Monday, February 28, 2011


Since we bought this place, I've wanted to build a barn. Sure, the boys have a run-in shed, but the roof is low and since it's in a low spot, the footing gets wet when it rains a lot. Besides, I want a real barn - with a grooming area and a nice tackroom and hay storage that I don't have to worry about when it rains. And while I might LOVE the idea of stalls, they're really not practical for how we keep the boys. Realistically, they need a place where they can get out of the weather, and I would like to be able to separate them at feeding time. It would also be nice to have a stall in case one is needed for layup (knock on wood that'll never happen).

So after a year of discussing, designing, redesigning, and tweaking, we've come up with a plan:

View from the front of the barn. On the left is a tacking and grooming area that I can also pull my truck through to unload hay. The first window is into the tackroom, and the door and the window on the right is into a tool storage room (see below).

The structure is 36 feet wide and 48 feet long - it's basically a giant run-in shed on the back half, which will in turn open out onto a sacrifice paddock area with all-weather footing (hurrah, no more ankle-deep mud!!!). Only the west (left-hand) wall and part of the north wall are solid, since that's the direction storms usually roll in from. The rest is open to keep it cool in our blistering summers. But I have my tackroom, easy-access hay storage, and one permanent stall, along with a large grooming area. The layout is pretty flexible - in an emergency I could use 12x12 panels to make additional covered stalls, I could use part of the grooming area for extra hay storage if we're in a drought situation and I have the opportunity to stock up, etc. The hubby has an area for extra tool and construction materials storage, which he's very happy to have.

We've spent the better part of the last two months getting bids for the project and getting building permits (yeesh that's a pain), so it's been a slow process. BUT... construction finally started this week!

After Day 1: post holes drilled and some roadbase put in to fill in the Grand Canyon. If you look at the right side of the photo you can see the wellhead. Maddy was sure to help out with the string.

Days 2 and 3: Posts are set and most of the roadbase is in. Here's what it will look like as you drive up the driveway.

A slightly closer perspective. There are still a few posts that need to be set, but they were waiting to get the bobcat work done first.

Here's where the tackroom and workshop storage will go. They'll be creating a form for this area on Monday and pouring the concrete on Tuesday.

The sand for the run-in area and the paddock area comes in Monday, along with the wood for framing out the roof. I believe they start on that Tuesday after the slab is poured. So far the only concern is that it takes up to 10 days to get the colored R-panel siding we want, so that may throw a bit of a wrench into things. However, the roofing panels we want are in-stock, so at least we can get the roof up this week.


Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Grand Canyon, now in Texas

A couple of posts ago, I mentioned that we'd uncovered a rather large hole underneath the slabs for the old sheds. We spent most of a morning pulling out roots and digging the trench out all the way to the wellhead to discover the extent of the problem.

First, we dug the hole out all the way back to the wellhead. You can't see it in any of the pictures that I took, but there was actually a small 2ft x 1ft "cavern" underneath the bank on the left.

There was also a fairly sizable cavern around the casing pipe on the well, which is pretty much what we expected. Still, NOT what you want to find!

We got out a flashlight and peered around the casing pipe - we could see down about 6 feet, and keep in mind we were already in a 3 foot hole. At this point our neighbor came over, looked around, and said, "The people at the bottom of that hole are speaking Chinese!"

We spent the next hour pouring rubble and bags of concrete down the hole around the casing, and tamping it in with a piece of rebar. We also filled in the underground cavern on the left, and a little bit of the bottom of the trench close to the well. Fortunately we had a couple of bags of concrete on hand, so we used those up.

The finished product, after cementing and cleaning out all the roots. We affectionately (?) called it "The Grand Canyon" until it was filled in with road base. Hopefully we won't have any more problems with this!

There is actually some good news about all of this - we thought the reason the well didn't work was because the well casing had been compromised, possibly by a tree root. However, the casing looked fine the well casing as far as we could see, so hopefully the well itself is OK in case we ever want to revive it.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Mid-week critter

Ok, for real, I'm going to try to get back into the mid-week post. Except that the denizens of our farmlet have informed me that this post should not be limited to kittehs, since there are extremely kyoot doggies, ponies, and chickens that live here too. So, instead of mid-week kitteh, I give you mid-week critter.

Having said that, this week's feature critter is Freya.

