Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Work begins!

This is the kick-off for our barn-building project. Students in a second-year general education course will build a small animal barn to shelter our college sheep herd, and provide housing for pigs, chickens, cattle or indeed any other small scale sustainable livestock project the college might like to pursue in the future.

The barn will also help make sense of our composting system, which has always had problems, mostly due ton the high volume of waste. By feeding pre-consumer kitchen and garden waste to appropriate animals like pigs in a controlled barn-based system, we can reduce the volume of waste, and its attraction to undesirable critters. Barns also help collect and concentrate animal manure and bedding for use in gardens and on fields. It's a lot easier in general to make good compost if you have a barn.

I wanted to be well-organized for the beginning of class, because nothing can be quite so disheartening for students than a project class that uses up three or four of the first few weeks in organizing, making plans, and in mundane tasks like getting materials to the site. So hopefully, if I do my work well, everything will be in place when class starts. Students will have to study safety precautions and regulations for a little less than a week, but then, on the first Friday of term, they will actually get right down to practical work.

First job was to take the existing animal shelter, a pole barn, and prepare it for use as tool storage and as a temporary workshop where we can still get things done if it rains. I almost forgot to take a photo of this first job, but remembered a few minutes into my work, and here's the shot (above).

As you can see, although sturdy, this run-in shelter doesn't do it's job well. It's enclosed on three sides only, so the snow blows in unless you use ugly old tarps like the ones on there right now. It's hard to clean out, because you can't drive right through with a loader. And it's built on clay soil, which is by far the worst feature. Clay acts as a seal for water so it doesn't drain, and so you get wet conditions, which damages the animals' hoofs and makes them prone to hoof rot. Our sheep had bad hoof rot this year, which didn't clear up until they'd been on the dry sandyn soil at MOFGA for a week or so. And I almost lost my shoe today to the boggy spot right in front of the black tarp.

None of this is the fault of the FFA students, who built this shelter with the help of the club advisors. Back then, before the college had the Agriculture Food and Sustainability degree program, all they had to work with was a tiny bit of club money. The students wanted a college farm, and this is how it started. They had the guts to get it going, but with so few resources, this was the best they could do.

Well, as a job site workshop, it'll do just fine. The animals have been removed (to MOFGA -- see the Sustainability Activities page for details), except for our Hampshire ram "Mikey", who's king of the back pen for now, and the fence and gates in the home pen have been taken down and removed, leaving a wide open space where the new barn will go.

Today we took down the tarps on the old shelter, removed some of the feeding equipment to make room for shelves and a workbench, and wired the building for shop lights and electrical outlets. Tomorrow we'll keep working on benches, and make a locking toolroom.

Any Environmental Citizen students already in the area for fall semester who'd like to help are welcome to come down to the site. I'll be working regularly this week and next. I'll generally be on site at 8am or 8.30 (depending on whether this is a day the sheep need moved (at MOFGA) or not, and on any other UC commitments).

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