pure concrete that’s fire resistant and maintenance-free.
Currently, we’re planning two concrete “shipping container” sized barns. We’ll need a lot of wood forms and concrete to build them, metal too. The roofs will be supported by giant timber wood beams and steel sheet panels. The structures should be maintenance-free and last a lifetime too! Best of all, they will be animal-proof and can easily take a beating.
We’ve also picked up steel rebar sticks to reinforce the concrete barn walls and slab. We found a gentleman who had just finished building his house and wanted the rebar “gone.” So we made a deal and picked up a trailer full of rebar that’s perfect for the barns at a significant discount.
We’re still on the search for threaded rods, either steel or fiberglass, for the barn concrete forms. These rods go through both sides of the forms and squeeze the two sides together. The process transfers the weight of the concrete evenly, so it doesn’t blow the wood boards out. These aren’t cheap, so we’ve got to get creative and are bargain-hunting for them.
Concrete will cover three sides of the barns, but we think we’ll use gabion wire walls for the fronts. We’ve got so much stone up here; why not? It’s fire-proof, lasts a lifetime, acts as a thermal mass wall for heat storage, and so on. The benefits are all there; it will require some more fabrication time to make all the cages out of galvanized steel.