Friday, February 17, 2012

Making the best of an old barn - Part 1 - The Hay Mow

I figure it's unnecessary to have a perfect horse barn.

I think most barns or sheds can be converted into a decent place for my horses and me.  It's a fairly basic set of needs: shelter, feed storage, tack /equipment storage.  I'm spoiled by modern amenities, so I'll add electricity and running water to that list.  (One winter in my teens the pipe froze and we had to carry water buckets to the barn from the cellar of the house.  Never again, if I have anything to say about it.)

I'd like to have a discussion about old barns, what we love about them and what ticks us off, and how we make the building work for keeping horses.  This could take awhile but it's a subject I love!  Old barns!  History!  Architecture!  Hay!

Let me tell you about the barn my horses live in now.

It's not my barn, it's my dad's.  He lets me use it.  He likes horses, and doesn't like an empty barn.

I'm not sure how old it is, but I'm guessing around 130 years old.  Give or take a decade.  It's got massive beams with visible axe marks, from the time they were carved from even more massive trees. It's a design known as "Ontario bank barn." The animals are housed in the first floor and hay storage above.

Have a look inside.

It's a magnificent building.   A couple weeks ago, before we got a load of hay delivered, the hay man asked me over the phone if we had room for 300 bales.  Yup.  We have room.  Imagine that whole space filled with hay bales.  That's exactly what it was designed for!

At the back wall, there's a yellow pail, which is where I throw the twine string after I cut if off the bale.  (You DO NOT want that getting near the horses - twine and legs are a bad combo.)  You can't quite see in this picture, but there's a trapdoor in the floor, right over the open shed below.  This is right convenient.  I just drop the hay through the floor.  Gravity!  Yeah!

If you think it looks like the beams are leaning to the left, they are.  I'm not worried; Dad's lived here for almost 69 years and he says it's always been like that.  It was probably built crooked.  I doubt it's ready to fall over tomorrow.

I love this set-up.  Because the barn's built into a slope, the hay mow floor is ground level.  We can back a hay wagon straight in.  Once the hay is stored, gravity helps me get it to the horses fast and easy.

Some people don't like this arrangement.  There is a dust issue, although with a barn this -ahem- well ventilated, I don't find that dust is a debilitating problem.  Some people refuse to store hay in the same building because of the fire risk, and that's totally understandable. I think knowing about hay is key here.  I grew up with the rules about hay, specifically the dangers of hot hay.  It doesn't go into the barn unless it's dried, never with stems still green and juicy.  The stems have to break when you twist them. If it's dry and well cured, with no heat brewing inside the bale, you won't have spontaneous combustion. There is a lot of flammable stuff here, but anything that could cause a fire shouldn't be in your barn anyways. (And that is a whole other discussion.  We'll do that one later.)  But I get it.  I prefer a barn with hay overhead, but I'll never tell someone they're foolish for having a separate hay building!

These pictures were taken up in the loft.  The giant wooden wheels used to pull a load of loose hay up to the loft, but that was long before my time.  I like to go up there and examine this system.  It's simple, but it worked.

You know what?  I've done a lot of horse chores.  Shlepping hay is a huge pain.  Call me lazy.  Call me smart.  Either way, the least amount of steps I have to take, the happier chore time is! 

There's another trap door in the level under the loft, which I throw bales down to the first floor, where the stalls are located.  It's a system that works for us.

Putting the hay into the loft requires a hay elevator.    It's a lot of work... which is a big deal for me, hence the reluctance to waste a single step!

I'd love to hear from anybody else dealing with an old barn of any configuration -- the challenges, the advantages, and what you'd do different if you could.  Or for that matter, what you'd keep if you could.  

Oh my gosh, I just figured out that some days, when I'm really busy, I can spend as much time hanging around this barn as I spend in my bed at night.  I'm not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing.  


Sparkling said...

I have an old barn that no horses have been in for 40 years. It's well over 100 years old and very leaning and scary looking but probably not in safe condition like yours is. I try to imagine what it was like with my mother's horses in there. It's very half assed, the way it was built. NO rhyme or reason to anything. With all of that "ventilation" doesn't rain get in ? I'd be so afraid to commit to 300 bales of hay only to have them get moldy....

Heidi the Hick said...

Y'know there are people who wouldn't put a horse in this barn either. It's got some nasty problems. But. It works. It's what I've got. And like I said, it's still standing so I figure it'll stay. Those beams are friggin solid huge. And... It was built by Mennonites!!! So you know it's well done!!

We haven't had a problem with hay going moldy and I think it's because we never stack the bales right up against the walls. There always has to be airflow. At least that was what I was always taught. Yes the rain and snow does come through between the barn boards but it usually doesn't even touch the hay. It works so that's how we do it.

We looked at a place recently with a cute little red barn - I mean picture book looking. But the roof trusses were flimsy and the walls were framed with like, toothpicks. It looked like it was built from recycled wood which is great in theory, I'm all for it, but I wasn't sure in this case. Most of all.... No hay storage!!!!

mugwump said...

Always a good thing...

Paul Tee said...

Having a barn is not always a good thing.

I have the largest population of raccoons in the province making home in my barn. When the ministry of Environment (or such) was testing the effectiveness of aerial distribution of rabies vaccine, the lady handler loved my barn, because she could always count on finding one/two of the critters in her traps to take her blood samples. She seemed unaware that she smelled like a raccoon herself.

The way it was/is, we have the most notorious crack house for raccoons anywhere.

But that's not my biggest problem.

The largest issue is family and friends, who "store" things in my barn, because I have the space. Five years down the road I'm trucking these "heirlooms" to the dump.

And yeah I have a hay mow. My neighbour cuts my fields, binds it and twines it, and I have huge sausages scattered across the field soaking up the weather. One day I asked myself, how have all the sausages end up on the low end of the field? It turned out that my sons and friends had a hayrolling competition. Even had one of the marshmallows roll over my youngest, luckily no damage. But be certain that hay can be dangerous.

Heidi the Hick said...

You seriously had the ministry of the environment out to look st the raccoons?? Wow. They are cheeky - your think the big dog would scare them away!!!

Paul your barn is very beautiful. Even with all the *ahem* antiques stores there. I know it. All too well. I spent so many trips to the dump and the scrap yard and I could still fill the truckbed twice.

I thi k the best way to avoid that would be to fill the hay mow with actual hay and then tell everybody you just have no room for their old washing machine bike table lawn chair hockey nets. However you'd have to actually use the hay or eventually after ten years or so it'll be a dusty composted mess and that'll rot your barn floor, and besides raccoons don't eat hay, so.... That didn't help at all eh?

Heidi Willis said...

When we lived in CA, our home backed to a farm where they had a HUGE hay barn that got filled about once or twice a year. It's an impressive site, although I prefer the quaintness of yours.

I love these kinds of posts. Your life is so different from mine in so many ways, I love pretending for a little while I'm there with you in that barn.

Anonymous said...

I thought I was looking at my barn!! AMAZING!

We also have the trap door to throw down bales into the stall area.

As for stacking the bales up.. You can always find some cute "men" looking for some pizza and a work out!