Farm Happenings

LGDs: Lessons from the First Year

A little over a year ago, we took a leap and acquired our farm’s first ever livestock guardian dogs. Yes, I said dogs as in more than one! We purchased TWO Great Pyrenees puppies within a couple months of each other. We’re sharing the good, the bad, and the ugly about our experiences with our LGDs thus far. To be clear, we do not advise raising more than one pup at a time! Not only is it twice the work, but it puts the dogs at risk of experiencing littermate syndrome, among other issues. It was a calculated risk on our part, and although it seems to have paid off, we don’t plan to do it again in the future.

The Good:

Our chosen breed of LGD, the Great Pyrenees, has been bred for thousands of years to work with livestock, and it shows. Their protective behaviors and gentleness towards the goats are instinctual. Because of this, we’ve done relatively little training with our dogs, other than basic obedience and correcting a few energetic puppy behaviors. We were careful to select purebred Great Pyrenees whose parents were also working dogs to ensure the greatest chance of success within our farming operation.

Not only are our dogs excellent with the goats, they have proven themselves to be gentle with our ducks, our chickens, and even our new barn cat. They are incredibly affectionate towards everyone they have met, although they put up an intimidating front with strangers and delivery drivers.

The Bad:

They’re HUGE! While their size may give them an advantage over coyotes and other predators, it also means that they are apt to knock over small children, elderly people, and anyone who’s unsteady on their feet. Because they are large, they also consume large quantities of food, which means that we spend a considerable amount each month at the feed store.

Although the dogs took to the goats readily, the goats weren’t keen on the dogs at first. Our goats had never been exposed to friendly dogs before, so of course they perceived the new canines as a threat. We had to carefully supervise their interactions while the puppies were young, in order to prevent the goats from injuring or terrorizing the puppies. Placing a young dog with aggressive stock can quickly ruin the dog’s working career by making them fearful or resentful. Puppies must be protected at all costs!

The Ugly:

Food aggression is real with these guys! “Resource guarding” is a common behavior in livestock guardian dogs. To avoid dog on dog and dog on goat violence, we ended up feeding the dogs in crates. Although this may not be feasible when the dogs are moving from pasture to pasture, it works for us right now. Each dog has a safe space where they can eat in peace.

Sanitary trims… Our male, Thor, needs to have a sanitary trim approximately once every month, to avoid having dog poop sticking to his fur and potential intestinal blockage. He is fairly cooperative about allowing us to trim the long hair around his rear end with clippers, but he certainly doesn’t enjoy it, and neither do we.

Although our dogs have had few behavioral issues to date, we are not out of the woods yet. Livestock guardian dogs can’t be considered fully trained until they reach 2.5 to 3 years of age. Until then, we’re keeping our fingers crossed!

If you’re considering adding a livestock guardian dog to your farm, I highly recommend reading Livestock Protection Dogs: Selection, Care and Training by Orysia Dawydiak & David Sims. This book has proven to be an invaluable resource for us throughout this process.

Farm Happenings

Compost Containment Area

Earlier this year, we were awarded a grant by the Adirondack Council, to enhance the environmental benefits provided by our farm. The funds were used to partially cover the cost of constructing a cement compost containment area, basically a bunk in which we can compost our bedding, manure, and garden waste. Having the compost contained means that we’re much less likely to have run-off after rainstorms, that could leach into the nearby stream and wetlands.

“Sustainably managed farmlands are working landscapes that protect wildlife, open space, and water quality, while playing a part in mitigating climate change. Supporting Adirondack farms benefits the environment as well as our economy and our communities, with jobs and healthy food,” – William C. Janeway, Adirondack Council Executive Director

Before and after composting. We use a lot of waste hay as bedding, because our Angora goats can’t lay on wood shavings.

Composting is really important to our farm because it allows us to take advantage of nutrient cycling. What once was a pile of goat poop, will eventually become nutrient rich soil, that we can use in our garden or sell to other gardeners in the area. Composting is also how many farms, including ours, dispose of animals when they die. (Not that that happens often!) There’s an old saying that “if you have livestock, you’re gonna have dead stock”. That’s just the reality of farming. 

We are very fortunate to have had our proposal funded by Adirondack Council, and to have had some help with completing the project! If you’re curious about the process, here’s a video of Brandon and his father setting the mafia blocks:

Farm Happenings

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…

Farm Happenings

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!

Farm Happenings

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.

Farm Happenings

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:

Farm Happenings

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!

Farm Happenings

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.)
Farm Happenings

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!

Farm Happenings

The Farmstand Is Open!

Over the weekend we opened our brand new farmstand, conveniently located at 189 Ragged Lake Rd, Owls Head, NY 12969. The stand is stocked with fresh eggs and a variety of our handmade goat’s milk soaps. We will be adding seasonal produce and baked goods as the summer gets underway. We are big believers in the importance of local food, therefore, we will be partnering with other North Country farms to make it easier to eat locally in Owls Head. Our partner farms and their products will be listed on the Farmstand page of our website; be looking for updates on what we will carry.