Quonset Hut Finishing Touches

La pièce de résistance, the sliding door!

We are ALMOST done with the quonset hut build! Since my last update, we sheeted the end walls, installed the sliding door, set up the pens inside, and built a heated washroom (complete with a slop sink, stainless steel countertop, and lots of shelving). We still have a couple of small projects to complete this spring before we can officially declare the project done: we need to paint the end walls and install vents to promote good respiratory health for our goats.

Framing the sliding door.

One lesson that we’ve learned throughout the building process: don’t forget to budget for hardware! We have spent well over a thousand dollars on miscellaneous hardware over the course of this project. The track and wheels to mount the sliding door alone were a few hundred dollars.

Cracks between base plate segments.

We’re still glad that we bought the base plates from DuroSpan. They were a game changer for us. However, because the base plates come in approximately 10’ sections, there are cracks between them that allow water to come in. As soon as it’s warm enough, we’ll seal these gaps with Flex Seal. Here’s to hoping that will be a final solution!

Cutting off the excess cement.

We have to admit that we made a mistake when we poured our cement pad. We poured a 31’ x 51’ pad for a 30’ x 50’ structure. At the time, we thought that we were playing it safe by making the pad larger than it needed to be, but this prevents the water from draining off of the base plates properly. Brandon has been hard at work cutting the excess cement away. We won’t make the same mistake in the future…

Separation of Dams and Offspring

Did you know that in addition to working on the farm, working off the farm, and wrangling a wild 2 year old, I somehow find the time to go to grad school? (I know, I can’t believe it either.) I am pursuing my Master’s degree in Sustainable Agriculture and Food Environment, which is something that I get really excited about! Recently I wrote this brief paper for my Agricultural Advocacy course. The assignment was to develop an advocacy plan based on an animal welfare issue. I wanted to share it here on our blog because it explains why we separate our goat kids from their mothers at birth and raise them as “bottle babies”.

Written Response #2: Separation of Dams and Offspring

     Throughout my career in the dairy industry, one question I’ve often been asked is “why do you take the babies away from their mothers when they’re so young?” When I worked with Holstein cattle, my answer was always that it was to protect the calves from being injured. Cows can be very rough on calves for a variety of reasons. An experiment conducted by California dairyman Mark McAfee revealed that only about 30% of his cows exhibited exceptional mothering ability; the other 70% neglected their calves, allowing them to be stepped on by other cows or attacked by coyotes. (Law, 2018) It is often thought that the selection pressure that has been placed on other attributes, such as milk production and confirmation, have led to maternal instincts being essentially “bred out” of dairy animals. 

Now that I work exclusively with goats, who tend to make excellent mothers, that question has become harder to answer. However, in order to be a good advocate for my industry, I need to be prepared with clear, consistent responses that are backed by science. On my family’s farm, we separate the kids from their mothers at birth. I have three reasons for doing this: to protect the newborn from illness, to ensure that the newborn receives adequate nutrition, and to promote the udder health of the dam.

    When calves (and kids) are born, they have no active immune system. (Nash, 2017) They are fragile and particularly susceptible to any pathogens that may exist in their environment. I believe that the biggest threat to my herd is coccidiosis, or diarrhea caused by an environmental protozoan called coccidia. Coccidia are always present in adult goats and sheep, who pass oocytes through their feces. (Metzger, 2018) On other farms, caprine arthritis encephalitis (CAE), caseous lymphadenitis (CL), and Johne’s disease may be of concern. Contact between kids and infected dams is thought to be the main cause of CAE transmission. (“Caprine Arthritis Encephalitis Part Two”) All three of these major goat diseases have the potential to be passed through milk. The American Dairy Goat Association (ADGA) advises that kids should receive colostrum from does that have been tested free from disease, and that milk should be pasteurized if contamination is possible. (“Johne’s Disease”, 2015) 

The kid’s consumption of adequate amounts of colostrum and milk during its first few days of life are key to its survival. As previously stated, young ruminants are born without an active immune system. They depend upon passive transfer of immune antibodies through colostrum. Timing of colostrum feeding is critical, as the newborn is only able to absorb the immunoglobulins during the first day of life. (Selk, 2020) Kids need to be fed at least 10% of their body weight in colostrum within 24 hours of birth. (Bentley) It is impossible to ascertain that these standards are being met if the kid is left to nurse from the dam. Additionally, weaker kids may find it difficult to nurse if the dam and siblings are active. Rearing youngstock artificially allows for all of their nutritional needs to be met and for their growth to be carefully monitored. 

