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The Long-Awaited Conclusion of Coulter Farms' Hoop Building Adventure...

Posted 3/13/2019 3:41pm by Kinley Coulter.

     Right from the beginning, our stated goal with the 'Hoop Building Project' here at Coulter Farms was to absolutely, positively, ‘no matter what’...finish it in time for our March Lambing Season.  

      As usual with most of our big farm projects...it was a ‘nail-biter’ from start to finish! Unfortunately, we had been late starting in the fall and had frustrating construction delays related to the record squishy, soggy, no-good, too-wet year.  If you have been following this gut-wrenching saga in the mainstream national media,  you already know that the trusses and fabric roof were completed before the worst of the snow and wind arrived in January.  That was the GOOD news… now for the LESS good news.
     We had one great final challenge related to this building.  With January frost sinking into the ground and temperatures plummeting  towards the single digits and buffeting wind gusts approaching 70 mph… we desperately needed to get an ‘end wall’  built with strong sliding doors to relieve the momma ewes and Jersey heifer calves from the wind-tunnel effect of a hoop building that was facing North and open at both ends.  The south end of the building was designed to remain open to let in fresh air and the toasty-warm, winter sun. But, the open north end was allowing the prevailing winds to intrude, carrying unwelcome snow and rain deep into our marvelous building. 
      I’ll leave it for another time to consider the merits of the proposed wall on our nation’s southern border… the need for THIS wall on the northern border of THIS building was undisputed and had broad, bipartisan support… both animals AND farmers were solidly of one mind about it.  This wall MUST be built… and SOON.  Our momma ewes were looking like they could pop at any time.  Twin lambs in a ewe look big… triplets, a few days before lambing give the momma ewe a width that exceeds her length (like the momma in the foreground of the photo below).  The March 1st  lambing season was uncomfortably close at hand.

     Challenge accepted!  Bring on the undaunted and intrepid farmers doing their convincing imitation of builders!  
     The initial challenge was to engineer an end wall that could match the hoop-building’s impressive 90 mph wind rating.  We used an enormous scrap steel I-beam (It had been dragged in here from some auction by the boys… dad asked ‘what will we ever do with that thing?’… turned out we needed it) to be a header over the 24’ wide sliding doors.  
     The 30 foot tall upright poles for the wall had to be far stronger than 6x6’s so we laminated 2x10’s with hundreds and hundreds of nails to make a rugged support for our wall.
     The rock hard January frozen ground made digging a challenge but we chipped and hacked our way through the frost and anchored the poles on a solid concrete footer below frost depth.  
     Our farm shop welder was pressed into service to make ingenious custom brackets to tie the poles to the hoop truss 27’ above the ground.
     Then it was a simple matter to run lines of 2x4’s to support the steel skin of the wall.
     After all of this preparatory work, putting the bright red skin on the wall was FUN!
     Two sliding doors were readied and installed to allow equipment and hay and animals in and out.
      Then…a disappointing tragedy!  Shortly after the doors were installed we had two days and a night of shrieking wind that was as bad as any we’ve seen here in 20 year at the farm.  By the time the howling wind storm subsided…the sorry situation became evident.  
     Both big, bright, beautiful new sliding doors (along with one of another barn’s doors) were fallen casualties…torn loose and flipped mercilessly far from their buildings…the giant fallen doors resembled so many playing cards strewn in our pastures.  Here they are, rescued from the snowy pasture and waiting to be re-installed.
     We were all moping and grousing about having had such a shocking failure so soon after finishing the doors.  Sadly, we had been caught in a gamble.  We had been waiting for warmer weather to pour concrete to properly anchor the doors.  No one expected such traumatic winter wind… but we should have known.  Murphy’s Law (If anything CAN go wrong it WILL) is always hovering nearby when anything meaningful is attempted on the farm.  
     On a positive note… the wild, flying doors could have easily become enormous cruise missiles, knifing through the thin hoop building plastic cover or, worse, through equipment, animals or people.  They also could have nimbly flown right up and out of Juniata County and been dropped in the Land of Oz… making their extradition and recovery far more difficult than just dragging them back across the snowy pastures.
     After much hand-wringing, (and a little finger pointing :)  ) the doors were gathered up and lovingly repaired and remounted with sturdier latches and anchors.  Now, finally, the lambs can arrive, survive and thrive.  

      And, ‘arrive’ they did.  As I write this, 100 ewes are having 150 lambs on soft dry bedding while, outside, our advesary,  the despised north wind, howls and thumps, totally impotent, against the glowing, warm, tight, dry building. 
     The lambs are toasty warm and exploring their newfound world… blissfully out of the wind in our fancy, new hoop building.  Mission Accomplished!   
     Somehow, if there aren’t big adventures in a project like this, the completion of it isn’t as satisfying.  It feels REALLY good to have the ewes and young calves out of our old bank-barn and into safe and comfortable quarters.  We have found that baby lambs have no trouble with winter’s cold temperatures if they are not exposed to wet and wind.   A damp, dark, drafty barn is a sure-fire recipe for weak or sick lambs.   
     So… what is the next big adventure looming on the horizon at Coulter Farms?  We are expecting 52 Jersey milk cows to have their calves, starting any day now.  As winter fades into spring, there is never a dull moment at the farm.  It won’t be long after the calves come that we’ll be eyeing the hay fields, ripe for the harvest.  Who cares what the weather is…summer is almost here.  Stay tuned!