Freya made herself a little nest between a folded quilt and a pillow I'd stacked on top of it - nobody actually arranged this, she did it herself!

As the day wore on, she moved to her usual upside-down snoozing position and knocked the pillow askew.

Eventually she just gave up on all decorum and ended up like this...

Sunday, February 13, 2011


Yesterday (Saturday), the boys went to a jousting practice. More on that in another post when there are pictures to prove it. (They both did really well - Red on actual jousting, and Saga on training for jousting.)

Today, they were apparently a little tired.

First, I spotted Saga taking a snooze in his sheet (it was 40 degrees this morning so the boys had their clothes on).

A little later, Red had passed out too.

The hubby came over to love on Reddums...

And of course Saga wanted a piece of the action.

It warmed up a bit and I took off their sheets, and then they both decided it was time for a snooze.

Too cute.

I love it when they curl up like this.

Reddums' artfully arranged tail.

Cannot... keep... eyes... openzzzzzz....

Really Mom, I'm trying to sleep!

On that note, I'm off to take a nap too!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Things that do not work when they are frozen

Last night and early this morning, it rained on the edge of a cold front that came in. And by cold, I mean that as I was packing lunches and feeding critters and making myself chai and the hubby coffee, I watched the outside thermometer drop almost 10 degrees in 30 minutes. Eeek! The low today was 23. During the day. It's actually warmer this evening!

I got super bundled up to go take care of the boys this morning, because not only was it about 28 degrees, we also had steady 30 knot winds coming from NNW, making the wind chill close to single digits. Not what we southerners are used to for sure! I even put on my ski gloves for good measure.

And as soon as I stepped out of the house, I remembered what ice storms are all about. Nothing works.

The car door was frozen shut. So was the door handle.

The latch on the gate at the end of the driveway? It took us 5 minutes to pry it open.

The lock on the shed door? That was fun. So was the bull snap on the paddock gate. What was even more fun was having two starving (STARVING! AND HOW!) horses fight for position at the gate as I fought with the iced-over snap. Oh well, at least we were on opposite sides of the fence.

Did you know the bearings on the wheelbarrow can freeze? It made mucking the paddock a challenge. And poopsickles. Those are a whole new kind of ridiculous.

Remind me not to complain when it's 110 degrees, OK?

Monday, February 7, 2011

Destruct-o-thon (and the well, dammit)

In addition to taking down the cisterns recently, we've also been working on taking down the two (connected) sheds that were right next to the cisterns. One of them housed the (defunct) well, so it was probably built around when the house was built, and the other one was sort of a gardening shed. Both had been termite snacks at one time or another, and I joked that the only thing holding them together was the paint. Turns out I wasn't far from wrong.

The front of the sheds, pre-destruction (cisterns in the background on the right).

The lumpy bit on the far left is covering the well head. This is important for later. Notice the back of the sheds is teal instead of yellowish-beige. Attractive, no?

The estimate I got to tear down the sheds was $700 for both of them, including tearing out the concrete slabs, one of which was cracked. Not too bad, but... I like to save money any way I can. Just to see what would happen, I posted the sheds on Craigslist and offered them as scrap metal. HOLY COW! In 28 minutes I had almost 20 responses of people offering to come tear them down. HELL YEAH! So I arranged for a couple of guys to come out, and five hours later, just the wood framing was left.

As it turns out, I wasn't far off in my assessment that only the paint was holding the sheds together, although it turned out that the metal was holding them together. As soon as the roof and siding came off the shed on the left, the whole thing collapsed. Neato!

Saturday, we tore down the shed on the left and hauled the lumber off to the dump (none of the lumber was salvageable, even as firewood. We tried!). Then it took only a few whacks with a sledgehammer and a good push to knock down the other shed.


And then the guys went to town ripping it apart. We hauled that lumber off to the dump too.

If you look carefully in the bottom left corner of the previous picture, you'll see that the slab on the left is cracked pretty significantly. If you look at the picture above, you'll notice another crack and you'll also see that the two sheds were on separate slabs - this is important for later.

The shed slabs were poured pretty much exactly even with where we want the front of the barn. Concrete is EXPENSIVE to pour, so we thought we might be able to salvage the slab on the right, which was solid, and pour around/over it with some reinforcements. However, we knew we'd have to break up the broken slab on the left. Our neighbor across the street volunteered to come over with his bobcat with the jackhammer attachment (long story, but DAMN those things are awesome!), and so the destruction commenced.