    While there isn’t an abundance of evidence to support a causal relationship between dam-raising kids and mastitis infection in dairy does, my experience has proven a correlation. Does nursing multiple offspring are among the goats most commonly affected by mastitis. (Schoenian, 2017) Pasteurella haemolytica, a pathogen causing chronic mastitis, may be spread to the teat from the mouth of a kid that has pneumonia. (Metzner, 2008) Kids frequently cause injury to the udder as well. In the words of experienced goat rancher Suzanne Gasparotto, “kids are hard on udders and teats; they bump, hit, and sometimes bite when trying to access milk.” (Gasparotto, 2013) To lower the chances that my does’ udders will be compromised, I prefer to milk them twice daily using sterilized equipment, and then bottle-feed the milk to the kids, rather than allowing the kids to nurse.

    Being truthful and outlining the more compelling reasons behind my position is how I intend to advocate for my industry. As a business owner, I am well aware of the importance of public perception. I make a point of sharing facts about livestock and animal care practices via social media, my farm’s website, and by engaging in discussions with the public at farmer’s markets and other events. In the near future, I plan to host farm tours, so that I can educate people about the issues surrounding animal agriculture and create a positive experience that they will hopefully remember and share with others.

Works Cited

Bentley, J. (2018). Colostrum Management for the Dairy Goat Kid. Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. Caprine Arthritis Encephalitis Part Two: Preventing and Controlling CAE. Ontario Goat. (0AD). https://ontariogoat.ca/goat-gazette/caprine-arthritis-encephalitis-part-two-preventing-and-controlling-cae/.

Gasparotto, S. W. (2013, April 11). Udders and Teats. Meat Goat Mania. http://tennesseemeatgoats.com/MeatGoatMania/April2013/index.html.

Johne’s Disease – American Dairy Goat Association. ADGA. (2015, May 17). Law, T. (2018, August 13). Why some dairy cows make bad mothershttps://ethicalfoods.com/mothering-instinct/.

Metzger, M. (2018, November 19). Preventing coccidiosis in goats and sheep. MSU Extension. https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/preventing_coccidiosis_in_goats_and_sheep.

Metzner, D. M. (2008). Udder diseases. http://www.rinderskript.net/skripten/klw-4.html.

Nash, J. (2017, September 19). Why are Dairy Calves Separated from their Mothers? Milk Means More. https://www.milkmeansmore.org/dairy-calves-separated-mothers/.

Schoenian, S. (2017, April 14). Mastitis is Udder Madness. Lancaster Farming. https://www.lancasterfarming.com/news/southern_edition/mastitis-is-udder-madness/article_2e6176dc-5941-5ab0-97a0-933ef4569d32.html.

Selk, G. (2020, December 15). Most Passive Immunity Occurs in the First Six Hours. Drovers. https://www.drovers.com/news/beef-production/most-passive-immunity-occurs-first-six-hours.

Logging Plans

When we first bought our 26 acre property, we had planned to have the entire parcel logged to make pasture for our goats. We postponed logging until winter to mitigate our environmental impact, but as winter drew closer, we started to reconsider…

When it comes to goats, 26 acres is a LOT of land! One acre can support 6-8 goats, provided that there is good quality forage. Clearing all 26 acres would mean that we could potentially carry over 200 goats, which we have no intention of doing. We envision our herd growing to 30-40 goats, but no larger. There’s no denying that large farms are efficient, but sometimes they lack adequate person to livestock ratios, and health issues go unnoticed, or the staff are too overwhelmed to address them. We never want to put ourselves in a position where we have so many animals that we can’t interact with each and every one of them on a daily basis.

So what do goats have to do with logging? Goats prevent regrowth. If we don’t have enough goats to stay ahead of the regrowth, the land won’t remain clear. We aren’t prepared to brush hog that many acres of rough terrain. Not to mention, having stumps removed is very expensive.

Because we don’t feel that we could keep up with maintaining 26 cleared acres, we have decided not to proceed with having the property logged by a logging company. Instead, we will slowly work toward clearing the lower portion of the land ourselves, processing the trees into firewood. We’ve already begun cutting where we plan to build our chicken coop. By spring, things should look noticeably different at our farm, although it may take us a few years to get everything cleared the way we want.

