Wednesday, July 6, 2016

The Road to Goats- the House and Pen

When I first brought up the idea of getting goats to my husband, he thought I was 100% certifiable. Our yard isn't super huge, we live in the city, and well...who the hell gets goats?! He eventually caved in a "OK JUST GET YOUR DAMN GOATS" sort of way. Funny thing is, now that we have the goats, he has admitted that he totally never expected me to ACTUALLY get the goats. This shall serve as a warning to never underestimate me, husband.

SO, what is involved in bringing goats home? Not much and so many things all at the same time.

There were SO many roadblocks on this journey, I'm rather amazed I ever got to the end. BUT, now that I have, I am immensely proud of myself for sticking with it, because I wanted to give up about 800 times through the whole ordeal.

There are plenty of people who just have whethers (castrated males) or does they keep as pets who buy dog houses for their little goaties, have a fenced in back yard, and call it a day. This was actually my original plan, but then I thought they might get lonely each in their own little dog houses, so I decided to build them a shelter, and I didn't want them to have access to EVERYTHING in the back yard, so I decided to fence in an area just for them. Thus seriously complicating the whole thing, but making for a much better outcome.

The House

I went through a million different scenarios of what to do for their house. Dog houses, tin shed, hiring someone to build a shed, building a shed myself, buying a shed and having someone dismantle it and put it on our property, etc.

Tin sheds seemed difficult for one person to but together, and I felt like I had to find something I could do by myself since this was MY project and the husband is working 80 hours a week anyway. I found a guy who said he could build a shed out of scrap wood and keep costs down, so I got really excited about this idea. We kept working together to figure out how we would both get the most out of the deal, and I decided to try to find a shed on craigslist that he could dismantle and use the wood to build a new shed. Then he went incommunicado for an entire week, with me hounding him every day, and he finally responded saying it "wasn't worth his time." Awesome. I tried to look for someone else, but no one was willing to do it as cheaply as the first guy *said* he could.

SO, I got really angry and decided to just take on the project myself, which is cute, because I didn't even have a drill to my name at the time. I really didn't care, though. I was going to get this done even if it killed me...which it nearly did. **Note: I'll explain how I built my goat house, then I'll explain how I SHOULD have built it.** :D

I still wanted to keep costs as low as possible, so I decided to use pallets as my main structural support with oriented strand board for walls. I called around to various companies that might have pallets, and I found one that would let me come pick up their old ones for free. Score. Then I borrowed a drill, bought a saw and necessary hardware, and the project was off!

I wanted the structure to be tall enough to walk into, so I figured I needed to make a wall of 4 pallets in a square. This was the first mistake. The structure isn't terrible, but the walls are HEAVY, and didn't need to be that tall. I screwed pallets together top to bottom, then put a screw plate to attach one pair to the other. I wish I'd kept some pictures of that whole process, but it was mildly I didn't.

Once all the pallets were put together, I screwed the strand board on top, which further secured them together. The walls are roughly 7 feet long by 7 feet tall or so. I had to paint the strand board, because as I found out, it's not waterproof. Just one of the countless unexpected expenses involved in building something.

I left a 6 inch overhang on the strand board to attach one wall to another, then put it all together. The whole project took at least a week. I never had the energy to figure out the roof situation, so I put a tarp on and angled it down to the back to allow for water drainage.  I broke I don't know how many drill bits, I tried nails and they just bent as soon as I touched them, then didn't hold ANYTHING together, the drill ran out of battery after what seemed like 2 seconds, and I had a 3 year old who kept wanting to "help." It was rough.

This was the end product:

YES, I know it looks sad, but ya'll...I BUILT THAT! It really could've been so much worse.

What I would have done differently:

1. For starters, if you're going to build something out of intact pallets, find a store that uses ALL THE SAME SIZED PALLETS. I didn't, and it was a puzzle fitting them all together to get the walls to match. That was silly and could easily have been avoided.

2. I should not have built the walls 2 pallets high. Even with 4 foot tall pallets, I could have built the walls, then added a slanted roof to add the extra few feet in the center of the structure, and it would have been MUCH easier, sturdier, and cheaper, since I wouldn't have needed as much strand board. Plus, it would have a roof.

3. I would have put a bit of stand board on the inside as well, because poop and such gets in between the boards of the pallets and it's difficult to clean out.

4. To be honest, I probably should have just gotten a tin shed for $200, because even though I thought I'd save a lot of money building the house myself, I didn't. Granted, I didn't have a lot of the tools necessary, which ate up a large chunk of the budget.

