Friday, May 27, 2011

Moooovin' Along: Portable Calf Shelter

I mentioned in an earlier post that Byron and I made a portable calf shelter for our two calves.  Since we're following the Polyface model of rotating animals onto fresh pasture every day or so, we wanted to devise something lightweight and stable that would offer them some protection from wind, rain, and sun.  I wish I had neat, drawn-out plans to post, but I unfortunately sketched it out on bright pink sticky notes, then shoved the sticky notes into my coupon pouch (I'm so organized).  So if there's anything cryptic or you want more information, please ask - I would love to help if you're thinking of building this or something like it!

(4) 8' landscape timbers (treated)
(8) 10" x 1/2" carriage bolts, washers, and nuts
(4) 8" lag bolts
(8) pieces of scrap lumber for shims, as necessary
(5) 10' x 1/2" sch. 40 PVC pipe (for outdoor use)
plastic ties (for outdoors)
One 6'x8' tarp
Decking screws
(2) eye hooks

Landscape timbers and PVC

Saw ends of two landscape timbers at an angle to make skids.  Pre-drill holes for carriage bolts in landscape timbers.  Four holes in each timber, 2' apart and centered on the timber.

Carriage bolts are not threaded all the way down, so we had to use scraps to shim.  Install them so the head of the bolt is at the bottom of the skid and so the rest of the bolt can protrude to accept the PVC.

Carriage bolt, washer, and nut through landscape timber and shim

After driving the bolts through the timbers/skids, Byron measures an approximate distance to place the skids.  I think we settled on 5'.

Charlie decided to create a little water system with the PVC.

But then the cow shelter looked like more fun.  Here, Byron tests out one of the PVC pipes by slipping each end over a bolt, and measures the height and width, which ended up being about 4" high by 5' wide.  Good for calves, but we may need to make something bigger next spring, when they will be full-blown steers (did I mention they're steers now, thanks to Mr. Woodward and the handy banding device he keeps in his truck???).

Fitting in all the piping for a test run...

...and then lag bolting in the horizontal supports, which will keep the arcs from splaying.  Notice that the horizontal support is a few inches back from the end of the skid, to account for the angle Byron cut.

These are about 5' wide.

The Lone Chicken checks out the base of the cow shelter.  She's getting bold, I tell you.  She follows us around like a dog.  And the other day I thought she was going to jump onto the arm of my chair as I ate dinner outside.  It was kinda freaking me out.  Anyway, that doesn't help you.  The footprint of the shelter is about 5' wide x 8' long.

Fitting the PVC pipe over the carriage bolts

The "skeleton" of the shelter

The fifth piece of PVC is added as a ridge line and fastened with plastic ties.

The tarp is secured with cord.  Let me note here that we just used the grommets that were in the tarp, but if you want to more thoroughly secure the edge of the tarp, you could buy a grommet kit and install more.
Eye hooks and cord are installed at the end of the skids for EASY transport. I should also mention that Byron slipped an old piece of hose over the cord to make it more comfortable to haul, and that the cord is removable.

The shelter in the electric cattle fencing.  We slid the tarp over to provide more protection from the west.

Baby calf checks out his new digs after he and his pal were carried across the yard.  I SO wish I had photos, but I was manning the fence!   When a lasso-like collar failed to produce the desired results, Byron had to put Farm Muscles to work and pick the calves up (one at a time, mind you) and carry them to their new yard.  So Byron got his workout for the week and the calves seem very happy on fresh grass.  We'll be moving them around every 2 days or so...but won't be picking them up anymore!
A couple notes, now that the cows have been enjoying their shelter for about a week...we're thinking of getting a tarp with a silver backing to reflect the sun.  The cows would lay down in it at first, but we've had some HOT days and they've preferred to lie down outside the shelter.  Byron thinks it may be getting a little warm under the blue tarp.  One calf has also been sucking on the edge of it (I guess he thinks it's Mommy), so we may need something a bit more heavy duty.  We're hoping, for the most part, that this offers some relief during rainstorms, but there is no rain in sight at the moment, so that assessment will have to wait.

And again, I'm open to any questions!


  1. Hi, Just wondering how these calf houses worked out. Did you have any problem with the calves trying to pull the tarp off? Also, how long are the bolts or pipe pieces that you put the plastic pipe onto. How do you secure the plastic pipe into place? Looks pretty ingenious.

    1. Hi! For the most part, they worked, but yes, we did have problems with them pulling at the tarp. We took some 4"x2" garden fencing and covered the structure, and over that we put the tarp. No problems since we did that. The lag bolts were 8", and we didn't secure the PVC...just slipped it over the bolts. This wasn't a problem with wind, but again, the cows sometimes would pull the piping off. The fencing helped that, though. Another consideration is that it was getting a little small for both of them by the time they were 6 months old, so we may need to build another one. Thanks for visitng, and let me know if you have any other questions!