What’s Coming in 2021

Come springtime, this area will be fenced and

What a year 2020 was! In spite of the global pandemic, we made quite a few things happen over the last year. We’d like to take a moment to celebrate some of these accomplishments:

  • We purchased our first ever BRAND NEW tractor
  • We doubled the size of our laying flock
  • We were awarded a grant by the Food Animal Concerns Trust
  • We constructed a 30’ x 50’ quonset hut all by ourselves
  • We moved all of our hooved animals into the new barn
  • We began accepting soap orders directly through our website

We have so much to look forward to in 2021. Here are some of the exciting developments that are to come:

  • The addition of livestock guardian dogs to our farm
  • The installation of permanent fencing to provide our goats with approximately six acres of pasture
  • A brand new raised bed garden
  • A brand new chicken coop
  • The opening of a new farm-to-table restaurant in Malone that will feature some of our products 
  • Regularly scheduled farm tours
  • New products at the farmstand (our own and from our local partner farms) 

We have several other projects underway but they may not be complete until 2022. We have a lot of work ahead of us, but we believe we are taking our farm in the right direction and that it will all pay off in the future. Stay tuned for updates along the way!

Quonset Hut End Walls

Once we finished assembling our quonset hut, the next step was to build the end walls. We opted to build our own, rather than purchase them as part of the building kit, so that we could completely customize the size and placement of the doors and vents.

First, we screwed pressure treated boards to the cement to form a sill that we could build off of. We used our own rough cut lumber to frame the walls, doubling the boards in some places to reach the quonset hut’s 14’ peak (our sawmill only allows us to cut 10′ logs). Deciding how to secure the upper part of the wall to the curved metal structure was a bit tricky. We ended up putting roofing screws through holes that we drilled in the drip edge, which can be seen as little green dots in the photo below.

Framing the back wall.

For siding, we used upcycled roofing steel. To get the steel to match the shape of the quonset hut, we had to carefully cut each piece. Brandon would stand on a ladder on the outside holding a sheet in place, while I stood on a ladder on the inside to trace the curve of the drip edge. We then cut along the line using tin snips.

Cutting roofing steel by hand is harder than you would think!

Although you can see some light along the right side of the wall, the drip edge overlaps the cut edge of the roofing steel by a few inches, preventing water from leaking in. We will evaluate whether spray foam insulation is needed to fill these little gaps, and if necessary, we’ll tackle that project in the spring. For now we’re just focused on getting the building closed in to keep the animals out of the wind!

An almost completed back wall. We’ll be installing a man door and vents shortly.

Halfway Done With Our Quonset Hut

Since our quonset hut is now more than half assembled, I figured it was time to share an update!

We started out doing things the VERY hard way. First, we tried standing up a fully assembled arch, with the help of Brandon’s father and brother. We quickly learned that the arches have a propensity to twist. We abandoned that method before we did serious damage to the building and/or one of us. Next, we began standing up sections of arch by standing on ladders and scaffolding that we strapped into the bed of our truck to gain some additional height (I’m sure this is completely OSHA approved).

Construction wasn’t moving along as quickly as we would have liked, and it was still incredibly challenging to put up a full arch with only two people. With winter looming just a few weeks away, we decided to rent a scissor lift to get the job done.

With the scissor lift, the two of us can assemble an arch in a little over an hour. We’ve developed our own method: we stand up the side pieces (there are two pieces on each side), we bolt the side pieces in place, and then we tie the sides together with the center piece. We made a timelapse video to share on our new YouTube channel. Check it out: https://youtu.be/COXFMZD_jLI

Base Plate Installation

The biggest mistake we made when we ordered our DuroSpan steel building kit was NOT ordering the hand welded base plate along with it. I don’t know what we were thinking. The base plate may not be necessary to install the quonset hut, but it definitely makes it 1,000% easier. Had we ordered the base plate at the same time as the building, we would have saved close to $1,500 in extra freight charges and would have been able to erect the building six weeks earlier. But life is all about learning from your mistakes, right?

Once the base plate arrived, we set to work installing it. First, we laid out all of the sections so that we would know where the holes were. Then, we used a hammer drill (98 times!) to make 3” deep holes in our concrete pad. We coated the bottom of each base plate section with roofing tar to prevent water from seeping underneath the base plate. Finally, we bolted each section in place.

We applied tar to the bottom of each base plate section before bolting it into place.

While we were waiting for the base plate to arrive, we started assembling partial arches. (I strongly recommend getting a head start on this if possible; your hands will get tired after putting several together because there are SO MANY BOLTS!) Often, it’s just the two of us working on the barn, so we opted to stand it up in sections as opposed to full arches. I will be sure to post again as we begin erecting the structure.

Partially assembled quonset hut arches.

I’m sure there will be a bit of a learning curve with this next step, ha!