The hubby and I watched as he hammered out the first piece of concrete, and then watched in horror as the chunk of slab... disappeared into the ground. Apparently, there was a hole underneath the cracked slab... and the more we dug, the more it became apparent that the problem was actually under BOTH slabs. We ended up jackhammering both of them out to determine the extent of the problem, and this is what we found:

This is the hole that was under the slabs. The capped well is at the bottom of the picture (I'm standing where the back wall of the sheds used to be), and the darker line of the ground at the top of the picture is where the front wall of the shed used to be. The hole runs from the front of the shed all the way to the well pipe.

I took this picture crouched down inside the hole. It's about 3 feet deep - I'm at eyeball level with the ground. The thing in front of me at ground level is the well cap. You'll notice two darker spots near the bottom of the picture - those appear to be continuations of the hole that go all the way to the well borehole. We need to dig those out further to determine the extent of the problem.

At this point, we're still removing concrete chunks so we can get a clear picture of the issue. That should be done tomorrow. Obviously we need to fill the hole in with something so we can pour new slab for the barn on it, but we're not sure exactly what needs to be done before we fill in the hole. I think we need to figure out what caused the problem in the first place and address that - obviously, the hole wasn't there when they poured the slabs.

Our best guess is that a tree root found the well pipe and compromised the well (the well hasn't worked since at least 2001). One the well was compromised, it's possible that rainwater began to flow into the well pipe, and as time went on, eroded out the dirt from under the slabs as water poured into the well. If this is the scenario, then we need to plug the hole in the well to stop the erosion, but we won't know for sure until we clear out the dirt to the well pipe itself. We'd like to keep the well as intact as possible so we can refurbish it later if we choose to, but it probably depends on how much damage has been done. Of course, if anybody else has any other ideas, or has seen this sort of thing before, I'd love to hear your suggestions!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Mostly frozen

Along with the rest of the US, we've enjoyed unseasonably cold weather for the past several days. It didn't get above freezing for almost three days, which is pretty much unheard of for this part of the world. We had rolling blackouts (which fortunately bypassed our house altogether), and a lot of friends and co-workers had frozen pipes. Apparently double-wrapping our pipes and putting heat lamps on the most vulnerable ones was the right thing to do, since we didn't have any trouble whatsoever. We were REALLY lucky this time around.

The critters fared similarly well. Artemis and Maddy had a heat lamp on their sleeping blanket, which they made judicious use of. Anie had her bed, which I double-blanketed and made sure it was out of the wind. Reddums got his extra Polarfleece blanket, and Saga had his Rambo (which is quite warm). The boys got free-choice hay (instead of in haynets, which they have to work for) for extra calories. The most annoying part of the whole thing, frankly, was having to break ice and tote hot water out to the water trough and critter water bucket several times a day. When it's 18 degrees out with a wind chill in the single digits, water doesn't stay liquid for long! And yes, I will be getting a heated bucket for critter water and a trough heater for the boys - as soon as those items are in stock again in this part of the world.

The last day of the freeze, we had about an inch of snow! It was really beautiful to wake up to a winter wonderland - snow just seems to absorb all the sounds so it was very peaceful first thing in the morning. The hubby and I had the day off since the University was closed, so we made the most of it, sitting in front of the fire and working (yeah, I know. Day off. Whatever.). I did get some pictures of the critters in the snow, so here you go!

Driveway, looking toward the street.

Elias considers that if he were a Malamute in Alaska, this would be his view every day. (And then he went back inside and curled up in his bed in a poor, cold little dogball. Woe!)

Back pasture looking east toward the greenbelt.

Back pasture looking north-northwest.

Apparently Saga's Rambo is warm enough that the snow doesn't melt on it!

Front pasture looking southeast.

Kinda pretty...

Snow day. Because you always need a video of the horses making snow angels in the snow!

Reddums with his ALFALFAAAAAA!

Saga noms his breakfast too.

Of course, the snow only lasted until about noon since it warmed up pretty quickly. We do still have a few small patches in the shady spots, but for the most part, it disappeared as quickly as it arrived. No complaints from us, though - shoveling snow is not fun!