Obviously, I didn't know all these things before I built it, because actually doing something teaches you a lot. I'm stuck with what I have for at least 2 years, but I think it's good enough and does what I need it to do. I still need to figure out how to put a roof on it for the winter, but I have some time before I need to do that.

The Fence

I read time and time again that of all the things you need to make SURE are goat proof, the fence is the highest priority. Goats are escape artists, and they're smart when they need to be, so the fence has to be strong and resilient to stand up to them. This expense was definitely underestimated when I was estimating the start-up costs, because I thought I could just use welded wire from Home Depot. Not so. Goats rub on the fence constantly and pop welded wire, so you need woven wire, which is much more expensive, and HEAVY! Let me tell you, when you watch how-to videos on youtube, assume everything is 100% more difficult than they make it seem to be.

First, I had to rent a post hole digger to dig holes for the gate posts. Home Depot rents them for less than $10. I dug 2, 3.5 foot deep holes, which is a lot harder than it seems. I installed the gate, and put the dirt back in the holes around the gate posts to secure them. I'm actually renting our house right now, so I didn't put concrete. So far, it has held up OK to the goats, but not to tightening the fence, which was my mistake. I'll explain that more later.

Then, the fence posts. I got 6 foot t-posts, which look like this:

To pound these in, you need a T-post driver, which can be purchased online or at Home Depot (or I'm sure Lowes, etc. I just happened to go to Home Depot). Our soil is pretty soft, so it wasn't very difficult for me to pound them in a few feet. I put one every 4-6 feet or so. To have the sturdiest fence possible, you should have strong corner posts, usually made of wood and set in concrete. Well...I don't. I just have the regular old t-posts in the corners. You can also use wedge-loc pieces to make a corner with t-posts, but I didn't do that either, and it's held up ok. I only plan to have the fence up a few years, and I can always reinforce it if it starts to get worn down.

Next: adding the fencing. This was so much harder than I expected.  I used Red Brand no-climb woven wire fencing, which I purchased at Tractor Supply. I didn't really think about it, but 100 feet of 4 foot tall galvanized metal fencing is HEAVY. I'm a strong gal, and I couldn't even carry my half of the roll with my husband helping, so we stuck it on the kids' wagon and hauled it that way. Second really unexpected thing, is it wants to maintain its rolled shape, so it rolls back on itself as your trying to roll the stupid heavy thing out. Putting up that damn fence probably would have made a funny little video, but it was terrible at the time. I ended up cutting it in sections--one corner to the gate, the gate to the other corner, that corner to the end. I never did more than maybe 30 feet at a time, because the fencing was just too heavy. Again, I was doing this all by my lonesome, so it was more difficult. For one corner, I overlapped the fencing one post past the corner, so the fencing didn't just end on the corner and leave a possible gap for the goats to get out. I cut the fence wires with something like this:

This tool came in handy because it cut the wires AND bent them if necessary because it has the plier tips. This is important for tightening the fence, because I couldn't get a truck or come along into my back yard, so I had to find another way to tighten the fence. If you think you'll be able to pull the fence tight enough with your almighty arm're wrong. So sadly wrong.

I watched this video of how to tighten a fence using pliers, and it came in VERY handy:

Fence tightening video

This fellow has a few other videos, like setting a post without concrete, that would be very useful for an urban homestead.

While it was easiER to tighten the fence with pliers, it was not easy.

I've never been so happy to be finished anything in my life. A few things that are important to note, though. Tightening the fence will move the corner posts. One of my corner posts was up against the garage/shed we have, and I should have secured it to the shed. The other was up against the goat house, and again, I should have secured it with a large screw eye and some rope, because they moved and left a gap between the sheds and posts. The gaps aren't a problem right now, but they probably will be if there are ever kids in the pen. My gate posts, not fixed in concrete, also moved over because I didn't have the gate latched at the time. THAT was really sad, because now the gate doesn't close properly, and I had to add 2 chains to close it instead of just being able to use a latch. The gate is probably 3-4 inches from the post. :( 

This is a picture of the fence before I tightened it, when the gate still looked nice:

That was pretty much it! It took a few weeks to get everything up, but the outdoor pen and house were really the only difficult aspects of the goat setup. Nothing else was nearly so bad! I felt so accomplished that a little 5 foot tall city girl could manage to put together a goat house and field fence. It was by far the craziest and most satisfying project I've ever completed. If I had started this blog when I was actually building it, this post probably would have been more interesting, and laced with many more expletives. 

In the next post: actually purchasing the goats and ALL THAT DRAMA. 

To be continued ;) 

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