Barn Progress Update

Over the past several weeks we’ve slowly but surely been working to prepare the building site. We started by running mason’s line to determine where to build the forms. We then built the forms using leftover lumber from our sawmill, which involved cutting and driving LOTS of stakes. Once the forms were constructed, we leveled the ground beneath and added fill to make the pad a uniform 4”.

Brandon and his helper securing the form boards to the stakes.

To reinforce the concrete, we laid a grid of remesh, which is similar to panel fencing used for livestock. We set the remesh on 2” patio pavers, so that it would be in the middle of the 4” thick pad. Our barn is 30’x50’, however, we decided that it would be easier to pour the concrete in two sections. We drilled holes in the form boards that divide the two sections, and inserted short pieces of rebar every few feet to tie the two slabs together along the joint.

Before pouring.

Finally, on Saturday morning, we had a truck come and pour 10.5 yards of cement. It took our four man crew just under an hour to get it all poured and screeded. We ended up with some extra cement, so we used it to make an apron where the barn doors will be.

Spreading the cement as it comes off the truck.

Before we can pour the other half, we need to finish the installation of our driven point well (more on that later). We plan to house the well pump in a small, heated room inside the barn where we will also have a slop sink for washing eggs. We are really looking forward to having a water source in the barn, as we have been lugging buckets from the house for the past three winters.

The finished product! (Half of it, anyway.)

Our Milk Testing Protocols

First thing’s first: I need to apologize for the delay in making this post. Earlier this year I wrote about the importance of sanitation and testing when it comes to raw milk, and then I never got around to writing about what we do on our farm.

Let’s talk about sanitation!

  • We use a closed milking system to prevent dirt, hair, feces, and insects from contaminating our milk. 
  • During milking, we wear gloves, use teat dip, and use a clean towel to wipe each goat’s teats.
  • After milking, we bottle and chill milk immediately. Milk is poured in our clean kitchen, into glass bottles that have been sanitized with diluted bleach.
  • We wash all of our milking equipment with soap and hot water, followed by an acid rinse, after every use.
  • We soak all of the critical components of our milking system in diluted bleach after every use.
  • We regularly clean our goat’s pens so that they’re always laying on clean bedding. This helps to prevent mastitis as well as fecal contamination from dirty animals.

I’ve spent the past few months brainstorming the best ways to aggregate and present all of our milk test data. We run standard plate counts and Coliform/E. coli tests on a bi-weekly basis. I decided that, for simplicity’s sake, I am going to make available the averages for each test that we run. The numbers for the current year are a rolling average, updated in real time: Milk Test Averages

So what do these numbers mean?

The standard plate count (or aerobic plate count) is a quantifies the amount of bacteria in our milk. This test counts both beneficial and potentially harmful bacteria. Although the state limit is 30,000/mL, we aim to keep the overall bacteria level of our milk under 1,000 cfu/mL to reduce the likelihood that harmful bacteria may be present.

A Coliform count lower than 10 cfu/mL is indicative of excellent sanitation. While we always strive for excellence, our average may not fall below 10 this year, as we had a few slightly elevated Coliform counts at the beginning of the milking season. We’ve since made adjustments to our sanitation procedures to meet our goal. 2020 is our first year testing and selling milk, so we are still learning!

We also use a weekly CMT (California Mastitis Test) to monitor the SCC (somatic cell count) of each of our does throughout her lactation. An elevated SCC indicates the presence of mastitis (an infection of the mammary glands). If one of our goats tests positive, we can immediately begin milking her separately and discarding her milk until we are certain that the infection has cleared.

It is possible to test for specific pathogens, such as Salmonella, Campylobacter, and Listeria. However, doing so is usually unnecessary so long as the APC and Coliform counts are consistently low.

The First Steps of Our Barn Construction

Our DuroSpan steel building kit was delivered this past week! We opted for a classic Quonset hut style building, which is constructed of a series of arches that bolt to one another. Pictured above are the pieces that make up the arches. I’m not going to lie, it’s a bit daunting to see multiple buckets of 600 bolts, knowing that my husband and I are the ones that have to put this whole thing together.

Over the weekend we began working on building forms so that we can have a concrete slab poured. The slab is arguably the most important part of the whole project, as the building draws its strength from being bolted to it. It’s crucial that the concrete is level and that the corners are square, so we are double (and triple) checking every move we make, using line levels and mason string. Once the forms have been completed, we’ll use our tractor to level the ground beneath so that the pad is exactly 4” thick.

Hopefully the cement work will be done soon so that we can get started assembling and erecting the arches!